The story of a falling out, a relationship rekindled and a review: Bulleit Bourbon

In light of recent allegations made by the daughter of Tom Bulleit of his homophobia and mental and physical abuse toward her, I have made the decision that can no longer endorse products bearing the Bulleit name. An update has been added to reflect this change in policy.

Can you believe that Bourbon Heritage Month is almost over? Tomorrow marks the closing ceremonies and if you are like me, you'll be marking the occasion solemnly, with a bit of time for quiet reflection on bourbons come and bourbons gone...

Oh who am I kidding? While bourbon lends itself to the quiet contemplation quite nicely, the last hurrah of a month of bourbon should be celebrated. You should raise a glass and let people know that while the official celebration is damn near over, you keep bourbon in your heart all year long. 

To such an end, I'd like to introduce you to a friend of mine. This friend has been with me for most of my bourbon journey. He comes from good stock, though he's a bit shy of telling you exactly where he's from. He's got a reputation for hanging out with musicians, cowboys, and other rough and rowdy types. But he's nice to have around in a pinch and very seldom lets you down. 

Bulleit Bourbon was my first "favorite bourbon," as it is for many people just getting into bourbon. I think that's partly because it is just expensive enough at around $30 to let you feel that you might be drinking the "good stuff" and put together well enough to not make you regret spending the money. 

Yes, it was my first favorite. But, until recently I hadn't purchased a bottle for a couple years. What happened? Well, like any first love, we grew apart. I was looking for the next big thing. More expensive. Harder to find. Limited. Rare. Better, right? You know the drill. I was always out looking for a taste of the strange. Add in the fact that, at the time I finished that last bottle, I hadn't quite come to terms with drinking bourbon without a large chunk of ice and my relationship with Bulleit was doomed. It was everything that the "good" bourbons weren't. It was inexpensive (by comparison). It was readily available. It wasn't "rare" or "limited." And on top of it all, it didn't do well with that large chunk of ice I used to add to every glass. It fell apart into a watery mess. 

So I left it behind. I moved on. I still had a soft spot for it, I mean, who doesn't for their first love. But, no, I barely acknowledged its presence when I'd see it sitting there on the shelf. And did I feel guilty about that? Heck no. I was better than it and we both knew it.

But then a funny thing happened. The next big thing lost its luster. I lost the sense of satisfaction from the hunt. Expensive just seemed...expensive. I just wanted something that wouldn't break the bank. And that I wouldn't feel bad about emptying. And I started to think about the bourbons that I used to love back when everything was new and fun. And I turned back to my first favorite. At the beginning of the month, on my birthday, I bought myself a bottle of Bulleit to see if it was as good as I remembered or as bad as I remembered.

Let's see how it did.

Bulleit Bourbon

Nose: JuicyFruit gum, citrus, sawdust and a tiny bit of smoke.

Mouth: Smoke, sawdust, vanilla, honey and rye spice. This is a hot one.

Finish: The heat continues in a hot finish that settles right over the heart and stays there for a while. Good length to the finish. It's got a good bit of bitter tannins that dry the mouth after you swallow.


Thoughts: It turns out it was as good as I remember. I really like this. It's a touch hot so it will benefit from the addition of a little water or a very small cube of ice. But be careful. Add too much and it will fall apart and be too thin and watery. The conventional wisdom is that this is made by Four Roses for Diagio and I'd believe that as I found the JuicyFruit gum on the nose that I often associate with Four Roses. And for the price, this is just a damn fine bourbon that you should be happy to have on the shelf and not be too sad when you finish. I mean, there is another bottle waiting for you right where you got that one from.

And that's a good thing.


So, right after I finished posting this, I pick up the news to find the following (brought to us by WhiskyCast): Decision Time for Diageo On Sitzel-Weller.

From what I understand, this shouldn't affect the ubiquity of Bulleit for a while, if ever. I've read that Diageo ages the bourbon themselves so if Four Roses quits supplying unaged juice in six months there should still be Four Roses produced Bulleit aging for a few more years. The remaining stocks might be mixed with other non-four Roses produced bourbon as they get a new supplier or start producing themselves. In such a possibility, the taste would gradually change over time, but that's part of the fun of bourbon. As much as people try to claim that nothing ever changes, over time it always does.

It does mean that there will be a sample or two of my current bottle put into the library of samples I keep so that I can revisit it in a few years as a comparison.

2019 update:

As stated above I have made the editorial decision that I can no longer endorse or recommend products from the Bulleit family of labels. This is an extension of the policy in my Statement of Ethics where I do not allow homophobic comments. In this case I’d rather not continue to help enrich a man alleged to have physically abused his own daughter over her sexuality. The review has been left intact for transparency’s sake.