Whisky Magazine was invited to an exclusive tasting with the legendary Tom Bulleit, and the interesting Bulleit global brand ambassador, Tim Etherington-Judge. It was part of the multi award-winning Bulleit® Bourbon launch, which is to be released in South Africa this month. It will be available in selected outlets from mid-September. The tasting took place in the ‘Bulleit Lodge’, at the Roodebloem Studios in Woodstock, as part of the Diageo World ClassTM Bartender of the Year Global Finals (http://www.theworldclasshouse.com/home.html).

You notice Tom Bulleit’s charm and effortless air of wisdom instantly. He may be a master in his field, with an empire to his name, but you can immediately sense his laid-back demeanor. That, paired with his husky voice and rich Kentucky accent, makes you feel at ease. You can tell that his natural air of wisdom is not groundless; he practiced as a lawyer for many years and has travelled all around the globe. In fact, he revealed to us that he travels 150 days of the year. He is responsible for one of the fastest-growing small batch bourbons in the world. After all, bourbon is in his blood – Bulleit® Bourbon was inspired by his great-great-grandfather’s recipe. In just under three decades, Bulleit® Bourbon has become globally recognized, each bottle have a distinctive crooked label, which Tom deems ‘precisely crooked’.

He started off by telling us about the differences between whisky and bourbon. As most know, bourbon has its roots in America, traditionally in Kentucky. While it is still primarily produced in Kentucky, it has expanded across the globe – although bourbon made outside of the US may not be called bourbon.  The recipe or mash bill of bourbon differs to that of regular whisky.  The major difference with bourbon is corn, with the percentage usually being in the high 70s or 80s. Most bourbons are 12-14% rye, with the catalyst being malted barley.  Bulleit Bourbon, as with a lot of Scotch makers, uses only the golden band or the heart of the whisky.  Pure Kentucky limestone filtered water is an essential ingredient in Kentucky bourbon and contributes to its defining characteristics. Owing to its particularly high rye content, Bulleit® Bourbon has a distinct, spicy character with an especially smooth finish.

In 2011, Tom Bulleit released a new kind of bourbon; a bourbon created in direct response to the requests of Seattle bartenders – a bourbon that is 95% rye.  It is the most expensive bourbon to make as rye is one of the most costly grains, and is notoriously hard to distill. Since its release Bulleit® Rye has become the bestselling rye whiskey in the world.

Bulleit tells us that Scotch is meant to be drunk with two drops of water, but Bourbon can be drunk ‘however you damn well please’. When I asked about his favourite cocktail, he mentions the famous Mint Julep, which is one ofKentucky’s signature drinks and the official drink of the Kentucky Derby. However, his true favourite, and, conveniently, his wife’s favourite, is the BLT – The Bulleit Bourbon Lemon and Tonic, deliciously refreshing.

Bourbon’s spectrum of interest has grown over the years, and with a world-renowned brand, a good strategy and market to receive it, it’s a great time for Bulleit Bourbon to be launched in South Africa.   The RRP for Bulleit Bourbon will be R330 – ask for it at a liquor outlet near you.

– Molly Fitz-Patrick