Monday, February 27, 2023

Hakata 10-, 12-, 16-, and 18-Years Japanese Whisky Reviews & Tasting Notes


I don’t get as much opportunity to sample Japanese whiskies as I wish I could. It isn’t a matter of finding it; Japanese whisky is everywhere. Instead, I don’t find myself thinking about it. When I peruse local liquor stores, I see their Japanese selections but don’t stop and browse. That’s a mistake because many fine Japanese whiskies are out there. I know because I’ve reviewed a handful.


As such, when ImpEx Beverages, the exclusive US distributor for Hakata Whisky, offered a chance to review four of its expressions, I immediately took them up on it.


The requirements for Japanese whisky have been recently revised, and that’s because stocks had been dwindling while demand rose exponentially. The solution for some involved importing bulk Scotch whisky and having a distillery rebottle it as its own. On April 1, 2021, the new industry-enforced standards went into effect, which state:


• Distillers must always use malted grains but may also include other cereal grains.

• Water used to make whisky must be extracted in Japan.

• Saccharification (conversion of starches into sugars or mashing), fermentation, and distillation must occur at a Japanese distillery.

• Whisky must be matured in wooden casks stored in Japan for at least three years.

• Bottling must occur only in Japan, with a minimum strength of 40% abv.

• Plain caramel coloring may be used.

• Whiskies that don’t meet the above requirements may not use the names of geographical locations in Japan, the Japanese flag, or the names of people that evoke the country in their labeling. 


Hakata Whisky is distilled and matured in Fukuoka, Japan by the Hikari Distillery (which was founded in 1912). The mash of the whisky is 100% barley. A fraction of this barley has been fermented with Koji providing healthy enzymes for fermentation and creating the highly sought after and delicious, savory taste known as Umami. 

The Sherry casks this whisky is aged in are kept in traditional style warehouses as well as a few open-air warehouses where they are exposed to humid summertime temperatures of 95°F and winter temperatures of around 38°F.  As a result, the whisky is bold and almost classical in flavor; retaining a freshness that is truly unique.” – Hakata Whisky


Hakata Whisky offers four expressions: 10, 12, 16, and 18 years. Thankfully, ImpEx Beverages provided me with samples of each in exchange for my no-strings-attached, honest reviews. Let’s #DrinkCurious and discover what these are all about. For the record, I’m sipping all four neat in my trusty Glencairn glass.


The first whisky up is Hataka 10. It is bottled at 42% ABV (84°) and runs about $79.99. It is available in a 700ml bottle.


Appearance: Burnt umber is the best description for the color, but it is even darker than that. A thick rim collapsed into slow tears.


Nose: An aroma of rich plum and dark cherry tickled my nostrils. It made me smile, and I had to stop myself from already in love with the whisky. Caramel and oak followed. When I inhaled through my lips, dried berries rolled across my tongue.  


Palate: The texture was soft, but the flavors were anything but. Raisin, plum, and cherry cola hit the front of my palate. Midway through, I came across candied nuts, nutmeg, and caramel, while tobacco leaf, leather, and oak formed the back.


Finish: The leather from the back became ancient while removing any moisture that existed in my mouth. As it faded, oak and cherry cola remained. The experience lasted several minutes and left a slight warming sensation in my throat.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: If sherry bombs are your jam, you will go wild over Hakata 10. There was nothing not to enjoy about it, from beginning to end. I enjoyed the bone-dry finish. It is reasonably priced, and I can’t think of any suitable rating other than a Bottle.




Next, I tried Hakata 12. It is packaged in a 700ml bottle at 42% ABV (84°) and costs a suggested $99.99.


Appearance: I wasn’t aware that whisky could get darker than the 10-year expression, but Hakata 12 made it possible — I could barely see through this one. Fast, watery tears fell from a massive rim.


Nose: A slightly drier nose of cherry, plum, leather, and caramel greeted my olfactory sense. As I pulled the air into my mouth, caramel and oak were in tango.


Palate: The texture was light and unassuming. Nutmeg, cherry, and plum were on the front, leading to leather, caramel, and cola at mid-palate. The back featured tobacco leaf, roasted almond, and oak.


Finish: Strangely, there was a kiss of saline as I swallowed. However, it didn’t detract from the cherry and plum notes but seemed to enhance them.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I relished Hakata 12’s fruity flavors, especially with the finish. I appreciated that it wasn’t as dry as the 10-year expression. I don’t believe anyone would have qualms about the price, and I am happy to confer my Bottle rating for it.




The third whisky in the rotation is Hakata 16. It is available at 42% ABV (84°), and a 700ml bottle is priced at around $149.99.

Appearance: I was taken aback when looking at this whisky’s color because it was much lighter than the 10- and 12-year expressions, presenting as a deep orange amber. A husky rim released slow, sticky tears.


Note: Various nuts combined with raisins, chocolate, and vanilla to form a sweet and prominent fragrance. The taste of red grapes was on the vapor.


Palate: A silky mouthfeel led to fruity notes of green grape, prune, and cherry on the front of my palate. Mid-palate brought rich, thick honey; the back’s flavors were clove, oak, and chocolate.


Finish: Green grape and prune made for most of the finish, with only a hint of oak and chocolate. Based on my experience with the two previous expressions, the duration was shorter than anticipated.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: While Hakata 10 and 12 were obvious siblings, Hakata 16 seemed to have been adopted. It could have been from an entirely different distillery. I appreciate the contrast and found it almost refreshing. The first two were delicious, but I was concerned this would be more on a similar theme. We’re getting into serious dollars; I would be more comfortable with it being about $20.00 less. That value statement only precludes Hakata 16 from taking a Bottle rating; it earns a Bar.   




Last, but only because of its age statement, is Hakata 18.  It commands a $189.99 price tag for a 42% ABV (84°), 700ml bottle.


Appearance: We’re now back to darker colors. In fact, side-by-side, Hakata 18 and Hakata 12 look exactly the same. Unlike the previous three, the rim of the 18-year-old whisky was fragile and yielded fast tears.


Nose: Chocolate, almond, toffee, and dried cherry gave a pleasant aroma. I found honey filling my mouth as I drew in the air.


Palate: A rich, silky texture coated my tongue. It caused me to lose my concentration which doesn’t happen often. Nutmeg, almond, and tobacco leaf were on the front, while raw honey and cherry controlled the middle. I got big chocolate flavors that married clove and oak on the back.


Finish: Cherry, honey, clove, almond, and chocolate formed a complicated finish with a medium duration. It also ended with a syrupy texture, which was far different than the mouthfeel.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: The lack of consistency in the texture left me dumbfounded. With all the whiskies I’ve tried, this may be a first. If you can spend this much on a whisky, Hakata 18 is worth consideration. Its pure uniqueness was enough to tip the scale for my Bottle rating.


Final Thoughts: Hakata 10 was my favorite, followed by 18, 12, and 16. I’m very impressed with what I tasted, and whether you take my Bottle or Bar ratings, I think you’ll be happy. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.



Friday, February 24, 2023

Barrell Bourbon Batch 034 Review & Tasting Notes

Barrell Craft Spirits is one of the more consistently excellent blenders around. That’s not to suggest it is perfect at what it does. Still, if you were going to take a chance and risk purchasing a bottle without knowing anything about it, you’d likely be on the winning side of that bet. I’ve had many pours from this brand, and I can count on one hand how many were not top-notch and have fingers left over.


While blending isn’t simple, Barrell makes things less complicated. It is located in Louisville and sources from distilleries around the country. Everything it produces is barrel-proof. If you think something is too strong, you change things by adding water. That’s on you; Barrell won’t do that on your behalf.


Batch 034 is a Bourbon that carries a six-year age statement. That’s the youngest whiskey in the batch. The oldest is 15 years, and there are also eight and ten-year Bourbons. Barrell sourced these Bourbons distilled from Indiana (MGP), Tennessee (George Dickel), and Kentucky (Jim Beam). The eight year had a high-corn mash and provided cherry, apricot, and hazelnut flavors. Six-year-old high-rye barrels possessing cinnamon and allspice notes were added to the blend and allowed to rest for several months. The ten- and 15-year barrels were chosen for earthy, tannin qualities and were vatted with the others, forming the final recipe.  


It weighs in at 114.62° and carries an MSRP of $90.00. Typically, Barrell whiskeys are easy to find at local liquor stores, no matter where you are.


Before I go further, I must thank Barrell Craft Spirits for providing me a sample of Batch 034 in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. And now, it is time to #DrinkCurious.


Appearance: I observed this Bourbon neat in my Glencairn glass. An orange-reddish amber produced a fragile rim that disintegrated as it released all its tears at once.


Nose: Dried apricot, plum, cherry, cinnamon, nutmeg, and oak were easy to discern, even at the first whiff. When I continued sniffing, I found vanilla and orange zest. As I inhaled the vapor through my lips, there was a distinct sensation of rose petals.  


Palate: Wow, the mouthfeel on this was thick and creamy! The more I sipped, the thicker it became, almost like syrup. Vanilla cream, nutmeg, and orange peel hit the front of my palate. Midway through, I tasted what I swore was Mr. Pibb, full of spicy cherry and plum notes. The back featured flavors of peanuts, cocoa, and dry oak.


Finish: Limp Bizkit recorded a song called Rollin’ (Air Raid Vehicle). The repetitive chorus goes Rollin’ rollin’ rollin’, and that’s a pretty good description of this whiskey’s duration after the swallow. Cherry-vanilla cola, peanut, and dry oak are what remained.  


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: You’d think with all the ABV this Bourbon has, it would bring on the heat. Nope. There was a warming quality, but it went down easy. Of all the Barrell Bourbons I’ve had, this drank so far below its stated proof that I had to recheck the label. And, like pretty much every Tennessee-sourced barrel that Barrell selects, there was a total lack of Dickel’s classic Flintstone vitamin, chalky taste.


I couldn’t get enough of this Bourbon’s texture. It kept me returning repeatedly, and when I consider how easy those sips are, Batch 034 falls into that dangerous category. I believe this may be my favorite “standard” batch of Barrell Bourbon I’ve had to date, including Batch 032, which I was in love with. So, yes, Batch 034 earns every bit of my Bottle rating. If I had $90.00 burning a hole in my pocket, this is what I would select to spend it on. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.



Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Murray McDavid Madeira Cask Finished Single Malt Scotch Review & Tasting Notes


I'll make things simple if you’ve heard the term independent bottler but don’t know what that means. Unlike sourcing whiskeys and rebranding them, an independent bottler will disclose and prominently display who the distiller is on the label. The goal can be to acquire an off-profile barrel or to do something special with the barrel that the distillery would not normally do, such as an unusual finish. Or, the distillery may usually send its stocks off to be blended with others, whereas the independent bottler will sell that single barrel for whiskey enthusiasts to try.

Murray McDavid is one such independent bottler that specializes in Scotch. Founded in 1994 by London-based wine merchants Mark Reynier and Simon Coughlin, along with Gordon Wright of Springbank Distillery, the trio went ahead and reopened the shuttered Islay’s Bruichladdich Distillery with Jim McEwan. The distillery was sold to Remy Cointreau in 2012, and then Murray McDavid was sold to Aceo, Ltd.

Murray McDavid has a philosophy of Inspired Scotch Whisky, which it defines as, “Questioning the standard conventions of maturing whisky in commonplace casks, our team developed visionary maturation techniques, seeking exceptionally well-sourced oak casks from the very best vineyards, bodegas across Europe and whiskey-makers of America.

The group has several lines of expressions, one of which is Cask Craft. It highlights single malts from around Scotland while utilizing various kinds of wood. Today I’m sampling Madeira Cask Finished, which was distilled by Speyside’s Linkwood Distillery. As the name suggests, this single malt matured in Madeira wine barriques.

Madeira is a fortified wine, much like sherry, from grapes grown on the Portuguese Madeira Islands off the African coast. Madeira has been in production since the 15th century. In modern times, it is made by oxidizing the wine via a combination of age and heat. When aged in barrels (the process is called cantiero), the process takes anywhere from 20 to 100 years. But the wine is so stable that it will survive essentially forever, even after being uncorked!

Madeira Cask Finished carries no age statement, is naturally colored, and is packaged at 44.5% ABV (89°) in 700ml bottles. Murray McDavid is imported exclusively by Keeper’s Quest, Inc. While the US pricing is not yet disclosed, it should be affordable, as its native price is £34.00.

I’m almost ready to #DrinkCurious. Before I do, I must take a moment to thank Keeper’s Quest for providing me a sample of Madeira Finish in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review.

Appearance: I explored this single malt Scotch via a neat pour in my Glencairn glass. A deep, golden liquid formed a medium-thin rim that released a wavy curtain back to the pool of liquid sunshine.

Nose: A big, fruity aroma composed of green grape, apricot, apple, and honeycomb flowed from the glass to my face. A taste of thick, raw honey rolled across my tongue when I drew the air through my lips.

Palate: A creamy mouthfeel carried flavors of golden raisin, dried apricot, and lemon zest to the front of my palate. Next came cranberry, honey, and hazelnut. The back featured cocoa powder, dried oak, and ginger.

Finish: Long and lingering, I experienced ginger, oak, honey, and hazelnut on the finish.

Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Murray McDavid Madeira Cask Finished was an adventure in fruits, nuts, and wood. It was well-balanced, correctly proofed, and had a rich texture. Unless you have an aversion to sweeter single malts, this is a lovely experience. Assuming it is priced similarly to the pound sterling, this whisky is a winner. I’m thrilled to have it in my whisky library and bestow my Bottle rating on it. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.


Monday, February 20, 2023

Woodford Reserve’s "Historic Barrel Entry" Bourbon (Winter 2022 Master's Collection) Review & Tasting Notes

If you hear the term dusties, the person using it is talking about whiskeys made long ago. Almost always, the term is used with great fondness. You may wonder why there’s so much nostalgia surrounding dusties, and there’s a valid explanation.


You see, whiskeys made today are typically made differently than they were of yesteryear. You could have the same brand with the same mashbill and run through the same still. The whiskey could be aged in the same char level for the same period and using the same non-chill filtered methods. The proof in the bottle is the same.


So, why does the whiskey taste different? Well, there’s one part of the equation that differs: entry proof. Back in the day, the entry proof of the whiskey into the barrel was lower than in modern times. The reason is mostly economics; the higher the entry proof, the more whiskey bottles can be filled from a single barrel.


In 1935, the Federal Alcohol Administration Act set a standard for a whiskey’s entry proof to be between 80° and 110°. That remained in place until 1962 when the upper limit was raised to 125°. Most distillers were utilizing an entry proof in the neighborhood of 107°. The lower the entry proof, the better the distillate interacts with the sugars that are part of the barrel’s wood.


On the flip side, it matters when you add water. Let’s say that you plan to bottle your Bourbon at 86°, and it comes off the still at 160°. Legally, you need to bring that down 35 points before it can go in the barrel. The whiskey will age, the proof is likely to increase due to the angel’s share (evaporation) as it does, and once dumped, you’ll need to add a ton of water to get to 86°. That’s diluting a lot of flavors.


Conversely, when you dilute entry proof down to 110°, it can still gain strength when it ages. However, you will add less water once dumped because it went in at the lower proof. Thus, the flavors are richer and closer to what came from the aging process than if it was at 125°. Capiche?


Why is all of the above important? Because today I’m sipping on Woodford Reserve’s Historic Barrel Entry Bourbon, part of the 2022 Master’s Collection. Entry proof on this was 100° and was bottled at Woodford’s regular 90.4°. Otherwise, this is the same 72% corn, 18% rye, and 10% malted barley mashbill that Woodford currently utilizes and aged in the same #4 charred oak barrels. It carries no age statement, and a 700ml package has a suggested retail price of $129.99.


I thank Woodford Reserve for sending me a sample of this unique Bourbon in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. Let’s #DrinkCurious and taste what the big deal is.


Appearance: I sipped this Bourbon neat in my trusty Glencairn glass. The burnt umber liquid offered a narrow rim with syrupy tears that crawled back into the pool.


Nose: The aroma was anything but shy, tossing a blast of rich, thick vanilla to my nostrils. Nutmeg, graham crackers, and pear followed. As I drew the air through my lips, vanilla, and pear rolled across my tongue.


Palate: The mouthfeel was oily and full-bodied. The nose was heavy on the vanilla, but the palate was incredibly fruity. The front delivered stewed bananas, blueberries, and plums, while Asian pears, black cherries, and hazelnuts were featured at mid-palate. The back was spicy with clove, oak, and cocoa powder.


Finish: The flavors of banana, thick chocolate, fresh leather, citrus, cinnamon, and clove stuck around for a medium-long duration. And, while the Bourbon was only 90.4°, my hard palate was left with a slight sizzling sensation.   


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: While I didn’t have a bottle of the standard Woodford Reserve on hand to make a head-to-head comparison, I do recall how it smelled and tasted. These cousins are far from identical. Historical Entry Barrel is an experience and one you should partake in. Yes, it is pricy, but a modern-day dusty comes around once in a blue moon. I’m happy to confer my Bottle rating for it. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.



Friday, February 17, 2023

The Three-Tier System: Is it Time for a Replacement?


If there was ever an example of arcane laws still on the books, the three-tier distribution system in the United States would fit the bill. Seventeen states have absolute control of distribution (and are referred to as control states), going as far as owning the retail outlets and disallowing competition. Others have a more open system, but the truth is the three-tier system is woefully outdated and needs to end.


And, with that last statement, I’ve probably ticked off several of my friends who are distributors.


What is the Three-Tier System?


It is a relic from the end of Prohibition. In a nutshell, it was set up to regulate the taxation and distribution of alcohol. Yes, it is about ensuring everyone who is owed a tax can collect it. The three tiers are:


    • Tier 1:  The distiller or non-distilling producer. They must sell to Tier 2.
    • Tier 2:  The distributor. These are essentially middlemen. They buy from Tier 1 to sell to Tier 3.
    • Tier 3: The retailer (on-premises or off-premises). If the terms on-premises or off-premises sound confusing, they aren’t. It depends on where the alcohol will be consumed. A bar would be an on-premises retailer. A liquor store would be an off-premises retailer. But Tier 3 must purchase from Tier 2.


What’s Good About The Three-Tier System?


Craft and startups get an advantage from working with distributors. A good distributor can command a lot of pull and shelf space with the stores they sell to, making it easier for these smaller and unknown brands to get in front of the consumer’s face. The big boys don’t need this help because the Tier 3 entities constantly replenish the major labels to keep up with demand.


A Wisconsin retail manager, who asked to remain anonymous, told me:


“Most manufacturers won’t want to deal with retailers directly except large national chains. The end results would likely be the end of many small independent stores that would not be able to compete. Imagine buying a product from a wholesaler after factoring in manufacturing markup and their markup and having to compete with a chain that can buy direct and only pays the manufacturing markup. 

You would not want to see what would effectively be dealerships for every major brand. Consumers would end up paying higher prices after most competition is eliminated.”


Why Should We End the Three-Tier System?


There’s no short answer here, but I have a few significant issues with the system.


The first issue has to do with the Tier 1 folks themselves. In many states, they cannot sell their product directly to the consumer. Oh, you can buy from them, but they’re acting as both a Tier 1 and Tier 3 entity. Tier 2 still got its cut of the pie. The distiller legally must sell its product to the distributor so the distributor can sell it back to the distillery.


"State law prohibits me from taking spirits I make, and legally sell, to the bar around the corner that legally sells my spirits. By law it has to go to a distributor, has to go to the distributor warehouse, has to be gotten off the truck, touch the ground, put back on the truck, then drive to the bar, and has to be marked up by a minimum amount by law."Brian Sammons, owner of Twisted Path Distillery, on Wisconsin Public Radio (May 13, 2019)


My friend Brian and I can’t be the only ones who think this is beyond stupid.


The second issue has to do with territories. Distributors are granted agreements by each state to carry a distillery’s products in a single region. If a brand changes distributors, the new distributor has to register and inform the state that the prior distributor agreement is no longer valid. This doesn't become a big deal until you realize that if a Tier 1 entity cannot find a distributor to work with in any given territory, they're left with no means to sell their products in that territory.


The third issue involves shenanigans and game-playing that some (not all, but some) distributors engage in. In many states, it is illegal for distributors to set quid pro quo conditions for retailers to obtain products. To bring this into the whiskey discussion, here’s a fictional example of what quid pro quo means:


Billy Bob’s Bait & Booze wants to order a few cases of Eagle Rare Bourbon. The exclusive distributor for Eagle Rare in Billy Bob’s territory is Dealing Dan’s Distribution Depot. Dealing Dan has many cases of Eagle Rare on hand, and it is in high demand. Unfortunately, Dealing Dan recently made an ordering error. Instead of buying a pallet of Malört, he accidentally ordered ten. No one in his territory buys Malört in bulk. He knows he will be sitting on that stock forever.


Dealing Dan verbally suggests to Billy Bob that he will sell one case of Eagle Rare to Billy Bob, but he may want to also purchase a dozen cases of Malört, which he will gladly sell to Billy Bob at a greatly discounted price. Billy Bob scoffs at this because he knows that much Malört will likely sit on the shelf until his grandchildren’s grandchildren own the store. Dealing Dan suddenly remembers that he promised that case to someone else. Billy Bob, who really wants that Eagle Rare, orders both.    


The fourth major issue with the three-tier system is when distributors circumvent Tier 3 and consumers altogether. This happens in both control states and those that aren’t. This is from my Wisconsin retail manager friend:


I know a lot of allocated bottles, including some of the lesser Van Winkles, are going out to employees at our local distributor. Literally, have the same ability to buy as many bottles as any store can on most things.


If you say to yourself, “That’s just sour grapes,” or it is an isolated incident, it isn’t. The people who are supposed to be policing the system are instead taking advantage of it. On February 8, 2023, Noelle Crombie of The Oregonian/Oregon Live reported:


Oregon Liquor and Cannabis Commission employees, including top-level managers and the agency’s longtime executive director, have for years set aside for their own use some of the most sought-after bourbons, diverting them from the public and running afoul of state ethics laws. 

The blockbuster findings, detailed in an investigation obtained Wednesday by The Oregonian/OregonLive in response to a public records request, reveal a longstanding practice within the agency of reserving bottles of the popular bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle, for multiple employees, including the recently ousted executive director, Steve Marks, and his second-in-command, Will Higlin.”


Those emphases are mine. And, strangely, it is too similar a story to what’s happening in my state of Wisconsin. You and I both know that this isn't limited to just Wisconsin and Oregon.


What Should Replace the Three-Tier System?


I’m a bit torn on what should replace it. Brick-and-mortar liquor stores are an essential part of today’s culture. Not only do they provide a valuable safeguard against those who are underage from purchasing alcohol, but it also provides an avenue for people to learn about craft and startup brands. I look at my friend who manages a Wisconsin liquor store, and I understand his concerns about the survival of mom-and-pop outlets compared to the big box stores.


On the flip side, the Internet is a beautiful thing. We already have online retailers. I’ve purchased from them myself. There are current safeguards in place. UPS and FedEx, who deliver to my house weekly (if not more often), require an adult signature for anything alcohol-related. They don’t just leave it on your doorstep (at least not when you’re making a legal purchase).


Do distributors have a place? Yes. But should distillers and producers be forced to sell through distributors? No. I look at Brian Sammons’ issue to get a bottle to the bar around the corner. It is akin to flying from Madison to Milwaukee with a stop in Montpelier. It makes no sense (short of the state missing out on its tax money).


What’s Your Solution?


I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you love or hate the Three-Tier system? If you dislike it, what would you replace it with?






Thursday, February 16, 2023

Bulleit "Frontier Whiskey" Bourbon Review & Tasting Notes


Bulleit Distilling Company was founded in 1987 by Tom Bulleit and opened its distillery in Shelbyville, Kentucky, in 2017. In 1997, the brand was acquired by Seagram, which Diageo then acquired. Originally, Bulleit was distilled by Buffalo Trace.


Bulleit Bourbon is inspired by the whiskey pioneered by an old family recipe over 150 years ago. Only ingredients of the very highest quality are used. The subtlety and complexity of Bulleit Bourbon come from its unique blend of rye, corn, and barley malt, along with special strains of yeast and pure Kentucky limestone filtered water. Due to its especially high rye content, Bulleit Bourbon has a bold, spicy character with a finish that's distinctively clean and smooth.” – Bulliet Distilling Company


Bulleit is not big on transparency. I appreciate the need to keep certain things private. There are often non-disclosure agreements in place, and some brands are just plain squirrely about disclosing any more than legally required. In February 2021, I asked Bulleit’s marketing team face-to-face if the distiller was Four Roses and was given a long-winded semi-denial. As such, that piqued my interest even further, and I put on my detective hat.


In 1997, Seagram was producing Bulleit at its Lawrenceburg, Kentucky distillery. If you know anything about Seagram’s history, its Lawrenceburg facility was called Kirin Brewing Company. That city has only two distilleries:  Four Roses and Wild Turkey. And we know it isn’t Wild Turkey.


However, with Bulleit’s tremendous growth (one of the best-selling Bourbon brands) combined with Four Roses’ assumed limited capacity, Four Roses isn’t likely the sole supplier. As such, the distillate could be from several sources, including a blend from various distilleries. So, the long-winded semi-denial makes sense, no matter how frustrating.


There was also a high-profile controversy involving Tom Bulleit and his daughter, Hollis Worth. While denying her allegations, the press was horrible and resulted in Tom being “invited” to step down as its brand ambassador in 2019.


Bulleit Bourbon is made from a mash of 68% corn, 28% rye, and 4% malted barley. We don’t know about char levels or the entry proof. A 45% ABV (90°) standard 750ml package is priced at about $24.99, making it an affordable option. I picked up a 50ml taster at a random liquor store.


The lack of a brand’s transparency and any controversies do not affect my tasting notes or subsequent rating. So, let’s do the #DrinkCurious thing.


Appearance: I drank this Bourbon neat in my Glencairn glass. It presented as blonde straw and created a thinner rim with fast, thick legs that raced back into the pool of whiskey.


Nose: A hint of butterscotch escaped the glass as I picked it up. Further exploration provided pineapple, honey, toasted oak, and cinnamon aromas. When I drew the air through my lips, honey stood out.


Palate: I found a buttery texture that coated every crevice of my mouth. Vanilla, cinnamon, and apple were on the front of my palate, while flavors of cinnamon, hazelnut, and orange rind were next. I tasted black licorice, toasted oak, and black pepper on the back.


Finish: There was an interesting mix of black pepper, clove, hazelnut, and black licorice that stuck around for several minutes. A moderate tingling of my tongue was notable.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: This Bourbon is a bit rough, and I guess that’s part of the Frontier Whiskey charm. I think Bulleit’s flagship Bourbon would make a good cocktail base, but it isn’t something I’d consider as a daily sipper. I buy and rate whiskeys to be enjoyed neat. The price is undoubtedly attractive, and it isn’t a bad Bourbon. As such, it earns a Bar rating from me. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.