Bulleit Frontier Whiskey is a fan-favorite and a household name. Its bourbon often ranks among the best-selling bourbon expressions in America. In fact, if you look only at sales numbers from online ordering sites like Drizly.com, Bulleit often clocks in as the most purchased bourbon month-by-month. It’s a well-known whiskey brand, is what we’re getting at.
With that ubiquity come plenty of fans. And, of course, some detractors.
As a brand, Bulleit has a long history, going all the way back to 1830. Its current iteration was re-created in the late 1980s by Tom Bulleit at the Four Roses Distillery (where the whiskey was made until 2017). Those are the bottles we’re here to talk about today. Bulleit Bourbon stands out by embracing a very high-rye mash bill with 28-percent rye grain in the recipe. That’s on par with Jim Beam’s Old Grand-Dad, another fan-favorite. The company’s rye, on the other hand, was sourced from Indiana’s rye icon, MGP, and carries the classic 95 percent rye mash bill.
To rank these bottles, we looked at one thing: Taste. When it comes to price, Bulleit’s whiskeys are squarely in the affordable mid-range of $30 to $60 per bottle. None of these will break the bank, so we didn’t consider price when tasting them.
It should also be noted at the outset that Tom Bulleit was removed from the brand by Diageo in the summer of 2019. Allegations of homophobia and abuse from Bulleit’s daughter and global brand ambassador, Hollis B. Worth (formerly Hollis Bulleit), led to his ouster and bigger conversations about inclusion at the company. Part of the brand’s course correction in 2020 was to lean into Eboni Major’s role as Master Blender with a new release this year — a move that’s helping to promote Black women in the very white-male dominated world of American whiskey.
Read on for the six expressions in the core Bulleit whiskey line, ranked.
6. Bulleit Bourbon
Average Price: $32
This whiskey embraces a high-rye mash bill that’s comprised of 68 percent corn, 28 percent rye, and four percent malted barley. The juice is then rested for six years before blending, cutting down to proof, and barreling.
This has a very classic, spicy bourbon nose with clear hints of vanilla, oak, spice, and wood. The spice is squarely in the cinnamon category, with creamy vanilla, warm tobacco, and a hint of orchard fruit lurking in the background. The end is warm but not hot. The oak, dark spice, brown sugars, and whisper of corn linger on your senses through the medium finish.
This is a really solid workhorse whiskey at an accessible price. While it’s not the ideal sipper, it’s a perfectly fine shooter, highball mixer, or cocktail base.
5. Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength
ABV: 59.6% (varies)
Average Price: $60
This is the standard bourbon above, but a little more dialed-in and left to shine on its own. The juice is small-batched from hand-selected barrels and bottled at the old Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville (of Pappy Van Winkle fame) without any filtration or cutting down to proof.
These will vary depending on which release you snag. Expect sweet woody notes next to oily vanilla and a big note of black pepper. The taste delivers ripe peaches next to more peppery spice and a hint of Christmas spices, with the vanilla taking a backseat and the oak really stepping in to shine. The end is spicy, hot, oaky, and peachy, with a hint of caramel corn.
This is a perfectly fine dram without the “wow factor” you want from a barrel strength expression. The spice levels and ABVs are high, which makes this a solid candidate for mixing up some cocktails. It also works on the rocks too.
4. Bulleit 95 Rye
Average Price: $32
Indiana’s MGP rye is one of the most popular ryes on earth. Their rye is has a mash bill of 95 percent rye and five percent malted barley. The juice is aged for four to seven years before blending, proofing, and bottling.
This dram opens up with a mix of resinous cedar, sharp rye spiciness, creamy vanilla, and a hint of fresh mint. The taste delivers on those notes while folding in hints of dark cacao (with water added), savory fruits, and a buttery/crumbly biscuit somewhere deep in the bottom of the sip. The end lasts awhile and circles back around to that cedar and sap, with plenty more sharp spiciness.
This is really solid rye that hits those classic rye notes precisely. It’s also a solid workhorse whiskey to have on hand for drinking on the rocks, highballs, and cocktails (especially Manhattans).
3. Bulleit 95 Rye Aged 12 Years
Average Price: $52
The popularity of Bulleit’s Rye led to the brand (finally) expanding their rye category with this expression in 2019. The juice is the same as the rye above. The main difference is time. This juice spends 12 long years mellowing in oak before getting cut down to proof and bottled.
There’s a subtlety to this dram that stands out, with hints of worn leather, spicy pipe tobacco, vanilla, anise, and a slight roasted nut. The taste carries on that path and adds in dark chocolate and a bit of toasted coconut with a peppery edge that never overpowers the body of the whiskey. The end is warming, spicy, and full of toasted oak leaning towards cedar.
Sourcing aside, this is a really fine dram that works really well with a little water or a few rocks. That being said, it’s also a killer cocktail base for Sazeracs or old fashioneds.
2. Bulleit Bourbon 10
Average Price: $48
This is classic Bulleit Bourbon that’s aged for ten years. There’s really not much more to say than that those extra years really dial this bourbon into something unique and very tasty.
This is bourbon with a capital “B.” There are rushes of Christmas spices next to savory herbs, butter-soaked sourdough, and cinnamon-baked apples in maple syrup. Hints of vanilla, toasted oak, and maybe even dried flowers lurk beneath the surface as all that spice, buttery toffee, and soft-yet-sweet fruit fill your senses.
This would have been number one had Bulleit not dropped a fantastic new expression this year. Still, this is a solid candidate for anything from neat to on the rocks to a base of a cocktail.
1. Bulleit Bourbon Blenders’ Select
Average Price: $60
This new expression was crafted by Bulleit’s Master Blender Eboni Major. The release is the first in a series that’ll celebrate the women who make Bulleit bourbon. The juice is a hand-selected blend of three out of the ten bourbons Bulleit uses across their line. The bourbons were aged at least nine years before blending, proofing, and bottling.
There are wisps of cedar bark, salted peanuts, oily vanilla pods, and plenty of Christmas spices. The taste is a nuanced dance of those notes, mingling with red cherries, worn leather, dry tobacco leaves, sweet and buttery toffee, and plenty of rye pepperiness. The end is long, lush, and full of oak, vanilla, and those Christmas spices that leave you wanting more.
This is shockingly easy to drink. You really don’t need water or a rock to enjoy it but adding water lets it bloom to its full potential.