Old man, look at my life,
Get ready, folks, 'cause we're about to dive into an American whiskey triple-header! It's the season for these sorts of things, no? To kick it off we go with "the Legend" itself, paired with some perfectly appropriate Americana in that video up above.
Let's be honest - if you're a bourbon enthusiast, you've probably heard the Bulleit story. The funny thing about being a bourbon enthusiast is you really know if you are one. I mean, you're picky about the kind of young, sticky, sweet, caramel spiciness you like in your glass, and you usually drink it on the rocks because (1) that's what your dad did, or (2) 'Murica. You have a brand loyalty and sensitivity that rivals the Budweiser - Miller feud. You care, and I mean really care when a bar doesn't stock your Maker's (so, you like red wheat in your mashbill do you?). You even find yourself wary of new "bourbons" that appear in your local liquor store that don't sound like they were named after that affluent suburb down the street or a state park in Kentucky. Despite all those wonderful Buffalo Maker's Creek's names, one of your friends just told you to go check out a Bourbon with (gasp!) a person's name on it. Who the hell is Tom Bulleit? He must have some serious balls to emboss his name on that bottle and not even give it an old-fashioned wax seal! Blasphemy!
Bulleit is a bourbon that truly doesn't give a shit what anyone thinks about it. You want to read about Bulleit's small-batch rye release on their website? Tough, you get to read about the Legend. You want to hear them hype up their 10 yo expression? They hardly acknowledge its existence. It's obvious to me that the company wants to be known and judged by their original expression (even though their sales increased 200% with the release of their now monumentally famous Bulleit 95 Rye - hot DAMN). So here it is.
This bourbon is a true bourbon in every sense of the word. Corn makes up the majority of the mashbill (70%) with rye making up the balance. This actually creates what we would call a "high rye" bourbon, and I can tell you from the nose right now that the rye is very forward. How do you know if the rye is forward? It's the difference between that sappy sorghum molasses / dark fruit "feel" to the nose (corn influence) and sweet, ethereal honeysuckle honey. Brace yourselves though, because there's a lot more to this spirit than meets the nose.
This particular bourbon is aged "until its ready", but most open-source research will tell you that probably means it's aged between 4 to 6 years. What's notable is that this bourbon is aged in first-fill deeply charred American white oak (probably at Four Roses' distillery, where it was likely also produced). My experience with deeply charred barrels varies. You see, the spirit gets some flavors from that wood, sure (that teeny-tiny bit of smokiness on the palate? certainly those vanilla and tannin influences), but the spirit also gives up something to the wood. I find that the char tends to act a lot like charcoal, softening and mellowing out the harsher or more astringent characteristics of the spirit.
Let's dip our toes in the water.
This spirit unloads with warm, buttery corn bread. That biscuity dryness comes from the oak, to be sure. If you'd like, you can spread some orange marmalade on top of it all, because what's stopping you? It's all there. This is a very drinkable whiskey, friends, and when I say drinkable I mean neat (add some drops of water to loosen that 45% ABV). If you add ice, you get a decidedly larger mineral influence, something that (1) probably has a bit to do with that limestone-filtered Kentucky water used on the mash and (2) could just as well be the limey travesty that is unfiltered Rhode Island water (shoot, we don't Brita our ice cubes).
Either way, the corn mash wins out in the end. Don't misunderstand me when I write that, however. This is a beautifully balanced, integrated bourbon, and that rye lightens the load in all the right spots, adding a nice honey and spice to really flesh out the complexity. At ~$32, this is a steal wherever you can find it.
In the next review we'll taste the 10 yo Bulleit Bourbon and do some comparisons. The original expression is Niel Young singing "Old man take a look at my life, I'm a lot like you were." The trick well be seeing how well the old man aged...
A special treat for reading this far.
Over Christmas, I bought a fresh bottle of Bulleit for the purposes of making brown buttered bourbon. Yes, that is an insane idea given what I just wrote above, and no, I don't harbor any prejudices against real butter. You'd better not either, if you want to try this magnificent recipe. Here's what you need:
2 sticks of unsalted, real butter.
Sweet. What I want you to do is put those 2 sticks of butter into a large pan and cook them over medium heat. You're going to watch them melt, then it will probably bubble a bit, and you'll start thinking "Am I done?" No. Keep cooking the butter until it takes on a decidedly brown color. This doesn't mean oh, it's yellowish, I mean you need to watch the butter caramelize. If it's smoking and or splattering your heat is too high. You really can't mess this up if you just give it time. When it doubt, give it a little more time. Low heat will take a while.
Next, uncork that bourbon bottle and pour it into the pan with the butter. If will now look like a nice, cloudy brown wassail, and will probably smell divine. Stir those liquids together for a bit to let them get in solution, keeping the heat on low. Don't throw away your bourbon bottle.
Now, turn off the heat. This is important: don't stick the pan straight into your fridge. Wait for it to cool to about room temperature - you don't want to melt your milk cartons. Once you can pick it up without oven mits, place the pan into your refrigerator (covered) and leave overnight.
In the morning, you'll notice the butter fats have congealed near the surface into a soft, white film. That's okay. You need to take a funnel, some cheese cloth, and strain that liquid back into the original bourbon bottle.
Enjoy your Manhattan, good sir or ma'am!
Tasting is a synesthetic experience. In this blog, every whisky gets a song - one that describes, suits, and evokes. I review any whisky that suits my fancy, and some that don't. I don't give scores. You'll know whether it's a winner or loser when we peel back its mysteries and start putting pen to paper.