I've been to Hollywood,
I have no idea how "small batch" this stuff really is, but you'd better hope they plan on making loads more of it because we've reached the pinnacle of our Bulleit triple-header. This high rye bourbon maker has gone and upped the rye to 95% (hence the 95) with barley making up the balance. It's like liquid gold. What better way to treasure that sentiment than with the inimitable Niel Young?
The nose on this thing is pure, undiluted honey. Like real honey, not whatever Arizona claims they put in their bottled iced tea. Shoot, from the nose alone I'm thinking they just went ahead and used this for the "honey" in Dewar's Highlander Honey that just came out. It's just as bright and floral - almost like honeysuckle and just as pungent. Plus, what are you waiting for? Go ahead and put this in your tea! I'm thinking it would give the Long Island Iced Tea a run for its money and make ten times more sense (you have no idea how many people I know who think they actually use tea in the Long Island version).
It's just delightful to sit here and smell this. In fact, I begin to recall a dream scene from Nausicaa of the Valley of the Wind, where young Nausicaa is standing in a golden field, grasses swaying in the wind. In my mind I can even hear that Japanese girl singing her "la, la lala la la la...". Simply magical.
There's a slight cereal note as you dive back in for the last sniff ("Quite well, thank you very much"). Only this time it's damp grains - think stomping across farm land in boots after a fresh, spring rain; you pluck some grains and mash them between your fingers. That's the smell that I'm parting with. Not the most complex Bulleit nose, but I'll be damned if it isn't the sweetest.
[Ed. note: I think very few (if any) of these cereal notes are the result of the 5% barley. Rye has its own signature cereal notes, and barley - unpeated - is usually just such a neutral grain (hence why it's preferred for tinkering with single malts). I'm uncertain about the malting, but I've no doubt that the barley is here just to mellow that rye spice a bit and give it a more corporeal, less ethereal palate. 100% rye mashes tend to suffer from that a bit; I say "suffer" because I like some earthy / farmish complexity in any brown spirit, Bruichladdich being most famous for letting that sort of thing shine through].
Right, well let's taste it! This comes bottled at 45% ABV, so a few drops of water should do it well. I already added them to dissect the nose.
Delicate, soapy sweetness gives way to a rolling hill of spice - I swear it started as Glenmorangie and then went all movie theater candy on me. The spice is signature for a rye, and can surprise many a whiskey drinker who hasn't given high-rye mashes a chance. It can be difficult to quantify, but think bright spices like cinnamon and paprika and you're getting in the ballpark. It's those little Red Hots cinnamon candies your Grandmother always kept in her purse, like that scene with the Oracle from Matrix Reloaded. So basically... you have become Neo, your mind awakened to the reality of spicy rye. Anyone else think that those Red Hots she offered him were symbolic for the red pill? But of course.
Really not a lot of wood mellowing here, but there is that slight oaky hint that comes out mid palate about the same time as the sour candy - the sides of your tongue will feel it right before the spice hits. But mainly it's all overwhelmed by that interplay between sweetness and spice. Bulleit, come straight out and tell us - what oak are you choosing for your whiskies? Is it air dried? Is it slow growth? Because this combined with what I got from your 10 year suggests that time with your oak does the exact opposite of what I'd normally expect from a spirit. See Glenmorangie's Ealanta for an example of carefully groomed virgin oak in action and tell me what you're doing differently. It's not ... bad, it's just bizarre. Truthfully, I'm glad that they bottle this around the 6-7 year mark. Hint: please don't release a 10 yo rye expression. This is excellent just the way it is.
Finish is long and full of spice - very pleasant really. There's really no need to search far and wide for a decent rye anymore - you have it right here, and at a very fetching price (usually just over $30). Just look or ask for that green label. Highley recommended ;-)
P.S. This is the perfect whiskey expression for mixing up an Old Fashioned. I mean a real Old Fashioned, not that over-muddled spicy water that passes for it when ordered from your neighborhood Applebee's. Find a bartender that knows how to do it right, or just do it yourself. The whiskey will stand on its own just fine.
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. ;-)
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.