Why you should care

Because bad whiskey is not good for anyone.

In this occasional series, OZY takes to streets and neighborhoods across the globe to ask a simple question: “How was your day?”

Bruce Russell
Austin, Texas

I’m at an airport reading the news. This year, I’ve been on the road and traveling around the country 90 percent of the time as the brand ambassador for Wild Turkey and Russell’s Reserve. When I’m not traveling, I’m teaching retailers, distributors and customers about Wild Turkey, Russell’s Reserve and the work my grandfather and father are doing. Which means I can be doing anything from introducing new products to talking about the unique way we do things.

Getting into the Hall of Fame for being distilling legends? That’s what it takes. That and a lifetime of hard work and dedication to the craft of bourbon making. I think both my father and my grandfather belong in the Hall of Fame because they worked their way from the ground up and remained steadfast when not many people were interested in whiskey. When Jimmy, my grandfather, started back in 1954, it was common to see him sweeping the floors and performing every task at the distillery. My dad, Eddie, was the same. To this day, they continue to produce some of the best bourbon in the world. It’s an easy thing to start a distillery today, now that bourbon is hot and you can call yourself a “master” distiller, but a true master knows that no job is too small and that graduating to Master Distiller takes years to achieve.

Sometimes people forget that taking opportunities to sit down … and chat … is how we develop lifelong support for our products and craft.

I’m still the low man on the totem pole, so I work for everyone else! The thing that gives me the most joy is when I see someone interested in or enjoying the whiskey that my father and grandfather have spent their lives trying to perfect. Educating others on what makes not only our bourbon but all bourbon special is a huge passion of mine.

When I first went to college at the University of Kentucky, I wanted to be an engineer and work with robotics. I’ve always been a tinkerer to some extent, and it helps sometimes when I’m trying to learn the way distillation works. But I decided I wanted to stay in this business when I got a summer job at the distillery after my 21st birthday. When I saw how much passion and pride my dad and my grandfather have for their bourbon, and the other people who work at the distillery, I knew it was where I belonged. I’m 28 now. But that’s me — my younger brother, Jacob, coaches football at Union College in Kentucky.

The hardest part of the job? The nonstop schedule. It can be grueling at times, but that’s what it takes to succeed in this business. I think sometimes people forget that taking opportunities to sit down one-on-one and chat with a bartender or enthusiast, even if it’s over a nice bourbon, is how we develop lifelong support for our products and craft.

But that’s work. For fun, if I’m not drinking bourbon? My favorite nonalcoholic drink is iced tea. At a bar, if I’m not drinking bourbon, I’m usually drinking beer or a Campari neat.

OZYTrue Story

Interviews, op-eds, and analysis to help you make sense of the news of the day and the news of the future.