Among many things that I set to the side during Tiki Month here at the Pegu Blog was bottle of Bulleit Bourbon that the distiller kindly sent me for review. For a variety of reasons, I wanted to make a review of this outstanding liquor my first post-Tiki post.
Bulleit is a premium small-batch bourbon. The original Bulleit, Augustus, worked up his unique style of bourbon in the 1830s, and his secret disappeared, along with Augustus himself, on an ill-fated trip to New Orleans to sell his brew. While his actual fate is unknown, I’m guessing he was a bit ahead of his time and suggested to the locals that his stuff would make a better Sazerac, leading to violent defenestration. At any rate, descendant Tom Bulleit researched the methods and ideas of Augustus and has come up with the modern Bulleit process, proving once again boys and girls that lawyers can make a positive contribution to society, if only they just stop lawyerin’!
Now, I don’t drink bourbon neat. But I do taste new ones that way to figure out what to do with them. Whiskeys are very complex liquors, and if you leap right into a Manhattan with a new one, you’ll learn nothing beyond “good”, or “um”, or even “eww”. So I poured a few fingers into a glass, dropped in a couple of tiny ice cubes, and took a sip. At that moment, I found myself with something different on my hands. This stuff is good. Every bit as good as most of the single malts I keep around for sipping.
And Bulleit drinks more like a single malt than any bourbon I’ve tried before. First off, the various flavors are more in balance than is usually the case with a bourbon. In particular, the sweetness elements are toned down here, with a smokier undertone coming out in response. Bulleit uses a of of rye in its mix, and you can certainly tell. Perhaps if anyone still cared about the once white-hot debate over rye versus bourbon in Mint Juleps, Bulleit would be the product to bring peace in our time.
It is important to note that this is still definitely a bourbon, not a scotch. There are no peaty flavors here, and while the sweetness has been put in a more respectful place, it is still quite evident.
I may have mentioned before that I have a terrible sense of smell. If I saw like I smell, I’d be legally blind, so I don’t usually pay much attention to the aroma of liquors. But there must be some powerfully good aromas associated with Bulleit. I say this because I have a raging cold right now, and last night I tried the Bulleit one more time to make a few additional notes, and it was not nearly so good to me. It was flatter. If you have a nose that works like a normal person’s, I can only imagine how much you’d like this whiskey.
Several nights ago, I was down at Details, my new favorite cocktail bar in Columbus, and upon looking at the menu saw Bulleit as one of the options head barman Chris Dillman offers for his Old Fashioneds. Interestingly, it was the cheapest of the bunch. This surprised me greatly, so l later went and checked the Ohio liquor price list and was shocked at how reasonably priced Bulleit is! As I said, my first bottle of Bulleit (it won’t be my last) was a review sample, so I didn’t know. Blanton’s is about 44 bucks here. Booker’s is about 53. Bulleit is 25. Twenty-five.
My mind immediately leapt to Sobieski vodka. As I’ve written about that liquor, it is cause for excitement when you come across a genuinely top-notch product that is priced well below its peers. Especially in these times, where unless you have or a planning of getting a guvmint job, you need to count your pennies.
I only hope this doesn’t become a problem for the brand. I continue to think that the low price is a drag on Sobieski’s growth in the market. But it is a vodka. While the difference between it and its top-priced peers is negligible, the difference between it and its same-priced competitors is only slightly greater. Bulleit is a bourbon. Whisk(e)ys are unique critters, with huge ranges in style and quality between each brand. Pricing itself right next to Makers or Jim Beam is a bad idea. In fact, I asked Chris about this (right after he gave me the tragic but unsurprising news that he was out of Bulleit), and he said he had heard that they are considering moving the price up to a better neighborhood.
Not that I’m requesting a price increase! The world needs more great booze at good prices. I’m just saying I don’t expect this one to stay this cheap forever. So if you like bourbon, or even if you are a single malt guy, go out and give Bulleit a try while it’s still so unreasonably reasonable.