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Bourbon Babe | Women, whiskey and wit


June 21, 2013

That’s bourbon royalty you’re looking at there, y’all. You might recognize
Jimmy Russell, longtime master distiller at Wild Turkey. You might not
know his wife, Joretta. She tends to stay in the background when he is holding
forth at a bourbon event. But if it hadn’t been for her encouragement, Jimmy
might never have ended up at the distillery. You see, she actually worked at Wild
Turkey before he did.

“I’ve been in the bourbon business for years - even longer than Jimmy!” she said
Thursday night at the Filson Historical Society in Louisville, drawing delighted
laughter and applause from the more than 100 women gathered for “Women
and Kentucky Bourbon - A History,” an event sponsored by the Bourbon
Women Association. Other panelists included whiskey writer Fred
Minnick; Bourbon Women founder Peggy Noe Stevens; Albert Schmid,
author of “The Old Fashioned”; bartender Joy Perrine; and bourbon historian
Michael Veach.

For his part, Jimmy noted that women are playing an increasing role in the
bourbon business, both as marketers and as consumers. Women have “made the
labels look better,” he said. “We men, we knew where the brand we liked was
located on the shelf. We’d pick it up, pay for it and take it home. If they had
moved it, why, we’d get home with the wrong thing.”

Fred shared some fascinating tidbits from his forthcoming book, “Whiskey
Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch
and Irish Whiskey.” Women in Sumaria actually invented distilling, he
said. In the 1800s, women helped increase demand for whiskey, both as
medicine for their children and, at the other end of the spectrum, as refreshment
for their customers in brothels. Women sparked Prohibition - but they also
championed Repeal. And today, more and more of them are landing highranking
jobs in the distilling industry.

Can the first female master distiller be far behind? Joretta Russell says her
granddaughter, a high school sophomore, has called dibs on that distinction.
And why not? After all, she comes from bourbon royalty.  Read the full article.