Whiskey Review: Bulleit 12 Year Old Frontier Rye Whiskey

Bulleit is a brand that, in my opinion, has been consistently putting out reasonable spirits at a reasonable price. There’s nothing that has really knocked my socks off in terms of amazing flavors or interesting production methods, but at the end of the day it’s a good value for money. (And if I need to mix a cocktail, it’s a better option than wasting some Blanton’s.) But Bulleit has started putting out some long aged spirits recently, and their 12 year rye seems like something that might actually be a little special.



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 Bourbon 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 Bourbon. 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.


Interestingly, this specific product (the 12 year rye) was first introduced in 2019 by Bulleit and then quietly put on the back burner. Bottles haven’t been produced in a while, but it seems that Bulleit has decided that now (2024, in case you’re reading this in the future) is the time to turn the taps back on to see how the market reacts.

Despite the existence of a standalone distillery, Bulleit Rye is mass produced at the enormous MGP facility in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. This industrial alcohol production plant churns out spirits for countless brands and in vast quantities (to varying levels of success). I’ll note that while outsourced production like this often means a reduction in the quality of the spirit, MGP has also been responsible for being the source of some truly delicious whiskey.

The original recipe for Bulleit Bourbon has historically been a “high rye” bourbon, meaning that a significant portion of the grain bill for the spirit came from rye instead of the traditional corn. For their rye offering, they upped the ante and pretty much all of their grains in this bottle are rye — 95% in fact (hence the name). The remaining 5% is malted barley.

Production starts with that crop of 95% rye grains and 5% malted barley. The grains are milled, cooked, and fermented to create a mildly alcoholic liquid. The alcohol is then concentrated and selectively captured in MGP’s massive column stills, which are designed for rapid alcohol production and typically result in a less characterful spirit.

Following distillation, the spirit is placed into new charred oak barrels for a period of no less than 12 years. This happens at a combination of MGP’s facility and Bulleit’s own warehouse — which indicates to me that the actual spirit they source from MGP is aged for a shorter period of time, removed from the old barrels, shipped to Bulleit, and then re-barreled for some additional time. Once properly matured, multiple barrels of the spirit is blended together to create a consistent flavor profile and bottled for sale.


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: green and white, a simple scheme that supports the story the bottle is trying to convey (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.



Of all the versions of Bulleit I’ve tried, this is definitely the darkest bottle I’ve seen. The liquid is a deep rust color, with a bit of an orange glow around the edges. The appearance is much like a glass of well aged cognac.

Taking a whiff, the aroma is deep and well saturated. Right up front is that crisp apple aroma, a hallmark of a good rye whiskey. That’s supported by rich brown sugar, vanilla, and fresh baked bread with some baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg. The aromas may seem normal and boring, but the level of saturation that they have here is impressive.

I’ll admit — the first sip was unexpected. The flavors are powerful and not entirely balanced. Immediately, I get a hit of dark chocolate combined with raw rye grains, including that spicy bitterness that ryes are well known to provide. That combination is strange enough, but it quickly evolves to include vanilla, brown butter, and black pepper. On the finish, that black pepper is really all I’m getting along with some more raw rye grains. Repeated sips start to add some crisp apple to the beginning of the flavor profile, but the bitterness of the dark chocolate and the rye grains is something that really ever go away.

On Ice

Normally, I’m concerned about what some added ice would do to a spirit — in this case I was praying. This rye is a bit too powerful and bitter for my taste when taken neat, but I was hoping those same characteristics would help make this a good spirit for cocktails and other mixed drinks. And based on how it handled some ice, I think it has a good shot.

The first thing you’ll notice is that the dark chocolate and rye spice have been significantly toned down. They still exist — and especially in the case of the dark chocolate, still provides a good depth and foundation for other flavors — but it isn’t overpowering anymore. I can clearly taste the crisp apple, brown sugar, and fresh baked bread now instead of just bitterness and chocolate.

It still isn’t properly balanced –there’s still too much bitterness and not enough fruit. But at least it isn’t just bitterness now.

Old Fashioned

Bitterness seems to be a word that keeps coming up in this review. Whether from the rye spice or the dark chocolate, there’s a good bit of that sensation in this glass. It’s a good thing if you want something to cut through a buttery accompanying dish like a thick steak, but it can be a bit of a problem when you start adding bitters to an already bitter spirit.

In general, this is better. The flavors are more balanced and interesting, with the herbaceous bitters and the dark chocolate going together quite nicely. The biggest issue is that bitterness, but that can be overcome by the addition of some extra sweetness. A bit of simple syrup or something equally sweet would work to balance this out better. It isn’t undrinkable by any means, and while it is closer to being balanced than neat or on ice, there’s still a bit of work to do.


This is nearly perfect.

What I really like is the balance between the ginger beer, the lime juice, and the flavors in the rye. There’s enough richness in the dark chocolate and enough black pepper in the rye to make things interesting, bringing out some of that brightness in the cocktail without going overboard.

Heck, there’s even somehow enough sweetness in all these ingredients to keep things in balance against the natural bitterness that’s going on in each individual component. Might this be a case where the whole really is greater than the sum of its parts?

The only thing missing here is just a teeny little bit more dark fruit flavor. I think if you threw a cocktail cherry in here it would be absolutely perfect without any notes. It just needs that one little extra push over the finish line.


Overall Rating

Bulleit dusted this product line off and put it back on the shelf, and I’m actually glad they did. In my opinion, this is Bulleit continuing to do what they do best: making serviceable spirits at a good price.

Compared to other aged rye whiskies, there’s nothing unique or interesting going on here. If you want something as delicious on its own as it is in a cocktail, then you should wander up to WhistlePig and give their stuff a sniff.

For a direct comparison, I keep coming back to Rittenhouse Rye. It’s a good whiskey that is the perfect choice for many cocktails mainly because of the saturation of its flavors and the straightforward flavor profile. Which causes a bit of a problem for Bulleit: Rittenhouse currently clocks in at ~$25, but Bulleit wants $60 per bottle for this. And Rittenhouse is better in almost every respect.

And that price point is the real problem.. and probably why this line disappeared the first time around.

Bulleit 12 Year Old Frontier Rye Whiskey
Produced By: Bulleit
Owned By: Diageo
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: 12 Years
Proof: 45% ABV
Price: $54.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 2/5
A decent option for adding depth and richness to a rye-based cocktail, but you might want to check out other more affordable options.


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