Louisville Legend Russ Smith Launches Bourbon Brand

Louisville Legend Russ Smith Launches Bourbon Brand


It wasn’t till Russ Smith discovered himself surrounded by cherry bushes, waterfalls and miles of bright-green foliage among the many Fujian province in China that he started to really recognize the little issues.

Maybe it was the 62 factors he averaged in China’s National Basketball League, or the 81 he dropped with Luoyang in 2017. But principally, as Russ tells us over Zoom, it was the time he spent alone that allowed him the wanted headspace to fall in love with a brand new craft, bourbon.

“It allowed me to really take in what I was doing and just be happy again. My first three years as a pro, yeah, I was getting paid pretty well, but I was unhappy,” he says. “I want to be respected for my craft. And I think that means more to me, my craft being appreciated, my creativity being appreciated.”

​​After charming the faculty basketball world at Louisville, the forty seventh total choose within the 2014 NBA Draft bounced round from the Pelicans and Grizzlies to the G League—and even a brief stint in Turkey—earlier than reinventing himself as soon as once more in China’s NBL.

The 32-game season over the summer season was coupled with an immense quantity of downtime, through which Russ thought to himself, When I get dwelling, what am I gonna work on?

As somebody who meticulously mastered every craft he fell in love with, the 6-0 guard’s ardour for creating, innovating and buying new abilities blossomed into Mr. and Mrs. Bourbon, based, owned and operated by Mr. Russdiculous himself.

Seeing how 50 Cent, Hov and Diddy executed totally different partnerships with alcohol manufacturers impressed Russ to at some point launch his personal liquor firm. But he additionally all the time knew that he was going to do issues a bit bit in another way, identical to he does on the hardwood.  

The Brooklyn native set school basketball ablaze at Louisville, main this system to the 2013 NCAA nationwide title whereas averaging 18.7 factors, 2.9 dimes and three.3 boards a sport as a junior.

With a nickname simply as chilly as his illustrious profession—and floater-game to match it—it was solely a matter of time earlier than his jersey was raised into the rafters. On January 22, throughout halftime of the Cardinals’ dwelling sport towards Notre Dame, this system’s fifth highest-scorer (1,908 factors) and all-time steals chief (257) was honored as Louisville’s fifth retired jersey.

As Russ leans again on his egg-shell white desk chair, he talks about how that night time was as full circle of a second as anybody might discover. The movies of Rick Pitino, Peyton Siva and Luke Hancock on the jumbotron speaking about their favourite Russdiculous moments was a pleasant shock, too. 

“There was a point in time where it was hard for me to get on the court. So, just doing whatever they [Kyle Kuric and Peyton Siva-Ed] said, listening, following instructions,” Smith says. “I guess that’s the best memory because if you don’t listen, you ain’t gonna get nowhere.”

Now surrounded by barrels of bourbon, flasks and tasting glasses, he did greater than hear when his ardour for bourbon whiskey began to take kind: he examined, picked brains and soaked up information from the business’s finest. 

His obsession with bourbon began two years after his profession at Louisville, as he continued to foster connections with donors and supporters of this system. The college-shelf stuff that he was used to consuming on the Ice House was worlds away from the brown coloured spirits he was now dabbling into. 

The notes, hints and avenues of flavors that crammed his nostrils and palate piqued his curiosity and shortly he was having conversations with the highest liquor firms on the earth—Brown Forman, proprietor of Jack Daniels, grasp distiller Drew Kulsveen and the parents at Peerless Distilling Co. Having direct ties to the whiskey-bourbon capital of the world by means of the rock paved the best way for a deep-dive grasp class into the business. 

“Being here, I felt like it was almost like a calling,” Russ says.

From authorized paperwork to calls with the dry items division, to sourcing out his personal legal professionals and collaborating in every step of the tasting course of, Russ is concerned in each single side of his firm. 

His hands-on strategy and unrelenting need for extra information made it clear to vets within the business that Russ was certainly prepared to interrupt in the identical means he broke out on the collegiate hoops scene—with a bit little bit of grace and a complete lotta aptitude.

As he and his crew narrowed down the staple taste of the model, Russ picked up batches from the warehouse and despatched them round to family and friends, nonetheless seeking to stability the sensational notes a bourbon connoisseur would recognize whereas fulfilling that burn that his boys desired from spirits like Hennessy. That’s when his peculiar palate and wonderful understanding of a well-finished bourbon got here into play.

Russ retains all of his concepts, critiques and suggestions from his journey to date in a small leather-bound pocket book. Its function serves as greater than a set of recorded notes, it’s an emblem of the aim for his model, making a taste profile that lasts for much longer than a lifetime. 

Finalizing that long-standing taste took years of tasting, experimenting and numerous journeys to totally different distilleries round Kentucky, deciding on 4 totally different labels of bourbon.

Having only in the near past returned from a tasting just a few days earlier, the notes and hints from Mr. and Mrs. are contemporary in Russ’ thoughts as he breaks down the variations between the 4 totally different labels for us. 

He begins with the black label, the model’s premium product, aged 12 years straight out of the barrel with no lower, and completed in a cabernet sauvignon cask. Notes of licorice and cherries fill your nostrils whereas it sits like honey on the palate. 

The crimson label is “incredibly hot,” sitting at a 125 proof with preliminary notes of vanilla and a jalapeno-peppermint end that’s accompanied by a state staple, the Kentucky Hug. The blue label is lower to a 110 proof and is accompanied by heavy vanilla notes, whereas the inexperienced label fills its shoppers with wafts of butterscotch, sweet corn and honey, incorporating the model’s signature jalapeno-mint end. 

In the land of whiskey and horse racing, Russ says he’s linked most with the tempo of turning into a Kentuckian. The state’s pastimes and passions have rubbed off on the previous Louisville guard, as Russ has immersed himself on the earth of bourbon, reveling in sharing experiences over honey-colored liquor. 

He wanted it too.

Most just lately, Smith joined the G League’s Fort Wayne Mad Ants, proving but once more why he ought to be on an NBA roster, dropping 43 factors off the bench in his January 6 debut. He nonetheless holds the G League all-time file for many factors in a single sport (65). In simply seven appearances, the Brooklyn native averaged 16.4 factors in 20.1 minutes earlier than asserting he’d miss the remainder of the season with a shoulder harm.

“It’s like, damn, another time, another time. This is gonna be the fourth time,” Smith says. “I want it to go well, but to have people around me that care about me, that show me a lot of love, that support me, that means a lot.”

With a shoulder on the mend and basketball desires nonetheless as vibrant as ever, Smith’s new ardour serves as a homage to the state and the folks that have supported him ever since he touched down as a school freshman in 2010. 

Constantly enthusiastic about how they will all win, Russ is aware of he’s not simply promoting a spirit, he’s promoting himself to shoppers and to the neighborhood he’s come to name his personal. 

As our dialog begins to wrap, his ardour for longevity on this area is crystal clear—he begins to speak concerning the monumental figures within the business: Brown Forman, Pappy Van Winkle, E.H. Taylor. Real folks, tons of of years previous, whose names proceed to stay related due to the legacy they constructed ages in the past. 

“It’s like having a legacy in real time,” Smith says. “That’s how I want to treat my brand, and that’s how others look at myself. So there’s no better way than to have a spirit that we can all share in that experience.” 


Photo courtesy of Russ Smith and through Getty Images.





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