Whisky Magazine Issue 50
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To paraphase an old music expression, it's climbing the drinks chart with a Bulleit.Charles Cowdery on the latest bourbon success
Tom Bulleit – ex-Marine, ex-tax lawyer, current whiskey pitchman – is on the crest of a wave, paddling as fast as he can, hoping he can ride it to fame and prosperity.
It has been a lifelong dream of Bulleit's to bring his family back into the Kentucky whiskey business. He first put that ambition into motion almost 20 years ago, when he was contracted with Buffalo Trace (then known as Ancient Age) to distill about 200 barrels of bourbon to his specifications. In 1995 he released two brands, Thoroughbred and Bulleit, but didn't quit his day job as a successful corporate tax attorney.
Afew years later, Bulleit moved his operation to Seagram's and their Four Roses Distillery took over production. Seagram's gave the product a new taste profile and a new look, inspired by 19th century American patent medicine bottles.
But winds of change can cruelly buffet a small, emerging product when it becomes enmeshed with giant multi-nationals. In 1999, Seagram's re-launched Bulleit in a handful of United States and export markets. The next year Seagram's was sold, first to Vivendi which peeled off the entertainment properties, then to Diageo, which kept some of the drinks business and sold the rest.
Kirin Brewery, which had been Seagram's partner in Japan, picked up Four Roses, both the distillery and the brand. As part of that sale, Diageo contracted with Kirin to have Four Roses supply bourbon for Diageo's Seagram's Seven, an American blend, as well as I. W. Harper Bourbon and Dia...