Q&A With Tom Bulleit

Back in November, I had the opportunity to attend a tasting event and meet Tom Bulleit in person. I was even luckier in that I was able to spend a good amount of time with him one-on-one after most of the guests had left for the evening.

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Back in November, I had the opportunity to attend a tasting event and meet Tom Bulleit in person. I was even luckier in that I was able to spend a good amount of time with him one-on-one after most of the guests had left for the evening. One of the things that resulted from our conversation was Tom promising to do a little Q&A for the Bourbon & Banter community. It’s taken a little longer than planned due to travel schedules and the holidays, but I’m thrilled to finally share the results of that promise with you today. The questions Tom has graciously answered are a combination of my own and those sourced directly from the Bourbon & Banter community.

Bulleit is a brand that’s benefitting immensely from Bourbon’s increased popularity and with Diageo’s support is poised to make some significant contributions to the Bourbon industry. From the recent launch of their Bulleit 10-Year Bourbon to the recent news about the Stitzel Weller distillery being reopened, Tom is definitely one to watch. Let’s read what he has to say on these very topics and more below.

One of the things I love about Bourbon is the combination of history and folklore that goes into a brand’s marketing. Can you tell us a little more about how you “fell uphill” into your relationship with Diageo? And how did that change things for you compared to what you had originally envisioned for the Bulleit brand?

My relationship with Diageo has provided Bulleit an incredible opportunity to partner with a company that delivers marketing and distribution expertise. It was important to me that we find an avenue to take our family business to the next level and we have been able to do just that with the recent launches of Bulleit Rye in 2011 and Bulleit 10 just this year. I look forward to working with Diageo for many years to come.

What’s the official plan and timeline around the Stitzel-Weller tour experience? What can visitors expect if they come for a visit?

While there has been speculation surrounding our plans at Stitzel-Weller, I can assure you that you will be one of the first to know when we have news to share. Bulleit will continue to be made the way with the same quality and commitment to excellence as it has since its beginnings. (Editor’s note: I’ve reached back out to Tom to see if we can get a little more information since we all know that the distillery is planning on re-opening distilling operations.)

One of Bourbon & Banter’s reader’s bars has had problems obtaining different rye whiskeys due to a supply shortage. Do you foresee that being a problem with Bulleit Rye?

We have an adequate of supply of Bulleit Rye.

What should Bourbon lovers know about the upcoming Bulleit 10-year release? Will it become your favorite whiskey in the Bulleit product line?

The same quality and commitment to our 10 Year Old goes into the production of both Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye. The difference between the base counterpart, Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit 10, is the age factor of three to four additional years. In my tasting, I would note that the vanilla tones in our bourbon have changed to caramel tones in the 10 Year Old. The liquid is spicier and more influence of the wood, which gives more oak in the finish. We encourage our customers to make their own evaluations since everyone’s palates are different.

How do you prefer to drink your Bourbon?

I remember drinking bourbon on the rocks with my father; however, with the recent cocktail culture revival, the ways to enjoy bourbon have expanded exponentially. The bartenders and mixologists who have embraced both Bulleit Bourbon and Bulleit Rye continue to create cocktails that exceed my expectations.

Outside of the work you're doing with Bulleit, what brands do you feel are doing the most interesting and innovative work right now?

I am a particular fan of the craft distilling movement and intend, in the future, to explore that territory with aged straight whiskies.

Facing Bulleit Bourbon's unavailability, what would you bring to a party if required?

People often ask what my favorite bourbons are, and my wife, Betsy, reminds me, "it’s Bulleit, Tom.”

I also enjoy providing my friends with a tasting experience that compares other bourbons, such as Maker’s Mark and Knob Creek, to the flavor portfolios offered in Bulleit.

Diageo’s decision to walk away from negotiations with Jose Cuervo has turbo-charged interest in Diageo/Suntory talks about purchasing Beam. Any thoughts on how the acquisition of Beam’s whiskey brands would impact Bulleit’s future?

A tremendous amount of strategic evaluation and capital needs to go into such action. Currently, I’m focusing on our continued growth and the launch of such innovative new products, as seen most recently with Bulleit 10 and previously with Bulleit Rye.

The Bourbon industry is on fire right now. What are you enjoying most about the resurgence of Bourbon’s popularity?

For us distillers in Kentucky, the resurgence is gratifying in that it commemorates the work of so many entrepreneurs across many generations.

What do you think is the Bourbon industry’s greatest challenge moving forward for the next 3-years now that demand has increased?

It will be up to all of us distillers to continue providing bourbon lovers with innovative and quality products that offer consumers with the opportunity to develop their whisky-tasting palates further.

What’s next for Bulleit and yourself?

We look forward to continuing to provide our consumers with quality products. This was most evident with our recent launch of Bulleit 10, which has already received accolades among many bourbon enthusiasts.

I want to thank Tom for taking the time to respond to our questions. We appreciate it and look forward to what he has planned for Bulleit’s future.

If you’re interested in learning more about Bulleit 10-year, stay tuned. I’ll post a review next week and compare it directly against regular Bulleit to see if it’s worth the extra money. Until then…cheers!