Whiskey Review: Bulleit Barrel Strength Bourbon (2017) - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Review: Bulleit Barrel Strength Bourbon (2017)

I’ve always thought Bulleit Bourbon a good whiskey, wholly approachable and flavorful sipped neat; minerally and dusky poured on the rocks. Just pleasant, no quibbles with it. But I bought other whiskeys I liked for the same price or even less. Sometimes much less. I have to say that I never sent my wife out for a bottle of it.

Bulleit Barrel Strength Bourbon, however, is a different animal.

Last year I was part of a press group touring the old Stitzel-Weller distillery in Shively, Kentucky, and while going through a basic tasting of the Bulleit line our guide informed us a surprise was in store: the 10 of us were going to be among the first to sample the new Barrel Strength. Having toured six distilleries that week, tasting barrel proof whiskey all along the way, this was welcome news; we were ready for it.

Sipping that Barrel Strength was reminiscent of the first time I tasted Maker’s Mark Cask Strength. A friend sipping alongside me that night said, “Damn, this is what Maker’s should have tasted like all along. I really like this!” Like the undiluted Makers, the high-octane Bulleit bore power in the proof (117, if I recall correctly), a bit of fire that put your palate on alert. Were it able to speak, it might have said, “My brother in that orange labeled bottle, he’s nice, but a bit docile. Me? I’m full of attitude.”

And flavor. It was a solid sipper, one that led everyone in the group to seek seconds, and possibly self-served thirds if the guide wasn’t looking. Its white pepper punch was exciting, and it dazzled us drinkers.

In its second release, the sizzle remains, and according to my palate, it’s delivering even more flavor. This is a rock-solid bourbon, the kind that makes you have that Maker’s Cask epiphany. Here’s what you can expect.

Bulleit Barrel Strength

Tasting Notes: Bulleit Barrel Strength 2017

Vital Stats: This is made from Bulleit’s standard high-rye mash bill, aged ???? years and bottled at Stitzel-Weller in Shively. Suggested retail is $59.99. It is uncut and non-chill filtered.

Appearance: In the glass it’s medium amber, and surprisingly, as leg-less as “Forest Gump’s” Lieutenant Dan—even after several swirls and a solid minute’s rest. Traditionally, Bulleit is thin-bodied, so this isn’t surprising, but the fact that it took nearly two minutes to produce gossamer-thin, widely spaced legs was unexpected.

Nose: An exquisite brown sugar bomb at the outset, followed by caramel, musty rickhouse, caramelized pineapple and spicy rye. I could sniff this happily for an extended period, but we’re here to talk taste.

Palate: It is a clean, delicious and straightforward whiskey that’s pleasantly sweet and spicy, assertive, yet highly drinkable. As quickly as alcohol contends for the mid-palate, vanilla steps up, followed by cocoa, milk chocolate and delicate rye, all in harmony, to beat back the sting.

If Bulleit manipulates one grain well across its line, it’s rye, and I appreciate that. Orange—almost in the curaçao sense—lingers all over the mouth, and the finish is soft and easy with zero burn. That’s commendable for a whiskey of this proof.

The Takeaway


Sorry to say, ‘Murica, but this release rolls first in Kentucky, then only to Texas, California, New York, Illinois, Colorado, Oregon, Ohio and Washington, D.C. If you can find it, I predict you’ll be as pleased as I am with it. If you’re seeking to introduce yourself to barrel proof whiskey or bring another drinker into the high-proof fraternity, start here. It’s a easy-drinking barrel-strength bourbon to be sure.

User Rating 2.94 (47 votes)
About the author

Steve Coomes

Steve Coomes is an award-winning restaurant industry veteran turned food writer. In his 26-year career, he has edited and written for national trade and consumer publications including Nation's Restaurant News and Southern Living. In 2013, he published his first book, "Country Ham: A Southern Tradition of Hogs, Salt & Smoke." A past restaurant critic for Louisville magazine, he pens features for Edible Louisville, Food & Dining Magazine and ghostwrites for multiple clients.