Bulleit Bourbon is one of the hottest brands on the market today, attracting many fans of all ages. We had the opportunity to try this on our tour of the Bulleit Experience at Stitzel-Weller Distillery in pre-COVID times. A friend recently gifted me this bottle and it was time for a proper review.
All in the Family
While Tom Bulleit Jr. began his distilling career in 1987, the story of Bulleit Bourbon traces its roots all the way back to the 1830’s. Tom’s great-great grandfather – Augustus Bulleit – was a tavern keeper in Louisville Kentucky. Augustus was attributed with the creation of a unique flavor of high-rye bourbon and sold it until his death in 1860. By the late 1980’s his great-great grandson was ready to continue the family legacy with a high-rye bourbon once again bearing the Bulleit name.
A decade later, the Seagram conglomerate purchased the Bulleit brand. The Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky was the source of the high rye distillate. The finished spirit was introduced in the United States in 1999. Diageo purchased Seagram and continued distillation at Four Roses. In 2017, Bulleit opened its own distillery a few miles east of Louisville in Shelbyville, Kentucky. Two years later, the first visitors began tours and tastings at the Shelbyville distillery.
Relations within the Bulleit family and with Diageo remain rocky. In 2017, Tom’s daughter, Hollis, left Diageo amidst allegations against her father. The dispute poured over into social media and Diageo has removed Tom Bulleit as the spokesperson for the brand bearing his name.
Bulleit Bourbon comes in a tall bottle, labeled “Frontier Whiskey” and looks straight out of the movie Tombstone. The label carries “Aged 10 Years” in large letters. The mash bill is 68% corn, 28% rye, and 4% malted barley and is bottled at 91.2 proof. MSRP for this is typically close to $50.
Eye: Dark copper.
Nose: Vanilla and caramel are front and center along with some lighter, dark fruit notes. A drop or two of water opens up the flavors, with a deeper vanilla and caramel explosion.
Palate: Vanilla followed by spice and oak. The sweeter notes are short and overwhelmed by the spice and wood flavors.
Finish: Long with cinnamon spice and dry, charred oak. Somewhat one-dimensional.
Overall: It’s hard to deny Bulleit’s meteoric rise in popularity, especially with a new generation of bourbon consumers. In a cocktail, it’s spicier notes can carry the day. Neat, however, its “frontier whiskey” labeling may be appropriate as the spice and wood can overpower.
While the 10-year product is an improvement over the traditional flagship Bulleit product, it pales compared with other similar premium products, such as Henry McKenna Bottled-in-Bond (if you can find it for close to MSRP) or Russell’s Reserve – a similar 10-year product that is not only less expensive, but carries better overall balance.