I wasn’t terribly impressed by the entry-level (no age statement) Bulleit Bourbon. Luckily, I got a chance to try the 10 year-old bottling. Both bourbons are made from a mashbill of 68% corn, 28% rye, and 4% malted barley (for enzymes). At more than twice the price of its NAS sibling, the 10-year is essentially the same juice, but aged for a full 10 years in charred white American oak barrels and bottled at a very slightly higher 91.2 proof (45.6% ABV).
But where is Bulleit distilled? There is no Bulleit Distillery (yet, see below), and never has been. For years, until 2014, Diageo confirmed publicly that all of the bourbon that went into Bulleit was distilled at Four Roses (and presumably aged elsewhere). A rumor, combined with Diageo’s sudden refusal to answer questions on the matter, has lead renowned bourbon blogger Chuck Cowdery to conclude that Diageo is now getting some or all of its Bulleit bourbon from elsewhere. It’s generally thought that Diageo ages Bulleit at the warehouses at the Stitzel-Weller facility, which it owns. Still, since we’re talking about new-make here, you can assume that any bottle of 10-year sold until 2022 was made at Four Roses.
In 2014, Diageo announced that it was building a Bulleit distillery in Shelby County, Kentucky. The new distillery is expected to begin putting out spirit in 2016. Soon, Diageo won’t be only a NDP (non-distiller producer) of bourbon anymore!
Nose: Soft, woody caramel, pine sap, furniture polish, and a hint of maple syrup. Quite dry… with a sawdust quality.
Palate: Not too hot on the entry. Thin-ish body. Piney, eucalyptus, charcoal, nut skins, root beer. Still dry, but with a better balance than the aroma.
Finish: Charcoal pervades, with the attendant bitter oaky tannins, but the balance is nice, and there’s just enough fading sweetness to keep it so.
With Water: A little water perks up the nose, adding rock candy and candied pecans, complete with cinnamon. On the palate, it’s a little more vibrant, and a bit of maraschino cherry has crept in around the edges. I highly recommend a bit of water.
Overall: Like its younger sibling, Bulleit tastes like its marketing materials describe it – a rough-and-ready frontier whisky. It doesn’t pander with sugary candy notes, but gives you the oak and the alcohol up front and doesn’t much waver from that formula. The extra age has not markedly sweetened, mellowed, or concentrated the bourbon… but has removed many of the ‘acetone’ notes and given it a little softness around the edges and a little better balance on the finish. This presents a conundrum. At $25, the NAS Bulleit is underaged and suitable only for cocktails. At $50, the Bulleit 10 is eminently drinkable neat and makes very nice cocktails, but you could get both of those qualities in something that’s $40 or less. I can’t recommend that you suffer through the $25 version, or that you spring for the $50 version. That makes this “Try Before You Buy” since hey, maybe this is the bourbon flavor profile you’ve been searching for. Can’t hurt to try it.