Katrina Egbert was inducted into the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame in 2019 after more than 30 years with Wild Turkey, often being credited as Jimmy Russell’s right-hand.
BW: How did you end up working in the Kentucky Bourbon industry?
KE: Lawrenceburg, KY where Wild Turkey is made is an extremely small town. Everyone knows all about you, and you them. I happened to be raking leaves in the front yard when Mary Jane McCulloh drove by and stopped for a chat. Our families had always been friendly, so I just asked if they were hiring at Wild Turkey. In those days there were never openings -we joke that once you started you either retired or died making Wild Turkey. Mary Jane was in charge of the Customer Service department, but they had just started looking for someone to assist her. I was in the right place at the right time, just raking leaves on a Saturday afternoon. I worked in her department for 5 years then Jimmy’s assistant had to step down due to health reasons. Mollie was quite the character and I had huge shoes to fill. I started helping with local events and working at the Visitor Center to build the “buzz” and finally, we gained the exposure we needed to make it a fun place to visit.
BW: After working in Bourbon tourism for more than three decades, what are some of the changes you’ve seen?
KE: Not enough time in the day for this answer but mostly from the distillery and tourism side – HUGE changes. When I first started working at the distillery I would go over and help Olivia in the Visitor Center. We would see about 20 people a week. Now we have over 80,000 people a year visiting Wild Turkey. We have the advantage of having a beautiful facility overlooking the KY River – the requests for weddings and special events are enormous. We’ve actually outgrown our space and always look at ways to accommodate everyone’s requests from our internal sales groups wanting to bring special clients in to people that want to hold summits and special events. With all of the craft distilleries in the area– we collectively do a great job of pulling in guests from all over the world. It’s just mind-blowing to see where we started and being a part of the expansion and popularity throughout my 31 years at Wild Turkey.
BW: What is it like working with Jimmy Russell?
KE: It’s like working for a rock star or a movie star. Imagine being a right hand to Elvis and Mathew McConaughey. Thankfully, I’m not easily intimidated so it’s been a good fit. I have known Jimmy all my life. Growing up with Eddie and working for both of them, it’s insane to see grown men stand in line for their autographs and pictures. I just see them as regular guys doing a job they love. The respect people have for their knowledge and wisdom is inspiring and a true testament of the men they are. It’s been one helluva ride and wouldn’t have changed a thing. I’m very lucky to be a part of their world.
BW: What advice do you have for women who want to work in the Bourbon industry?
KE: Don’t be intimidated. There may be a perception that it’s a boys club, but I’ve seen more and more women recently demonstrate how they too excel at this business. Take for instance Peggy Noe Stevens – she is my hero. I was honored to be in her class of 2019 nominated into the KY Bourbon Hall of Fame. JoAnn, Jimmy’s granddaughter, has excelled in the industry – makes me so proud of her accomplishments in such a short time. I’m excited to see how her future plays out.
BW: Tell me about your perfect whiskey weekend in Kentucky.
KE: That’s easy. Anywhere and anytime I’m with friends and family sipping a Russell’s 10 or having someone ask me about working at Wild Turkey. I just smile and give the same answer – “You wouldn’t believe it if I told you.”
Photos Courtesy of Wild Turkey