Bulleit Bourbon (pronounced bullet) is said to have originated in the 1830’s, the product of a tavern owner near Louisville Kentucky by the name of Augustus Bulleit. Or so the legend goes. Whiskey history is by its very nature a good dose of folklore and romanticism wrapped around a few facts. So it is, that research for this review turned up a few facts and a lot of legend.
As the legend goes, Augustus Bulleit (Boilliat?) arrived in New Orleans around 1800, an immigrant from France. It’s unclear whether he arrived with family or alone. At any rate move ahead about 30 years and we find Augustus operating a tavern in Louisville, having along the way acquired the skills for making brandy. Experimentation lead to American style whiskeys which he created in small batches. Fast forward another 30 years or so and Augustus disappears while transporting his own whiskey to New Orleans. What became of him is unknown. Bulleit (bourbon) whiskey disappeared from the landscape soon thereafter.
Enter Tom Bulleit, great great grandson of Augustus who reintroduced us to Bulleit Bourbon, in its current incarnation in 1999. Tom, a lawyer and veteran, who also apprenticed in distilleries in his younger years is said to have recreated the old family recipe that Augustus used in the 1800’s. It is unlikely that we are drinking a whiskey replica from 150 years ago as there were, at the time, no standards for distilling whiskey and aging was virtually unheard of. Nonetheless there may be some similarities in that the rye content for Bulleit is 30% of the mash bill, high for a bourbon, but a grain that was probably the main ingredient during the period. Tom’s version of Bulleit Bourbon started in Buffalo Trace Distillery. The brand was sold to Seagram and distilling was moved to Four Roses. When Seagram was bought out and divided up, spirits giant Diageo purchased the brand and continues to make Bulleit under contract at Four Roses.
One of the first things you notice about Bulleit Bourbon is the packaging. Resembling an old style medicine flask it invokes images of carpet baggers traveling in wagons, hawking unknown elixirs with claims to cure all ailments. The color is a light golden amber. Everything said this is a really good whisky, well placed in the premium segment to compete with Knob, Woodford, and Makers. A big nose, vanilla, toffee, and honey. A hint of toasted coconut. That big rye spice hits you in the mouth, with oranges, quite dry. Wood shows at the end with white pepper, characteristic of rye, and smoke. An oily drink that you can wrap a fist around. The spiciness of a rye and the sweetness of a bourbon. Two whiskey’s in the same bottle.
When it comes to spinning the tales of American whiskey history, Whiskey blogger Chuck Cowdery says it best. “…while I take my whiskey straight, I take most whiskey marketing with a grain of salt”. Legends aside, this is a quality premium bourbon offered at a moderate price. In Nashville find Bulleit at Frugal MacDoogal’s for around the $20 dollar mark or by the drink at Whiskey Kitchen, located in the Gulch. (45% ALC/VOL, 90 proof).