Bulleit 10 Bourbon: Review and Tasting Notes

Bulleit Bourbon 10 yr

The challenge:
Scrap the whole tasting notes/review format and condense it down to 140 characters (and keep it at least mildly interesting).

The subject:
Bulleit Bourbon 10 Year Old Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, 91.2 Proof, approx. $45/bottle

The Tweet-length review, exactly 140 characters:
Bulleit 10: Orange-blossom banana cedar bark nose. Cinnamon dark wood heat a bit too sharp.  Caramel red hot finish. Good stuff, but pricey.



* Thirsty South Rating Scale:

Wow – among the very best: knock-your-socks-off, profound, complex liquid gold!
Excellent – exceptional in quality and character, worth seeking out, highly recommended
Good Stuff – solid expression of its type/varietal, enjoyable and recommended
Fair – fairly standard or exhibiting obvious though minor flaws
Avoid – move away folks, nothing to see here, a trainwreck

Sample (and photo!) was provided for this tasting.

Drowning in wine

I have something to admit. I hate big wine tasting events. Same thing for beer. I keep getting drawn into these types of events for the opportunity to try new things, to overload on whatever it is that is being poured. But I really tend to regret it afterwards, kind of the way one feels after eating too much at an all-you-can-eat buffet, shamed by participating in something that goes beyond reason, ready to perform penance for your sins (whether gluttony or greed or even envy of others).

Why do I hate these types of events? Insert rant here… because I hate large tents or ballrooms full of lots of people pushing their way through crowded aisles trying to get in as many sips as possible in an allotted time. After the tenth taste or so, your tongue begins to numb to any joy of tasting anyway. The atmosphere suppresses any ability to sit with a drink, to get to know it beyond a cursory sensation. Outliers become more notable simply because they stand out from the norm. There’s simply too much followed by even more, even if (maybe especially because) you’re spitting after every sip so as not to get intoxicated or simply full. And that ain’t right.

Sure, you get the benefit of trying many new things at a big tasting event. And at a high profile event, you actually get the opportunity to meet and speak with the owners and/or winemakers and/or people who really know their stuff and are passionate about their product. That is, at least until the next guy in line starts shoving you out of the way so he can get his free pour.

I went to a trade wine tasting event today. It was for the High Museum of Art’s annual wine auction weekend. This is a big deal wine event, with big deal winemakers present, passionate small producers, all kinds of names I’ve heard but never tried. It’s also for a great cause, the fine art museum that calls Atlanta home. I had to be there, right? Well, I did get to meet some fascinating people. I did get to try a few wines that were really interesting (among many things that were not). And I did get to reconnect with some friends in the business that I don’t get to see often enough. But that doesn’t change the fact that I felt a bit depressed at the end of it, yearning for something like the wine tasting I went to a few nights before, where it was one passionate person sharing her family’s story with a small room of people who really cared about the topic at hand. I’d rather meet that one person, taste that one winemaker’s wines, than speed date through a crowded room for the opportunity to taste a tantalizing array of too much. Sure, each type of event has its purpose, and each has its place. I’m just sharing my preference, the way I find more relevant to the enjoyment of wine (or spirits, or beer, or whatever), the more intimate route. (Dear public relations people: if you must blacklist me from future events for my remarks, so be it)

So, with that said, I’m happy to share the winemakers I met whose wines really did manage to break through the crowd and leave an impression upon me. The next few notes will probably leave you saying, “wait, didn’t he just say he hates events like this?” True enough, I have to be honest, I did enjoy a few moments among the masses.

First off, I really dig the pinot noir of Kosta Browne. These are fairly pricey wines that I’ve only rarely tasted, and it was great to try a few of their wines and meet Michael Browne in person. Their Russian River has a great mossy forest floor aspect to it (yes, that’s a good thing). I may have liked their Sonoma Coast pinot even more, with a bit more balance between the woods-y notes and the dark fruit, a fairly voluptuous take on pinot noir. The pinot noir being poured by Andy Peay from Peay Vineyards also impressed, especially the “Scallop Shelf Estate,” superb floral and spice nose, lovely body.

Pierson Meyer‘s Heintz Vineyard chardonnay was fascinating, more mineral and then intensely vibrant than other Heintz vineyard chardonnay I’ve had (there are many, and they all tend to be excellent in different ways). I learned that their winemaker, Robbie Meyer, is actually from Atlanta and went to the University of Georgia – always good to meet Atlanta folks who have made it in the wine world. His L’angevin Russian River pinot noir is also my kind of wine, full of spicy undertones.

You’ll notice I don’t mention many cabs or other big reds, they were present in abundance, but none of them really spoke to me. I’ve moved on from the attraction of big wines… AND big wine events.

P.S. I realize for many people in the trade, attending large trade tastings is very important. This is from the perspective of both a consumer (who has attended many large scale fundraiser wine tasting events) and a writer (who covers both trade and consumer events). Thanks, any feedback appreciated in the comments below.

Three Fine Ryes: Bulleit 95, Rittenhouse 100, Russell’s Reserve

Rye has been on a steady upward swing over the past several years, driven in large part by the similar upward trajectory of classic cocktails. The notion that a proper Manhattan should be made with rye has taken hold, rightfully so in our opinion – the spicier profile of rye just balances so well with sweet vermouth and a touch of bitters. Of course, savvy distillers and marketers are looking to take advantage of this trend. Just this week, the folks behind Bulleit Bourbon introduced a new rye, Bulleit 95, Small Batch American Rye Whiskey. Bulleit 95 is 90 proof, 95% rye mash and 5% malted barley, and, according to Bourbonblog.com, is aged between 4 and 7 years. It’s also rumored (now confirmed) to be sourced from LDI in Indiana, whose production of Templeton Rye has impressed many. At $25-$30, Bulleit 95 competes squarely with the Russell’s Reserve 6 year old Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey (also a “small batch”) – a level in price well above Old Overholt and well below the big bad boys like High West Rendezvous Rye, Thomas Handy and Van Winkle Family Reserve. We decided to undertake a “taste test” between the Bulleit 95, the Russell’s Reserve, and the Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond (100 proof, at least 4 years old), a much-lauded bargain bottle ($15-$22) that is increasingly hard to find.

These three ryes make a fascinating lineup. In the glass, neat, the Russell’s Reserve has the lightest color, a light golden amber, despite the fact that it’s the only one that states its age – a solid six years. The Bulleit 95 kicks it up a notch to a delightful amber hue, and the Rittenhouse moves into deep copper territory, with a clearly thicker viscosity. On the nose, the distinctions are also clear. The Bulleit 95 is laden with sweet caramel, vanilla, oak and cherry, but evolves nicely in the glass, with layers of buttered popcorn weaving in and out of the toasty wood. The Russell’s Reserve instantly hits your nose with grassy, herbal notes, certainly more rye-like in character. And then the Rittenhouse brings the full on rye spice – heady, full, a touch of heat (it is 100 proof), and a molasses-y depth that calls to mind rum raisin.

Sipped neat, the Bulleit 95 has a lovely, lingering mouthwatering presence. The rye spice emerges here, and stays through for a long finish with a kick. This is a nice sipper, enough rye that you know what it is, but very well balanced. The Russell’s Reserve absolutely kicks it up a notch, more spice, more burn, more rye character. Not better per se, but definitely more of a prototypical rye. The Rittenhouse is a bit of a beast, and definitely benefits from a touch of water, with softens and smooths out its rough edges. As a sipping whiskey, the Bulleit 95 wins the round, though does not bring the combination of deep rye character that you will find in more expensive ryes like the High West Rendezvous.

The ultimate rye cocktail in our book is the Manhattan. Simple. Classic. Superbly balanced. We tried these three ryes in a classic combination of 2 parts rye to 1 part sweet vermouth, with two dashes of bitters and a twist of lemon. Here, the Bulleit 95 came across as a bit too mellow, allowing the vermouth to grapple away the drink. The Russell’s Reserve produced a very nice balance, but the assertiveness of the Rittenhouse really kicked the drink up a notch. We’re not saying that it will work better in all cocktails (or even with other variations of a Manhattan), but the Rittenhouse rye really makes a great Manhattan (and is a bargain to boot).

These three fine ryes are all worthy of a place in your bar – depending on what you’re looking for. Cheers to Bulleit for making a rye that stands apart, though it won’t be the rye that seizes the cocktail crown. The Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond is a stellar bargain and a superb cocktail rye. The Russell’s Reserve offers a solid middle ground, and if your tastes veer to the herbal, grassy edge of rye, this is the one for you. So… what’s your favorite rye… and why?

Bulleit 95 Rye, Straight American Rye Whiskey
90 proof
Approx. $25 retail
Tasting Date: February 28, 2011
Good Stuff – a very nice sipping whiskey, though somehow lacking in the full-on rye character despite the 95% rye mash

Rittenhouse Bottled in Bond Rye, Straight American Rye Whiskey
100 proof
Approx. $15 retail
Tasting Date: February 28, 2011
Good Stuff – a GREAT value for rye-based cocktails, sips nicely with a bit of water

Russell’s Reserve 6 year old, Kentucky Straight Rye Whiskey
90 proof
Approx. $28 retail
Tasting Date: February 28, 2011
Good Stuff – very nice overall rye for the price

For further reading, here’s a good little read by Greg Best of Atlanta’s Holeman & Finch: Rye: The resurgence of the other American whiskey

Update 1/4/2012: For those ready to step up to the big time, check out our BATTLE RYE between Van Winkle Family Reserve and High West Rendezvous Rye