Whiskey Review: Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon

Bulleit Bourbon is a great “middle of the road” bourbon: something that has all of the traditional qualities (but nothing more) at just the right price point. But what happens when you take that mediocre bourbon and stick it in a barrel for a full decade? Is the result an above-and-beyond masterpiece, or a longer-than-necessary mediocre spirit?

History

The brand name for Bulleit dates back to about 1830 in the United States. Around this time Augustus Bulleit, a French immigrant who came to New Orleans with his family around 1805, had moved to the Louisville, Kentucky area and opened a number of taverns. He created the original Bulleit Bourbon as a house whiskey for his barkeeps, but increased popularity caused him to start selling locally to other bars as well as exporting some back to New Orleans.

The original Bulleit Bourbon production died with Augustus in 1860, but (according to legend) the recipe was passed down through the family until his great grandson Tom Bulleit decided to resurrect the family business in 1987. Using the same name as the original, he built a successful whiskey business and ran it as an independent family-owned venture until Seagram purchased a controlling share of the business a decade later in 1997

After Seagram purchased the Bulleit brand, they moved production to their facility in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, the same location that makes the Four Roses brand. Seagrams was then later purchased by the British Diageo company (which also owns Johnnie Walker, Moët & Chandon, and Veuve Clicquot), and the distillery passed into the ownership of their Japanese subsidiary Kirin Brewing Company.

Production remained there until 2017 when Diageo opened a standalone distilling facility for Bulleit Burbon in Shelby County, Kentucky. Christened by Tom Bulleit on the 30th anniversary of starting the business, the facility produces 1.8 million proof gallons of product for Bulleit Burbon. While the primary manufacturing is located at this new facility, the bottling plant (and visitors center) is at the historic Stitzel–Weller Distillery in Shively.

Product

Bulleit Bourbon may have been around since the 1800’s but the original recipe would actually have been branded as a rye whiskey by today’s standards, and not a bourbon — it called for nearly 66% of the grains used in the mash to be rye. According to modern standards, brown liquors need at least 51% of the grains to be corn in order to be considered a bourbon. So in 1987, when Tom Bulleit resurrected the brand he re-calibrated the mixture to be more corn heavy, aged it for a longer period, and bottled it as the Bulleit Bourbon we know today.

The Bulleit Bourbon of today uses a mixture of 68% corn, 28% rye, and 4% malted barley, which is a significantly higher rye content than most bourbons on the market today. After fermentation and distillation, the alcohol is aged to the desired level. Normally, this isn’t disclosed (although as a “straight” bourbon, we know it’s a minimum of two years); however, in this case the whiskey rests in the barrel for at least 10 years before being bottled.

Packaging

I’m not a guy that likes ostentatious packaging, so Bulleit fits neatly within my comfort zone. There’s some styling to the bottle beyond the standard “round” shape, as the bottle is definitely wider than it is deep and has rounded shoulders and reminiscent of antique bottles. The company name is molded into the clear glass itself, with raised lettering near the top of the bottle.

The label is a long skinny rectangle that wraps around 3/4 of the bottle, offset at a slight angle to give the appearance that it was placed by hand. There are only two colors used, black and white, a simple scheme that supports the story the bottle is trying to tell — that this is an ancient brand which relies on taste instead of marketing glitz.

The bottle is capped with a cork stopper with a black cap. I’m pretty sure it’s plastic, but I could be wrong.

Neat

Compared to the normal Bulleit Bourbon, I’d say that the aroma coming off the glass is a darker, richer expression. There are more of the flavors that I associate with the charred barrels in here, specifically some cherry and a heavy helping of caramel.

The flavor follows that pattern and is significantly bolder than the young whipper-snapper that is their flagship product. It’s richer and darker, as if you roasted a caramel toffee candy over a campfire instead of a marshmallow. There is also a bit of vanilla and some cinnamon spice rounding out the flavor profile, and a bit of peppery spice on the finish.

All of those flavors come and go, and what you’re left with in the end is a bit of the spice from the rye content… as well as the feeling like you just licked a charred piece of oak. That taste lingers for a relatively long time and has some force behind it, so you might not want to drink this spirit with a delicately flavored meal.

On Ice

Usually, a bit of ice reduces the harsher tones in the flavor profile. Ice has the ability to improve otherwise undrinkable spirits with this softening effect… but it also can take something extraordinary and water it down, removing the uniqueness of the spirit.

In this case, that aftertaste of charred oak is slightly toned down but otherwise everything remains pretty much where it was. It’s a lot closer to the original “no age statement” orange label Bulleit Bourbon, but with a bit of a darker tone to the flavors. I’d call it an improvement overall.

Old Fashioned

In general, I like what I’m seeing here. The bourbon flavors play nicely with the angostura bitters, and the sugar does a great job bringing the flavors together. But that charred oak aftertaste is still present, even with all of the other flavors thrown in there.

Not all old fashioned cocktails are the same, and that variety is why we use it in our testing scheme. The smokey aspects here might be a benefit if you’re taking a more fruit forward approach, like blending in some peach simple syrup, for example. But the standard version might just be a little too charred for my taste.

Mule

I really like Bulleit for the Kentucky Mules that are my go-to order during the summer. It provides just the right things at just the right price point — a bit of vanilla and caramel sweetness to balance out the ginger beer, some peppery spice to add some depth to the cocktail, and generally ends in a lovely sweet-and-spicy drink. This is no different, with all of the same players showing up, just with a little extra char on it.

The cocktail seems to be a little bit richer and darker in tone, but otherwise unchanged. The same flavors are there, just a little more smokey than normal. Which, to be frank, is quite often something I appreciate.

Overall Rating

I think that, just like the “no age statement” original Bulleit Bourbon, this is a great middle-of-the-road approach to an aged bourbon. It has the additional charred oak flavors you’d expect for something that was in contact with a charred barrel for an entire decade, but there are no surprises here (for better or for worse). At this price point, I think it’s exactly what you would expect.

Bulleit 10 Year Bourbon
Produced By: Bulleit
Owned By: Diageo
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 10 Years
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $39.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:

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Overall Rating: 3/5
Once again providing the middle-of-the-road benchmark against which all other aged bourbons should be measured.

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