jimmy russell 1I attended my first Total Wine class the other night. It was a Meet the Expert Seminar & Tasting with Jimmy Russell, Master Distiller at Wild Turkey. When I saw the advertisement for this class I immediately signed myself and my wife up for it. We took a long weekend trip to Kentucky two years ago with another couple and toured the Bourbon Trail. Even if you don’t like bourbon, it’s a wonderful, relaxing time but that’s for another posting.

Since it was my first time attending one of these classes, I didn’t really know what to expect but figured it would definitely be interesting and boy was it. Many of the Total Wine stores (if not most) have classroom spaces set up for events like this one. The room had narrow tables lined up in rows with several chairs along each. No different than what you would find at a business seminar. Each spot had some educational information about Wild Turkey as well as five empty glasses and some water.

After a quick introduction, Jimmy took his spot at the front of the room and filled us in on his background. He has been with Wild turkey for almost 58 years. No, that was not a typo. Fifty eight years. His family is very involved in the bourbon industry. He told us that when he finished school and started at Wild Turkey, there were six bourbon distillers in his town and he had relatives working at every one of them. He followed his father by working at Wild Turkey and his son, Eddie, followed him. Now his grandchildren are getting started too. Jimmy still has several relatives working at the other distilleries in his area.

The format of the class was pretty cool. It was a two hour session and there were only about a dozen people in attendance which made the class very interactive and informal. Jimmy had a young lady assisting him with the samples. As he spoke about the different products, she would come along and pour a sample for each person. It wasn’t all that different of a feeling then sitting around the kitchen table with someone and having a few drinks. Like I said it was pretty cool.

When we first got seated, everyone was poured a “special” sample from a couple of bottles that Jimmy had brought along. Since they looked like water, it didn’t take a genius to figure out that they were the distillery version of “moonshine.” Jimmy called it White Dog. It was the product that comes directly off of the still after the second distillation. He said it was 65% abv or 130 proof. It was highly recommended that we put a small amount of water to dilute it to a lower octane level. While I like a drink as much as the next guy, those guys on the Moonshiners show best not waste their marketing on me. I decided that White Dog is a little more than what I prefer.

We sampled four of the bourbons made by Wild Turkey while Jimmy explained how they were made, and what was different about each. We learned a bit about the history of bourbon along with some interesting tidbits about the various laws and regulations that go along with running a distillery.

While we really appreciated the class because we had visited Wild Turkey’s distillery, I noticed that it wasn’t just us. The others in the class were just as engrossed as we were. Think about it, where else are you going to sit down in a small group with one of the head honchos. This was the equivalent of sitting down with Bill Gates in the backroom of Best Buy and talking computers. I’m definitely going to keep an eye out for similar events and try my best to attend. You should too.