In a nice bar in Williamsburg Brooklyn NY (Bill Baker’s), Bulleit had a tasting for their bourbons, Rye, the 10-year and their bourbon. There’s a quite man surrounded by some of the attendees, in the middle stood one of Kentucky’s finest, Mr. Thomas E. Bulleit, Jr. Small in stature but huge in aura, I made my way to introduce myself and discovered a southern amazing gentleman with a soft voice who loved bourbon. Although I went there to interview Mr. Bulleit, I quickly found myself being interviewed, he asked me where I was from, and he seem genuine with his approach, I knew then that this would be interesting to say the least. Afterwards, I not only became a bigger fan of Bulleit but a fan and an admirer of the man behind the spirit.
What inspired you to go into the Bourbon business?
My family has been in and out of the business for 6 generations, this is my great-great grand father’s (Augustus Bulleit) recipe. I grew up working in the distilleries even while in school to be a lawyer. My father passed down the recipe to me like his father passed it on to him; our bourbon is 2/3 corn, 1/3 rye that was easy to remember (laughs). Making bourbon was something I always wanted to do, but my father who’s a WWII veteran wanted me to be a lawyer and that’s what I did, but in 1987 I went to my dad and told him I wanted to make bourbon and he said “well that’s between you and your banker, expect no money from me”. My wife Betsy who’s a stockbroker has a great job, and helped me and supported the family while I devoted time and debt to the bourbon. I perfected the recipe, which is now 68% corn, 4% malted barley and 28% rye.
What’s your theory behind Bulleit’s rise amongst millennials?
It’s a massive and diverse society, and you expect authenticity and I believe that’s what bring us closer and also the bottle, which looks authentic and feels authentic.
How would you explain the uptake in popularity in Rye whiskey?
We are living in a cocktail culture now, and our Rye can be mixed with sweet and dry. We wanted to make a drinkable Rye that you can have on the rocks and it favors those who have a scotch pallet. My wife drinks Bulleit Bourbon, a lemon wedge and tonic, its called a BLT (Bulleit, Lemon, Tonic); have one next time you’re at the bar.
What’s your opinion on what’s happening with Tito’s Vodka?
All of the things that we do in this industry are legal; I’m not saying that they’re right but definitely legal. Our labeling and packaging is closely observed by the ATF (Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives). Along with the ATF Tito’s has to adhere to the laws and rules of his state of Texas, but beyond that I truly do not have an opinion.
Besides the 10 year, what’s next for Bulleit?
We are always trying new things, but I can say we won’t make flavors, we’re whiskey people so we’re going to do straight bourbon. We will probably stick to our usual format, which is asking the bartenders. Our bartenders in San Francisco ask us to make the Rye as well as the 10-year and we did. We sent around small samples to for them to try and ask them if we should make it. So we would probably stick to that formula, and ask our bartenders what we should make next. I can see us making an aged Rye or Barrel Strength or a number of things that’s true to the Bulleit name.
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