Bulleit (pronounced like the projectile) is a Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, owned by the international drinks conglomerate Diageo.
Self-identified as a “high-rye” whiskey, it has a relatively higher rye content in the mash bill compared to most bourbons (about twice the typical level). This gives it a spicier and earthier flavour profile. I don’t see an official age statement, but there are reports online of it being aged for at least six years. Note there is also an older age-statement version available, the Bulleit 10 year old bourbon.
The standard no-age-statement Bulleit seems to be something of a staple in bars for the high-rye class of bourbons (just like Buffalo Trace for a low-rye bourbon, Rittenhouse for a straight rye, and Maker’s Mark for a wheater). Its low cost and high rye content – both particularly well-suited to cocktails – are likely a good part of the reason.
Note that despite the “Frontier Whiskey” moniker, Bulleit is a rather new operation. Until just recently, they didn’t even have their own distillery – this bourbon is made under contract by Four Roses Distillery (edit: that may no longer be the case, see discussion here). That’s not necessarily a bad thing, as Four Roses has a good reputation. Bulleit also publishes the full mash bill specs for this bourbon (68% corn, 28% rye, 4% malted barley). It is bottled at a decent 45% ABV.
Here is how it compares to other bourbons of similar price in my Meta-Critic Database (and the other Bulleit products):
1792 Small Batch Bourbon: 8.59 ± 0.41 on 15 reviews ($$)
Buffalo Trace Bourbon: 8.58 ± 0.41 on 19 reviews ($$)
Bulleit Rye: 8.29 ± 0.63 on 16 reviews ($$)
Bulleit 10yo Bourbon: 8.56 ± 0.39 on 12 reviews ($$$)
Bulleit Bourbon: 8.38 ± 0.37 on 21 reviews ($$)
Eagle Rare 10yo: 8.55 ± 0.32 on 20 reviews ($$)
Elijah Craig 12yo: 8.67 ± 0.28 on 21 reviews ($$)
Evan Williams Single Barrel: 8.71 ± 0.24 on 15 reviews ($$)
Four Roses Bourbon (Yellow Label): 8.21 ± 0.34 on 11 reviews ($)
Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon: 8.70 ± 0.32 on 18 reviews ($$$)
Four Roses Small Batch Bourbon: 8.48 ± 0.42 on 13 reviews ($$)
George Dickel No.12: 8.26 ± 0.45 on 15 reviews ($$)
Knob Creek Small Batch 9yo Bourbon: 8.61 ± 0.40 on 21 reviews ($$)
Old Forester: 8.11 ± 0.43 on 11 reviews ($$)
Old Forester Signature (100 Proof): 8.36 ± 0.40 on 8 reviews ($$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon (80/86 Proof): 8.04 ± 0.51 on 10 reviews ($$)
Old Grand-Dad Bourbon 100 BiB: 8.37 ± 0.54 on 9 reviews ($$)
Russell’s Reserve Small Batch 10yo Bourbon: 8.54 ± 0.29 on 14 reviews ($$)
Wild Turkey 101 Bourbon: 8.46 ± 0.43 on 18 reviews ($$)
Woodford Reserve bourbon: 8.40 ± 0.35 on 18 reviews ($$)
As you can see, standard Bulleit bourbon does reasonably well for this class and price point. As an aside, the bourbon drinkers on Reddit have put up a good beginners and intermediate guide to understanding bourbon styles – I recommend you check it out, to see how the various bourbon options above compare.
I recently picked up a sample bottle of standard Bulleit during my travels in the U.S (shown on the right). As a nice touch, the glass bottle actually has the same type of raised lettering as the full-size bottles, with a lot code printed on the back. A nice touch!
Here’s what I find in the glass:
Nose: Sweet, and no mistaking this is a high rye bourbon, with all the baking spices. Lots of caramel, brown sugar and vanilla up front. Relatively fruity for a bourbon, with orange (citrus) but also banana, apple, and plums (different mix than usual). This fruitiness reminds me a bit of a Crown Royal Hand Selected Barrel I once tried, reinforcing that rye whisky connection. Oak barrel char. Some acetone mars the finish (acetone often goes hand-in-hand with excessive fruitiness, I find). Better than I expected overall.
Palate: Caramel and vanilla again. Woodier than the nose would have suggested. Same general fruitiness as the nose. The spices pick up a little bit – but more in terms of pepper and light spices (e.g. nutmeg), not the typical heavy rye spices. Ok mouthfeel, not too watery. A bit of mouth pucker once you swallow (i.e., astringent). Some oaky bitterness creeps in at the end – or is that citrus again?
Finish: Shortish. Dry bitterness is the main characteristic that holds the longest, along with the light spices and some initial light sweetness. This is its weakest feature, honestly.
This is a decent high rye bourbon. It was doing particularly well on the nose and initial palate, but couldn’t really hold it together very well on the way out. As such, I would personally give it a score very much in keeping with the Meta-Critic average presented above (i.e., slightly below average for the class). But that still represents good value for money at this price point. I can see why it is a popular pour.
For reviews of this standard expression, there are some fairly positive reviews by Josh the Whiskey Jug, Serge of Whisky Fun and John of Whisky Advocate. Rather luke-warm or negative are Nathan the Scotch Noob, Oliver of Dramming, Thomas of Whisky Saga and Richard of Whiskey Reviewer. Not really a lot of scores in-between (except for my own).