Whiskey Review: Bulleit Bourbon

, | June 11, 2015

Bulleit Bourbon

image copyright The Whiskey Wash

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.

The original Bulleit whiskey was distilled starting in the 1830s in Kentucky by Augustus Bulleit, but distillation abruptly stopped in 1860 at the same time Bulleit disappeared from historical records. The modern Bulleit bourbon began to be produced in 1987, being overseen by Thomas E. Bulleit, Jr., great-great-grandson of Augustus, and employs a different recipe with less rye making up the mash.

The brand as a whole is owned by spirits giant Diageo, and as for where the bourbon is actually being distilled at the moment, that seems to be a bit of a mystery (in the past at least some of it was said to be made at Four Roses, among other places). Rising consumer confusion around the subject has even gone so far as to result in a very recent lawsuit around the subject. In this review we will steer clear on the controversies arising around Bulleit for now and stay focused on the bourbon itself.

The original Bulleit recipe used two thirds rye and one third corn. However, the Bulleit of today still breaks from modern bourbon convention by incorporating a larger-than-usual proportion of rye at 28% of the mash, while the remaining mash consists of 68% corn and 4% malted barley.

Color: In the bottle, Bulleit whiskey is dark amber, but has a much lighter color when poured into a glass that’s more of a pale amber hue that is clear and transparent.

Aroma: A smooth and strong scent of oak. Breathe deeply, and one will notice a rich and full-bodied aroma that includes bold rye flavor, which is unsurprising considering the major inclusion of rye in the mash. There is very little smokiness in the smell, and neither does the taste deliver any smoky flavor.

Palate: True to its name, Bulleit packs quite a punch to the palate. Tingling sensations ripple through the mouth and the whiskey centers and burns down as it flows through the throat and down the esophagus. Compared to other bourbon whiskies, the impact is very sharp and tangy, and might turn off some drinkers unfamiliar with such a taste. To enjoy it, this whiskey should be sipped slowly. Thanks to the relatively high rye content, the taste left on the palate is darkly sweet, with layers of woodiness and acidity.

A hint of bitterness emerges after several sips. This is not a whiskey that can be easily consumed in large mouthfuls. It can at first seem unpleasant and hard to swallow due to the spiky texture, but the palate is impressively complex. The especially high rye content makes this bourbon spicier and bolder in flavor than the typical whiskey, and it stands to reason that Bulleit Rye, which uses 95% rye and 5% malted barley, would have an even more pronounced spicy texture and taste.

Finish: The lingering finish is quite soft, and the sweet rye taste is delightful to savor. The spiky sensation gradually becomes something one gets acclimated to, and turns into a much more pleasant feeling as one consumes more and the first sips insulate against the spikiness.

Overall: Bulleit Frontier is a good bourbon to try, as it gives a unique drinking experience most other whiskies do not provide. At 90 proof, it is comparatively light for a whiskey and has a diverse flavor profile. The overall taste is deep, full, and is a terrific example of what whiskey ought to taste like. Increasing the rye to make this whiskey was a great choice, and it is the factor most responsible for making Bulleit such a memorable bourbon.

Rating: 88

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Derek Sun

Derek Sun hails from hot and dry Los Angeles and currently enjoys living in cold and rainy Portland. He taught himself to appreciate whiskey through many glasses and a few hangovers, and is always trying out new drinks around the world.