Now Reading
Style Take a look at: Bulleit’s New American Single Malt (Nonetheless) Can’t Match Craft Distiller Whiskey

Style Take a look at: Bulleit’s New American Single Malt (Nonetheless) Can’t Match Craft Distiller Whiskey

Bulleit is the latest big U.S. whiskey brand to release an American single malt, a category that is due to get its own legal definition any day now. This new whiskey is just fine, but perhaps the most revealing thing about this release is that it offers further proof that craft distilleries are still leading the way in this up-and-coming category.

Bulleit, which is owned by Diageo, has gotten some bad press over the past few years. In 2017 founder Tom Bulleit was forced out over amid controversy, and the brand was sued by ex-blender Eboni Major in 2022 for discrimination (the lawsuit was dismissed, and Major now has her own whiskey brand called Dread River). As far as the actual whiskey in the bottle, Bulleit’s bourbon comes from an undisclosed source (Four Roses is said to have produced it at one point, and maybe still does), and the rye is distilled at MGP in Indiana. The brand has become a huge success since its founding in 1987 due in part to its old-timey-looking bottles and, more importantly, the quality of its fairly priced whiskey. While Bulleit might not be the choice of “serious” whiskey drinkers, the people like it and that certainly counts for something.

So where was this new American single malt produced? According to a rep for the brand, not at Bulleit’s two Kentucky distilleries which haven’t been operating long enough, but contractual obligations prevent them from disclosing the source. We do have some details: The whiskey is made from a mashbill of 100 percent malted barley and aged in new charred American oak barrels for about four years. If that sounds similar to James B. Beam Distilling Co.’s Clermont Steep and Jack Daniel’s single malt, that’s because it is. It seems that legacy distilleries are choosing to age single malt in the same way they do bourbon—in new charred oak barrels—although Jack gave its expression a very long sherry cask finish.

The resulting whiskey, while obviously made from a completely different mashbill, ends up still kind of tasting like bourbon after spending years in virgin charred oak during Kentucky’s hot summers and cold winters. That is the case here. This is a decent if unremarkable whiskey, with pleasant notes of vanilla, caramel, brown sugar, oak, and a hint of malt on the palate, but it does not stand out from bourbon in the way that other American single malts do.

Maybe that’s not a bad thing; in fact, maybe that’s the point. But if you compare this whiskey to the single malts aged in a variety of barrel types (new and used) coming out of distilleries like Westland, Westward, Hood River Distillers, Charbay, and even Stranahan’s (which mostly uses new charred oak), it kind of feels like a missed opportunity. The legal definition of American single malt is unlikely to mandate the use of new wood because most distilleries don’t want that. Instead, they look at this as an chance to create a unique category that is different from both scotch and bourbon. The old guard Kentucky and Tennessee distillers, however, seem to prefer aging American single malt the same way they do bourbon—which makes sense, given their barrel inventory and experience.

There’s no right or wrong answer here, but Bulleit’s new American single malt whiskey does represent a style, concept, and mentality that highlights the difference between the big distilleries and the craft operations, many of whom have been making single malt for more than a decade now. This is not a bad effort or a poorly made product, but it just doesn’t rise to the level that other distilleries are reaching in the world of American single malt.

Score: 81

  • 100: Worth trading your first born for
  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet
  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram 
  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market
  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable
  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

Source: Robb Report

View Comments (0)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Copyright © MetaMedia™ Capital Inc, All right reserved

Scroll To Top