Bulleit Bourbon and its parent company, Diageo, get a fair amount of grief from some Bourbon enthusiasts for being a non-distiller producer (“NDP”) of Bourbon without most consumers realizing that indisputable fact. But there’s no denying that Bulleit Bourbon has nevertheless taken hold, which it wouldn’t have been able to do without actually being good Bourbon.
For instance, Bulleit doubled its 2012-2013 U.S. sales from about 300,000 to 640,000 cases. This is still a drop in the bucket compared to the over 3 million cases of Jim Beam sold just in the U.S. every year, so if Diageo wants to extend its market to Bourbon, it has some work to do. Diageo is certainly putting in the work, though. First, in February 2014, it announced that it would spend $2 million on renovations to the famed-but-mothballed Stitzel-Weller Distillery. As I’ve previously reported, firing up the old still was not planned, but in today’s Press Release Bulleit announced that its total Stitzel-Weller investment will increase to $10 million and will include a small craft still to focus on innovation and experimentation, along with a bottling line.
Many of the initial renovations were complete when I visited this past spring (see my post about The Bulleit Experience at Historic Stitzel-Weller), and now with the revived visitor’s center officially open as of the ribbon-cutting today – called the “Bulleit Frontier Whiskey Experience at Stitzel-Weller” – it’s bound to be a hot tour on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
Diageo’s primary Kentucky distilling will be at the site of its estimated $115 million new distillery in Shelby County, Kentucky, just east of Louisville. The groundbreaking ceremony was on August 21, and I was lucky enough to catch the tail-end of that event.
When completed in late 2016, this new distillery will have the capacity to produce what will eventually result in 750,000 cases per year, including both Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye. Warehouses will also be built with the capacity to store 330,000 barrels. Between joining the Kentucky Distillers’ Association, participating in the inaugural “Bourbon Affair” this past spring, and announcing the new distillery plans, Diageo and Bulleit Bourbon have kept a constant presence in the media.
As for the backlash, some of it is completely unfair. For example, social media posts like the following Tweet often ignore the Bourbon itself and devolve to pettiness: “You like Bulliet [sic] Bourbon because it looks like something off of Pinterest, and for no other reason.” Other criticism is a bit weightier because it addresses the brand’s representations, like there hasn’t been an actual distillery called “Bulleit Distilling Co.” in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky despite the claim on the label, and the worst-kept secret in Bourbon that Bulleit has really been distilled by Four Roses (which is in Lawrenceburg). The harshest criticism has focused on other Diageo brands (Orphan Barrel).
When I attended the “Bulleit Experience” this past spring as part of the Kentucky Bourbon Affair, Tom Bulleit was totally upfront about Bulleit Rye being sourced from MGP in Indiana. But Diageo’s former Director of Whiskey Supply Strategy, Andrea Wilson, who recently took a job at Michter’s, was not terribly open about the post-Four Roses world, what’s actually being aged at Stitzel-Weller, or where Bulleit Bourbon is aged. She would not even tell me public information like the mash bill percentages for Bulleit (which the website itself discloses, and which Tom Bulleit told us too).
There is plenty more that I or others can say about Diageo and Bulleit later, but for my current purposes, I want to focus on the review, so here we go:
Bourbon: Bulleit Bourbon Frontier Whiskey
Distillery: Not disclosed, but popularly believed to be under contract with Four Roses, although also popularly believed that the contract has been terminated
Mash bill: 68% corn; 28% rye; 4% malted barley
Age: NAS, but about 6 years old
Proof: 90 proof
Amber with a distinct orange hue.
The nose includes the standard caramel and vanilla, but adds sweet citrus, dark fruits and maybe banana, along slight oak and rye spice.
Like the nose, the taste starts with classic caramel, toffee and vanilla notes, but also includes cinnamon, orange rind and rye spice, without allowing the spice to be overpowering. It’s crisp and sharp, and lends itself nicely to cocktails, especially cocktails with citrus.
The finish is medium in length, with nice warmth, as the caramel notes transition to spice and a just enough toasted oak.
I am a fan of Bulleit Bourbon, especially in cocktails. In fact, if I’m serving Bourbon cocktails, Bulleit is likely to be one of my two choices. I’ve often grumbled about the need for transparency in all Bourbon brands, including Bulleit, but we know that the Bulleit on the market today was distilled in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, we know that it is a “Straight” Bourbon, we know its approximate age (and we’re guaranteed its minimum age), we know that it cannot have any additives, and we know its mash bill. Plus, Bulleit is priced right for its profile and characteristics, and there are plenty more expensive Bourbons that I would pass over when compared to Bulleit.
Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale: 3.5
The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon. Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow. I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.