You know it ain't easy,
We just reviewed Bullet's NAS Bourbon (their original Frontier Whiskey) and now we're looking at a much older specimen, in maturation years. In many ways, it's the father of that younger spirit: same bloodline, same casks, just older and a little wiser to the ways of the world. Or is it jaded? As you'll see from the review below, I'm not quite sure. Let's lift the veil of mystery.
The 10 year Bulleit is precisely the same spirit as the original Bulleit, it just stayed in those casks another 4 years or so (and picked up 0.6% ABV? okay). In many ways this was an experimental gesture on behalf of the Bulleit team. You can't blame them for being curious about the influence of that psychologically significant double digit threshold, but nonetheless this is an age statement - 10 years. Not "until it's done" or "until it's right". It's taking this high rye bourbon one step closer to WhistlePig territory and seeing what lies beyond the blue event horizon, boldly going where no Bulleit has gone before. It's really not that big of a deal.
Until you nose it.
Are you sure this isn't just a rye aged in bourbon barrels? What the hell happened to that sticky, syrupy sorghum sweetness? I mean, it's still there, it's just lurking behind the honeysuckle, wet grass, vanilla, and sopapillas. I'm not kidding, it's downright fried pastry funnel cake all drizzled with honey. And is that a hint of play-dough? What is going on here?
That nose is really quite elegant, but just like the original it's the palate entry that gives you that Vulcan mind meld moment. Your first thought: "It's nice to meet you, are you the Legend's father?" And as you dig deeper into his brain, there are some interesting things happening. He's decidedly drier (well, we know which side of the family the sweetness came from). There's that flash of sweet, buttery bourbon then BOOM, the mind meld is broken. And suddenly he's attacking you with sweat bees on your tongue. An inexplicable spicy fire starts to overtake your mouth - adding water does not help here. This isn't just the rye talking. This has to be something from the wood, but how you get this fire from American white oak is beyond me. The spice even lacks character! - it's a straight-up Sriracha hotness (undefinable, but all over the place). This has morphed into a downright angry mouthfeel, a Vulcan that lost its logic - live long and prosper, indeed!
Look, if you like spicy, this is totally your thing. The dryness I can deal with, but the spiciness is absolutely my least desirable trait in a bourbon. Call me a wuss, but you'd be wrong.
Now that the spiciness has died down, there's a slightly puckering tannin influence - again from the wood. Every impression so far has suggested that the oak overstayed its welcome here. It's The Office of bourbons, it just went a season or two too long. It's not like you wouldn't watch it, it's just that there are so many better expressions out there.
It's interesting to step back and compare this to something like Glenmorangie's Ealanta, which spent 19 years in toasted first-fill American Oak (quite similar to Bulleit's maturation, but almost twice as long - then again, we're talking barley instead of corn/rye). Glenmorangie's offering is sugary, demure, and delectable, a product of carefully tended malt, perfectly chosen oak, and provenance. By comparison, Bulleit's 10 yo is just kind of ... cranky. It's not nearly as nice to drink neat as the younger Bulleit, that's for sure.
You get the sense that the extra years have just not been kind to this bourbon - like the woman Niel Young sings about in "Unknown Legend". It's a rougher spirit, but it refuses to make excuses. In fact, it just kind of celebrates what it's got. So who takes the title?
Why, we haven't reviewed the Bulleit 95 Rye yet. ;-)
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.