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Bulleit Bourbon Aged 10 Years

There are some whiskeys I have avoided writing about for no reason other than them having eluded me, due to rarity or chance. This is not one of those whiskeys.

There’s bad stuff that happens in whiskey, as in any other industry. As the world in recent years has become more sympathetic to the voices of those who have been oppressed, marginalized, or otherwise abused, more of these stories have started coming to light.

The accusations against Tom Bulleit by his estranged daughter Hollis are horrendous. Bulleit’s owner, Diageo, seemed to agree (while nonetheless disputing aspects of Hollis’ account); in 2019, Tom Bulleit stepped downas brand ambassador. The brand’s reputation was further tarnished by the accusations of former Bulleit master blender Eboni Major. Her lawsuit alleges racist and anti-Semitic remarks that were not dealt with appropriately, in addition to her own professional mistreatment by the company.

Both these sad stories have unfortunate echoes of so many others that we’ve heard since the “me too” revolution began holding the powerful (mostly – but not always – men) to task for their sins and crimes. I have no interest in re-litigating the cases of Ms. Worth nor Ms. Major, both of which have already been tried in the court of public opinion. Nor do I have the ability to prove or disprove either woman’s accusations in a way that would add anything to the discourse around Bulleit and/or Diageo.

That’s not to say that I’m indifferent to any wrongs done against them. I am more sympathetic to this pair than I am to the multinational corporation that trumpets a commitment to diversity and LGBTQ rights while apparently falling well short in practice. This is perhaps the biggest reason why I have avoided buying, drinking, or reviewing any Bulleit whiskey in recent years. I don’t feel that this has been to my detriment; there’s so much great bourbon out there at competitive prices that I don’t believe excluding a single brand – no matter how ubiquitous – would impair my ability to make a fair comparative assessment of others.

You might then be wondering about the circumstances which have resulted in my reviewing a bottle of Bulleit bourbon today? The whiskey I’ll be considering was left at my house by a generous guest during a crowded Halloween party; unfortunately, they didn’t identify themselves. Anonymous benefactor, you have my sincerest thanks.

Going back to Bulleit: even setting aside the very concerning issues raised above, it’s not a brand that gets a lot of love from bourbon or rye whiskey drinkers. Why, apart from the troubling aforementioned episodes, has the Bulleit brand failed to generate much enthusiasm among American whiskey fans?

A bit of modern brand history: Diageo acquired Bulleit in 2001, as part of its joint acquisition (with Pernod Ricard) of the Seagram wine and spirits portfolio. With the commercial and marketing might of an international conglomerate behind it, Bulleit sales grew exponentially. Its flagship bourbon and rye whiskies are now a mainstay behind most bars in this country, as commonplace as Diageo stablemates Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker.

The brand was established based on sourced bourbon from Four Roses (also a Seagram holding), as well as rye whiskey from (you guessed it!) MGP (again, Seagram). In 2017, Diageo opened the Bulleit Distillery in Shelbyville, KY, though it’s safe to say none of the 10 year bourbon in the bottle at hand was distilled there. The company once maintained the disused Stitzel Weller distillery as a Bulleit visitors center, though a friendly reader has written to inform me that they’ve now dropped the Bulleit association and converted this into a more Stitzel Weller focused experience.

Modern Bulleit’s lineup consists of a NAS bourbon and rye (both $30, and 90 proof/45% ABV), a higher proof “Barrel Strength” bourbon ($55, and 120-125 proof, depending on the batch), today’s 10 year bourbon, and the “Blenders’ Select” limited edition bourbon ($50, and 100 proof/50% ABV). In my years of monitoring the American whiskey zeitgeist, only the latter registered any noticeable impact on my equivalent Richter scale. Even then, I suspect that the concurrent press coverage of Ms. Major’s lawsuit played a role in garnering more attention for the expression.

Perhaps it’s that folks don’t feel like they’re getting anything from Bulleit that they couldn’t find – often at more competitive prices – from other distilleries? After all, it’s not like there’s any shortage of MGP rye. Sticking to bourbon: high rye NAS expressions are available from Four Roses in several formats. 10 year bourbon at 90 proof can be found for about $35 from Wild Turkey and, with increasing frequency, from Buffalo Trace (nature is healing; the Eagle soars again).

Let’s focus solely on what we know about the technical aspects of what’s in the bottle: Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, aged ten years, and bottled at a strength of 91.2 proof (45.6% ABV). It is from a high rye mash bill of 68% corn, 28% rye, and 4% barley. You might note that this sits roughly halfway between the Four Roses “E” (20% rye) and “B” (35% rye) mash bills.

A 750 ml bottle retails for $50 near me, which I will use as a price for evaluation on our price-sensitive scoring bands. Taking into account the competition and the price, this will need to be precisely 42.9% better than Eagle Rare or Russell’s 10 in order to justify a positive score.

Bulleit Bourbon Aged 10 Years – Review

Color: Medium amber.

On the nose: Light, fruity, floral and sweet. This immediately presents confectioners’ sugar, bubblegum, and floral hand soap. There are some herbal accents of mint and tarragon in here, but mostly this tacks toward the bright and cheery end of the aromatic register. After a little time in the glass, I start to notice a more austere aspect to this, which I attribute to the high rye in the mash bill. Spring flowers also develop more body and fill out; I might actually have pegged this for Four Roses, had I nosed it blind.

In the mouth: Starts with a tart citrus note, which quickly pivots to a stern note of limestone. That drying minerality propels the whiskey up the tongue, where it develops a bitterly nutty note of almonds for a moment. There, this thins out in terms of mouthfeel, tacking more toward some tannic, drying woody flavors and textures. This becomes sour as it moves into the finish, where the flavors fade abruptly, leaving behind only an echo of that sourness as an aftertaste, as well as a mildly tingly heat.

Conclusions:

This isn’t as good as Russell’s Reserve 10 or Eagle Rare, lacking much of the complexity and flavor development evident in those bourbons. I’m even not sure that this is as good as Four Roses Small Batch on its own merits, never mind accounting for the difference in price ($32 to $35 for the Four Roses). Those who enjoy a high rye mash bill would be well advised to find more competitively priced options from the source of this whiskey.

Score: 4/10

Will I be going out to buy another bottle of Bulleit? Certainly not. Even disregarding the fact that it offers relatively poor value for the money: though the bourbon isn’t objectionable, there’s a metaphorical bad taste lingering in my mouth from everything I have recounted above. As Warren Buffett once wisely counseled: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” In the eyes of many bourbon fans – your humble writer included – Bulleit’s brand reputation has been irremediably tarnished in a way that I’m not sure can ever be rectified.

CategoriesAmerican
  1. Joe says:

    Everyone has an opinion. Maybe stick with the bourbon instead of the politics. I seriously doubt that you would have a positive comment given your lead into the tasting.
    I enjoy it much more than Four Roses. I do not have the poor aftertaste of the bourbon but instead of your article

    1. Taylor says:

      Joe, please describe to me in exactly which way a man being accused of molesting his own daughter is “political?”

      Setting that aside, we all have choices to make about how we spend our money, and which companies we support with our custom. While no company is perfect, I’m more inclined to use my bourbon bucks to buy from folks who treat their employees fairly and respectfully. If you think that it’s OK for people to throw around racist and/or anti-Semitic slurs in the workplace, I’m afraid we have a fundamental disagreement about the decency with which every person deserves to be treated. Regardless, I won’t be buying any Bulleit any time soon, so there will be more on the shelf for you.

      1. Stephen Jernigan says:

        I agree totally. It could have been the best bourbon I’ve ever tried and I wouldn’t buy it after reading what Tom Bulleit did.

  2. Tony says:

    With very little separating what’s available on the bourbon shelf these days, the choice of what to purchase sometimes comes down to a reason not to purchase a particular bottle versus a reason to buy a competing brand. This stuff (“politics”) matters to a lot of people, myself included, and I appreciate reviews that step beyond the simple “what’s in the bottle” format. I will never purchase anything from Preservation “Distillery”, and now can add Bulleit to list of bottles to omit. Every bottle not considered makes my next purchase a little bit easier.

    Thanks for the review, Taylor, keep the “politics” coming.

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