“The quality of light by which we scrutinize our lives has direct bearing upon the product which we live, and upon the changes which we hope to bring about through those lives.” ― Audre Lorde
I say this with zero pretenses: Eboni Major is one of the brightest lights we have in the American whiskey industry. If we were to survey the industry at large through the prism of her presentence in it, what would we see?
For starters, if we wanted to examine the prejudices that inexplicably persist, we would certainly owe her a debt of gratitude for lighting the way. In late April 2022, it was made public that Eboni is in litigation with her former employer and Bulleit’s parent company, Diageo, whom she alleges subjected her to unlawful discrimination and created a hostile work environment all while they publicly made use of her likeness and position as Kentucky’s first African American blender post-Prohibition to bolster their “inclusivity” bona fides.
The full lawsuit, which can be found here, is a stomach-turning read for anyone who wants to believe the best of this business. For all the lip service Diageo pays to supporting minorities and women, their most successful bourbon brand has an ugly history of failing to do that.
That, however, is only half of the story. Even with the grim shadow it casts on a company whose repeated missteps have gone curiously underreported, there is good coming from this story. By speaking up and choosing to expose the treatment she received at the hands of her former employer, Eboni has not only become an independent expert – looking to put her talent to use with her own brand – but also sparked a larger conversation about bourbon’s checkered history when it comes to its treatment of minorities.
Whether it’s the history of abhorrently racist advertisements, companies who brand themselves after individuals that owned enslaved people, or the alleged abuse and discrimination in contemporary times, the American whiskey industry is overdue for an honest conversation about the fact its idea of “inclusivity” has often resulted in belittling, failing to fairly compensate, or obfuscating the impact of women and black people.
For many, these are issues better left in the dark. “Whiskey is supposed to be fun” they might dismissively (if not derisively) utter, without going one step further to consider: fun for whom? Championing a traitorous racist battle cry doesn’t exactly foster a “fun” environment for a large swath of the consumer base. Allowing microaggressions to occur unchecked, or an inexplicable pay disparity to develop between employees of different ethnic backgrounds (as Eboni alleges Diageo did) should never be acceptable. I challenge you, dear reader, not just to understand this perspective or agree with it – these things we should be able to hold as self evident – but instead to turn your sentiment on the matter into action.
The good that can come from such unfortunate circumstances begins with honest conversation; about what happened, and about what can serve as a better way forward. Wresting positivity from such negativity can also mean supporting anyone made to suffer such an injustice financially (Eboni currently has a GoFundMe in an attempt to raise funds for the brand she’s hoping to start, Major Whiskey) or through the solidarity of refusing to contribute to Bulleit’s bottom line.
With that said, today I’ll be reviewing Eboni’s Bulleit Blender’s Select 001. Spoiler alert: it is very good. The industry at large has said so, and I hope you’ll forgive this breach in protocol with me saying so before you’ve reached the bottom of this review.
I leave the choice up to you whether you’d like to purchase some of the few bottles that still exist “in the wild;” for Eboni’s part, she informed me that she doesn’t mind if people choose to do so. After all, she still takes pride in what she accomplished in her brief time at Bulleit, and why should anyone deny themselves the pleasure of well made whiskey? Fortunately for you, Bulleit is short on exceptionally blended whiskey, with this representing the pinnacle of their portfolio. If you choose to refuse to purchase any of their other expressions, that might be a good idea.
I’ll conclude by suggesting that what this could be is a glimpse into the future. A future where whiskey is truly made more inclusive, a future where its brightest stars are treated justly, and its most antiquated exceptions are left behind. One thing I know for sure is that if it’s a future marked by Eboni Major’s presence then it’s one made all the brighter by her light.
For the salient specs: this expression is aged a minimum of 9 years and comprised of 3 undisclosed and selectively mingled distillates then bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV). Initially a limited edition offering, made even more limited by the fact that Eboni has since left the company, the future of the Blender’s Select series remains an open question. The SRP on this bottle is $50.
Bulleit Blenders’ Select – Frank’s Review
Color: Amber with ruby glints.
On the nose: The nose is resplendent with red berries and butterscotch accompanied by a twist of lime, sweet oak, and apricot. An herbaceous mint tea note also lingers in the background and, overall, this gives the impression of being full-bodied and balanced. While it doesn’t stray too far from the sweet base or offer much in the way of baking spices, it still isn’t cloying and displays a well-crafted restraint in that regard.
In the mouth: Red berry, date syrup and caramel burst onto the palate, like fresh fruit atop a torched crème brûlée. Suddenly, baking spice sizzles around the tongue revealing vanilla ice cream underneath, and the hug is justprominent enough to hold it all together. I think the word that comes to mind with this one is “deft.” It doesn’t have a light touch, as the sweet berry notes are ebullient without being overpowering or becoming too dessert-like. However, there’s a certain level of finesse that stands out as one of its finest qualities; beginning with the proof point, on to the marriage of flavors, and the well-rounded mouthfeel this one is just seamless from nose to palate to finish. The slightest bit of mint tea on the back end emerges after waiting a while, giving this one a welcome addition of earthiness to complement its fruit-forward profile.
I just keep coming back to how well crafted and seamlessly enjoyable this expression is. Tempted to chalk it up to name recognition overpowering palate-oriented cognition, I felt obliged to throw this in a blind flight with two different Four Roses single barrels (also 100 proof). The result? Eboni Major’s Blender’s Select finished firmly in first place, which is no small feat. While the Four Roses expressions both featured a leaner mouthfeel and floral flavor profile, in comparison Blender’s Select is more robust and complex, indicating the advantage blends can hold over single barrel expressions. It’s clear from a side-by-side comparison that blending, in the right hands, can truly elevate the base spirit.
My friend and fellow Malt reviewer Matt Kusek also tasted this whiskey. His notes and score are below:
Bulleit Blenders’ Select – Matt’s Review
On the nose: This one plays quite the game. It enters the nose very lightly and nothing makes you think that it could be 100 proof or anything higher than the normal Bulleit offerings. The balance on this one will make you come in for a smell or two or three or… well you get it. It’s mostly sweet the butterscotch that Frank noted being the one I notice most. Oak only makes a dashing appearance as it melds with fruit notes.
In the mouth: Berry and heavy granola burst on the scene like the most welcome chilled pie on a hot summer day. Classic bourbon notes like vanilla fade quickly and quietly while making way for a licorice like dance across the tongue. The taste melts upon the tongue and stays with a prickly pear sensation. A jackfruit like staying power coats your taste buds. You sip again to find the next burst of berries which swirl across the top of the mouth with white pepper transforming to oak and tea before once again leaving your mouth with the curious sweetness that will stay there until your next sip.
This bottle holds a special place in my heart, as it was one of the first bottles that I reviewed on my Instagram page in March of 2020. With all the blending that goes into a regular bottle of Bulleit, I always wondered what a talented blender could do with all the different whiskies. It had a great price and would be considered a bargain today. It was so good that I bought three bottles of this for myself as well as 2 more to be gifted to friends.
I’ve wrestled with my opinions on this brand for a long time. From the trope of a long-lost family recipe to an eyebrow raising incident with a family member, I couldn’t find much redeeming value in a brand that has a loyal following from casual fans. I was looking forward to this series showcasing talents like this for years to come and we were robbed of this.
As a father to children who do not share my skin tone, I wonder what will happen the day they go to a job and someone treats them unfairly simply based on the way they look, and not on the quality of their work. This nonsense robs whiskey fans the opportunity to experience fantastic products like this one. We all want a chance to do what we love and succeed at it. Eboni had that chance taken away. I’m fortunate I got to buy these bottles when I did, and I eagerly await the next episode from this Major talent.