A Drink With… Tom Bulleit, Bulleit Bourbon28th March, 2013 by Becky Paskin
Former lawyer Tom Bulleit brought the old family Bourbon back to life in the eighties, and has seen it grow into a cult brand thanks to a supportive parent in Diageo and a charismatic daughter called Hollis. He spills the beans to Tom Bruce-Gardyne.
The drinks are on us – what’ll you have?
I think I’ll have a Bulleit Rye Manhattan, because the Manhattan calls for rye whiskey and we make a very interesting one with a 95% rye mash bill, 90 proof and nicely matured.
Whatever happened to Augustus Bulleit – the guy who created the whiskey?
That’s a question we’ve been asking since 1860. He embarked on one of his journeys down the Mississippi to New Orleans with barrels of whiskey on a raft and did not return. The recipe was passed down from Augustus to my grandfather – Francis Aim Bulleit.
How did you come to recreate the recipe in 1986?
When I first told my father I wanted to be a distiller like Uncle Jim, he said “you’re going in the military, and then you’re going to be a lawyer”. If I said that to my son, he would grab a guitar and say “I’m outta here,” but in my generation people did what their dad said. When I went back to him in ’86, and said I wanted to bring back Augustus’ recipe, he said, “Tom, that’s between you and your banker.”
Bulleit is now part of Diageo – so what’s your role?
Diageo have been an absolutely wonderful partner and have grown Bulleit at a very responsible and business-like pace. It has now reached a sort of critical mass at around 300,000 cases and sales just about doubled last year. It remains an entrepreneurial venture for me, so I pursue new markets and do brand ambassadorships as well. And obviously I’m involved in innovation with new products like Bulleit Rye and the 10-year-old.
What about your daughter – Hollis?
Hollis has been involved for seven years. She’s our on-premise brand ambassador and has built a wonderful relationship with mixologists and bartenders. She’s got a bit of street cred as an artist who lived in New York’s East Village and now lives in downtown LA. She’s fun – she’s a piece of work!
Where’s Bulleit made?
We make our Bourbon in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, and we make our rye in Lawrenceburg, Indiana – both at old Seagram’s distilleries with wonderful stills. In my view Seagram’s had one of the highest quality cultures of any distillery company in the world.
Why has the Bourbon category suddenly caught fire?
Well whiskey has come back in fashion, there’s no question. To some extent it’s cyclical, but I think people have interest in a much broader spectrum of spirits than they once had. Specifically one of the things that helped Bulleit is the cocktail culture. We’ve worked that on-trade really hard trying to explain who we are and what our differences are.
What are your views on flavoured whiskeys?
You can make a flavoured Bourbon. Beam makes one and they may be great products, but that’s not what we’re about. We make straight whiskeys, and the rules are stringent.