Bourbon whiskey has shifted from old-school favourite to top-shelf tipple, no longer only served in an Old Fashioned or Manhattan.
The popularity of TV shows such as Mad Men have kick-started a revival in whiskey-based cocktails, as the ever-stylish dark drop appeals to men with more discerning tastes.
That's why since 2015, the premium small batch Master's Keep Series from Wild Turkey has grown from concept to keepsake, inspiring a new generation of fine bourbon lovers.
Attracting the millennial market
Eddie Russell, the brand's venerable master distiller, was recently in Australia explaining the brand's exclusive new offering, the Master's Keep 1894.
"The industry is changing and we're seeing drinkers want more of the premium end. For me it's about promoting single barrel and Master's Keep Releases and editions like that to keep the consumer interested," says Eddie Russell.
For a tipple that's been around for the past 200 years, it only in the last few decades that bourbon has appealed to a younger palate. But there's plenty of younger gents also keen to join the ride and don't mind spending a little more on a premium drop.
"The millennial male is very interested in investing in the better end, whether that be in clothing or alcohol, he wants a better drink and is willing to pay for it," says Russell.
The Master's Keep Series is limited to 10,000 bottles which retail at $200.
Bringing back tradition
When Wild Turkey started to explore the curated idea, Russell didn't want to take away from his father's business plans for the Wild Turkey business.
In 2015 they launched with Master's Keep 17 Year Old, last year's premium release was dubbed Master's Keep Decades, and now in 2017 it's all about the Master's Keep 1894.
"My dad made some of these limited edition bottles back in the 2000s, but at the beginning they only went to Japan and then he stopped producing them. Some were released in the United States but he sort of quit this side," says Russell.
"For me, it's about bringing that tradition back. The Master's Keep Series is my way of showing that I will never change what Jimmy built, but we're all about style and substance too," he says.
"Each of the three Master's Keep Series all have their own flavour and given the small barrels in which they are produced in, there's always a slight variance, but it's about bespoke, smaller batches and still that premium taste," he says.
But with a modern viewpoint
Russell explains hand-selecting barrels requires careful consideration and inspection. That's around 150 barrels versus the 15,000 that roll out for the Wild Turkey 101.
"Bringing out the Russell's Reserve and releasing the Master's Keep Series is helping raise the profile of our brand. There's a lot of whiskey on the market, but we have to tackle it from a modern point of view. Sure there's hard whiskey drinkers and we don't alienate them, but we're about doing things my generation wouldn't have and we're coming in with new products like this," he says.
The McConaughey factor
A year ago, Wild Turkey introduced US actor Matthew McConaughey as their new creative director. A new Wild Turkey commercial is due next month and continues in its quest to pitch the dark spirit to a youthful audience who want premium and celebrity status rolled into one.
"Working with Matthew is a win-win situation for us," says Russell.
"He is capable of reaching a younger audience and connecting with older ones too. He fits our profile and the collaboration is working for us. He came with an open heart. He's a real family man just like the brand my father built," he says.
"We hosted Matthew with his family and kids last year at our property and he took a real keen interest in what Jimmy does. There's three generations of us working side by side and that really resonated with Matthew who wanted to be part of the journey because he's all about family too," says Russell.
Only the best
Just as generations have played a key role in building the Wild Turkey brand, it's not one that's stuck in the past. Sure they like to remain true to the original whiskey-bourbon recipe with quality as its main focus, but it's about learning from each other and adjusting with the times.
"My generation has to really take notice of what the younger ones are seeking," says Russell.
"Take my son as an example. He loves to have two or three of the best shirts instead of 10 regular shirts, which is very different to my time growing up.
"I think the whiskey drinker is doing the same – they're part of a generation that want the better cars and saving for better high end. Doing smaller batches is certainly more risky from a business perspective but you can't ignore the demand for it and if as a brand you want to keep moving forward you need to stay in touch with the new generation," says Russell.
"Guys also love to collect things and having a collectable bottle of whiskey is a concept that is working well for us."
This article was brought to you by Wild Turkey Master's Keep 1894.