With an increased interest in premium cocktails and mixology has come a greater interest in whiskey, particularly bourbon. Classic whiskey-based cocktails like the Whiskey Sour and Old Fashioned, and contemporary spins on old classics like the Kentucky Mule, have opened the whiskey conversation up to a far larger audience.
Craft distilleries are popping up all over the world but they don't offer the history and heritage decades old, family run businesses do. Bulleit was originally developed between 1830 and 1860 before its maker mysteriously disappeared off the face of the Earth, never to be seen again. The recipe was revived in 1987 and thirty-years on the brand has just introduced a new spirit to its range.
In a recent conversation with Tom Bulleit himself, we got to pick the brain of a whiskey master while he dropped some expert knowledge. Here's everything you need to know about our new favorite bourbon whiskey, Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old, and bourbon whiskey in general.
What is bourbon whiskey?
Before looking at bourbon specifically, we need to ask: what is whiskey? Whiskey, or whiskey, as it’s spelled in Scotland, Japan, and most of the world, is a spirit distilled from malted and fermented grain mash that includes a combination of rye, corn, wheat and barley.
Bourbon is a type of whiskey distinguished from other whiskeys by a set of requirements laid out in American law. While the definition varies from country to country, many trade agreements require a product named bourbon to be made in the U.S. and therefore abide by these standards. To be considered a bourbon the whiskey must, amongst other things, be produced in the United States (anywhere, not just Kentucky or Tennessee as some assume), made from a grain mixture that’s at least 51% corn, and aged in charred oak containers.
In the US we have a law that says—just like you can only make Champagne in the Champagne region of France—true bourbon is only made in the U.S. But, you could make it anywhere.
Other commonly recognized whiskeys such as Scotch or Japanese whisky are developed using a different mash bill, or mix of grains. While there are similarities in production methods, such as typically being aged in charred white oak casks, each liquor can vary greatly from the next in color, taste and smell.
What makes Bulleit’s bourbon unique?
Tom Bulleit fulfilled a lifelong dream by reviving an old family bourbon recipe in 1987 having previously worked in the military and law. The recipe originally belonged to his great-great-grandfather Augustus Bulleit who developed the whiskey between 1830 and 1860 before mysteriously vanishing while transporting his barrels between Kentucky and New Orleans.
Bulleit is my great-great-grandfather Augustus Bulleit's recipe. His recipe was 2/3 corn and 1/3 rye. Today, it's 68% corn, 4% malted barley and 28% rye. So it's distinctly a bourbon in that those are the three grains, and it's distinct amongst other bourbons because that's about twice as much rye as you would typically put in a bourbon.
It's this higher proportion of rye grain that gives Bulleit's bourbon its complex, distinctly bold and spicy taste.
What is Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old?
Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old is the latest whiskey to join the brand's range which already includes the classic Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye. The newcomer has been aged for a minimum of ten years in charred American white oak casks to add richness and depth while making the liquor smoother.
What it's going to do is enhance the color, but it's also going to make the flavor transition from vanilla to caramel. There's going to be a distinct oak influence in the tan. It's going to have a different profile in the mouth and it's going to have a different texture.
Bulleit has always been responsive to what its customers are drinking. Bartenders in San Fransisco were telling Tom about the demand for such a spirit and Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old was developed from there. His network in San Fransisco, New York, Austin, Chicago and beyond then gave him feedback before he shared it with the world. Tom referred to the bartenders and mixologists as the “captains of the industry,” because they know exactly what people are ordering and how they’re ordering it.
How should Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old be drunk?
The spirit’s depth lends itself to being drunk neat, but if you’d like to take the edge off slightly, Tom Bulleit recommends drinking it over ice or with a little water.
Water is to whiskey as oxygen is to wine. You really open it up. There's a molecular change that happens. The difference when you add water or ice is fascinating. It's going to enhance the flavor overall, pulling back the alcohol a little and opening up the whiskey.
Find out more about Bulleit and Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old, including where to buy it, drink it and mix it, over at bulleit.com.