Bulleit Bourbon

The Most American of Spirits, From a 200-year-old Family Recipe

By Madelyn Miller, the TravelLady

My mother grew up in Louisville, Ky. She wasn’t from a famous family, but she was a real Southern lady. To this day, she loves all things Southern and her best recipes all have that taste of the South.

I grew up drinking Shirley Temples. I loved the sweetness and the cherries. When I reached drinking age I asked my mother what drink I would like. Being from the “Bourbon Capital of the World,” she unhesitatingly recommended several bourbon-based cocktails—not just Mint Juleps, but Bourbon Sours and Bourbon Old-Fashioneds.

I flirted with Harvey Wallbangers when I was in college and drank some nameless things at fraternity parties. But I always seemed to come back to the taste of bourbon.

I am older and smarter now, and I understand how much difference the bourbon can make in a cocktail. Some of the best cocktails I ever tasted were at the Lever House in New York. After the bartender told me they only use Bulleit Bourbon, I got interested in finding out more and soon discovered that the roots of Bulleit Bourbon are intertwined with my heritage.

Tom Bulleit is a Southern gentleman in the truest sense of the word, but his considerable charm and family pedigree are only part of the story. He is a former Marine, a combat veteran of the Vietnam War, a successful Lexington attorney and the founder of Bulleit Bourbon, a brand he created based on a family recipe dating back nearly 200 years.

Bulleit’s great-great-grandfather Augustus emigrated from France to New Orleans around 1800, eventually following the commerce of the Mississippi and Ohio Rivers to Louisville, where he became a tavern keeper. Of French heritage, he relied on his knowledge of brandy-making to create small batches of Kentucky bourbon in the mid-1800s. Soon his product was traveling with the tide of pioneers headed westward. Business was good, but in 1860 Augustus disappeared while transporting whiskey to New Orleans. One family story said he was killed by his business partner. Another said he disappeared into the sumptuous life of the French Quarter. In any case, his bourbon died with him. Until Tom Bulleit came along.

Tom Bulleit was raised in Louisville and worked in distilleries before joining the Marine Corps in 1968. Later he went to law school. During his law career, Bulleit was active in the campaign for a Vietnam Veteran’s memorial in Washington, D.C

But Bulleit couldn’t get bourbon out of his blood. In 1987, venturing into a new frontier, he created Bulleit Bourbon from the original recipe.

“I always loved the business,” Bulleit said. “My father couldn’t understand why I would leave a successful law practice, but I was attracted to the creative and entrepreneurial challenges of making this brand of bourbon and doing it right. I guess you could say it became my passion, and it still is. We are creating one of the definitive styles of bourbon currently distilled in this country. It is one of the most distinctive mash bills out there. The high rye content, absence of phenol alcohol and at least six years of aging produces something really special.”

Bulleit Bourbon was awarded the Brown Spirits Gold Medal at the 2004 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

The Bulleit legacy is a compelling chapter in the story of Kentucky bourbon, that most American of spirits. Bulleit resurrected a whiskey that was not only a lost piece of his family’s history, but of an American era. He is one only a few remaining scions of a Kentucky bourbon-making family whose name is on the bottle

Bulleit Bourbon, www.bulleitbourbon.com , is owned by Diageo, www.diageo.com.