In the heart of Kentucky, and around the world, the name Wild Turkey has become synonymous with exceptional bourbon whiskey. With a history that spans generations, Wild Turkey has stayed true to its time-honoured secrets and earned its place in the heart of many Australians.

Third and fourth generation Russell’s and experts of the whiskey empire Eddie and Bruce Russell sat down with The Shout to discuss the landscape of Australia’s whiskey market, and the important role of the on- and off-premise in driving category growth.

Eddie told The Shout: “Australia is the biggest export market for Wild Turkey. The Asian markets are doing really well, and of course America is our biggest market by far, but Australia has always been a great market for us.”

“From our perspective, and from the data that Campari has, whiskey continues to grow in Australia,” added Bruce. “I know that you have some local distilleries that are doing pretty well, especially out of Tasmania, but American whiskey is growing and growing.

“We’re starting to see a little bit of a trend that we’ve already seen in America, where for a long time people were just drinking the baseline products, ours would be Wild Turkey 81 and Wild Turkey 101, but people are wanting small batches and single barrels, more of the craft stuff. We’ve got some cool stuff in the works this year and next at Wild Turkey.”

Having stood the test of time in Australia, Eddie explains what it is about Wild Turkey that appeals to the Australian consumer.

“Being authentic and realising that we have always made it the same way, we haven’t changed anything and we stay true to ourselves. When you’re showing up and meeting people, and they see that you’re not just a PR person – and that’s not to say anything bad against PR – but when consumers see that you’re real, when they hear you talk and realise your passion, it means a lot to them.

“There’s not a truer bourbon than Wild Turkey, it’s used the same recipe, the same yeast, distilled the same way for over 100 years. I think that really stuck with people, once they found out that it wasn’t just a marketing thing. My dad has been doing it for 67 years, me 42, and Bruce is definitely the new guy with 13 years.

“It’s not only meeting those people over in Australia, but getting to meet them when they travel to the United States and visit our distilleries. They get to see exactly what we’re doing, and they get to meet my dad [Jimmy Russell], he’s 89 years old and still sits in our visitors centre.”

Bruce strikes a similar tone, owing the success of the brand to its inclusivity.

“We have done a really good job over there of preaching that our whiskey is for everybody. In the last 10 to 20 years here in the States that maybe wasn’t the case. It’s a really high quality whiskey no matter which one you’re having, but whether you’re somebody from our fan club with a huge collection, or somebody who wants to go to the bar and have an RTD, Wild Turkey fits for every type of consumer.”

Balancing the on- and off-premise

Speaking about the sustained growth of the whiskey category in recent years, and the new demand for unusual innovations, Eddie explained what has been the driving force for this change in consumer attitude.  

“What really got everything going, not only in America but around the world, is bartenders going back to making classic cocktails. I’ve just finished my 42nd year [at Wild Turkey] and for a very long time it was a very simple business. People drank their bourbon or whiskey, neat or on ice, nowadays you’re seeing secondary maturations, flavoured whiskeys and all sorts of things.

“My father has been doing it for 67 years and frowns on it a little bit, but it’s been great for all of us because it’s brought more people into the category and given more people the opportunity to try bourbon.

“Nowadays in the States you see single malts coming out, rye whiskeys have grown more than any other type of whiskey in the US in the last 10 years. I think you can see that with Wild Turkey as well, from our Longbranch, which is a newer premium product, but a very easy drinking bourbon, to our traditionally big and bold bourbons like Rare Breed and 101.

“It’s really great to see everybody trying different things, and really it’s Bruce’s generation spearheading that change, because my generation still just wants their bourbon in a glass with some ice and maybe water.”

“Selfishly, it’s a little bit more fun for us,” says Bruce. “I think the premiumisation really allows me and dad to make stuff that my grandfather would never have had the opportunity to make because he was just focused on making one product.

“In just the last four or five years we’ve done bourbon and rye blends, we’ve done an Oloroso sherry finished product, and an Appleton rum product that we’re putting out this year in the states. It’s just a tonne of fun to experiment and do different stuff.”

As the landscape of the whiskey market continues to evolve, Bruce spoke about the switching of roles between the on- and off-premise in introducing new customers to the category.

“We have seen a flip, for the first 20 to 30 years of dad’s career everything was influenced by the off-premise, the liquor store. You stuck with whatever brand you were loyal to, whether it was whiskey or beer, and that was also what you went to the bar and ordered.

“Now, our bartender partners are really our first line of defence. It’s their recommendations that have people trying new stuff, or trying a cocktail they’ve never had before. They’ll fall in love with our spirit, or another spirit, and then they’re going to the liquor store to purchase it.”

“Nowadays, it really starts in the bar, with cocktails and bartenders,” says Eddie. “Bruce was a brand ambassador for us for a long time, but really, bartenders are our first brand ambassadors. We do a lot of stuff to educate bartenders, and it’s really benefited Wild Turkey.”

Despite the thirst for experimental and premium releases, Bruce says the Russell’s keep their glasses full with the tried and tested classics.

“When you look at the way that me and dad consume Wild Turkey, I think people assume that our go-to pours would be the crazy expensive stuff or the super limited stuff. We’re lucky that we do get to try those, but my every day drinker is the 101 Rye, which is one of our baseline rye products. One of dad’s favourites is the 10 Year Old Russell’s Reserve, which is an awesome product but over here it’s just $35-40 a bottle. We’re drinking stuff that we think is really good, but it’s not the super crazy, ultra premium stuff either.”

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1 Comment

  1. I’ve been drinking wild a turkey 101 for over 40yrs. I’ll be 75 in Feb 2024, straight up 1oz shot by far the best bourbon in the USA thank you.

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