So, I really do try not to be too hard on inexpensive, bottom-shelf whiskies. I recognize that many of them are intended for mixing into cocktails, or at least on ice – not for drinking neat with a focus on flavor. That being said, this blog is devoted to the discovery of (relatively) inexpensive ‘brown spirits’ worth imbibing neat. I feel that if I dismiss a dozen $20 whiskies as “Not Recommended” (whatever flak I may get in the comments) in order to find one $20 whisk(e)y that stands out and may find a place in my regular cabinet rotation, then I have done a good deed. Of course, I have a lot of work left to do: There are a dizzying array of brands and products available. So let’s get started with a Bourbon that I’ve been hearing good things about. Bulleit.
Bulleit (not ‘Bullet’ – it’s named after Augustus Bulleit, who created the first recipe in 1830) is owned by Diageo and distilled at the Kirin company’s plant in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. Kirin’s Four Roses Bourbon brand is made at the same facility. (Note: According to bourbon expert Chuck Cowdery, this is probably no longer true.) Bulleit is characterized by a higher-than-usual percentage of rye (28% according to Wikipedia), and a maturation of around six years, which is long for an American whiskey. Bulleit also has a straight rye on the market.
Nose: High-fructose corn syrup. The alcohol fumes have a turpentine quality. Deep in there are some brighter notes, like fresh raspberry and cotton candy. A dash of water seems, paradoxically, to heighten the nose tickle – a first for me.
Palate: The attack is very warming – you can taste that extra proof. Once it settles in on the tongue, there is a nice oakiness, plenty of vanilla, and a continuation of those processed corn syrup notes. The body is medium, with a nice heft to it. Water does not improve.
Finish: Lots of oak tannins and a wave of vanilla. Pretty long. Fades out with the tannins turning a little bitter.
Tasty in its way, and (I would hazard) better than some cheaper bourbons. However, with those fake corn syrup flavors – almost reminiscent of aspartane or other non-sugar sweeteners – I can’t say I would ever be in the mood for it. This is unfortunate, as the longer aging and higher percentage of rye in the mashbill had sounded like a good combination for me (I like rye, and I’ve always thought American whiskey was underaged). Oh well – on to the next one!
A further note on my ratings: If I rate a whiskey like this – which is generally well-thought-of – as “Not Recommended”, I am not discouraging the purchase of this product. I am telling you that I do not recommend this whiskey for drinking neat. I imagine it would make a fabulous Manhattan.