Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Who Makes Bulleit Bourbon?


The first post here to bear that headline was made five and a half years ago. The issue then was not who--it was widely known that Four Roses was the maker--but whether or not Bulleit Bourbon was all Four Roses.

It was obvious Diageo was using Stitzel-Weller for maturation. Diageo confirmed that, but they wouldn't say what was in the warehouses or where it came from. (They still won't.) It was also widely known, though never confirmed by Diageo, that at least three other distilleries were selling it bourbon distillate, to the tune of millions of proof gallons per year.

Although Bulleit is Diageo's only straight bourbon sold in the USA, Diageo makes I. W. Harper and other bourbons for international sale, and uses straight bourbon in its many blends.

Rumors always swirl because Diageo is so tight-lipped about its program as a non-distiller producer (NDP) of bourbon. Maybe they think it looks bad for the world's largest whiskey maker to be an NDP when it comes to bourbon and rye.

In 2008, Diageo made a rare, definitive statement about who makes Bulleit Bourbon. "Bulleit Bourbon continues to be wholly distilled at the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY according to exacting standards developed by Tom Bulleit and the Bulleit Distilling Company. Bulleit Bourbon’s bold flavor is the product of a unique recipe featuring a high proportion of the rye grain and the use of a proprietary yeast culture. As with all Kentucky straight Bourbons, Bulleit Bourbon is aged in charred barrels made from new American Oak and contains absolutely no additives whatsoever."

The use of "distilled" strongly suggested maturation is done elsewhere, but that was widely assumed even though Diageo wouldn't confirm it. Nothing distilled at Four Roses is matured there because they don't have any rackhouses at the distillery. They are over at Cox's Creek, in Nelson County. Most people, however, believe Bulleit Bourbon is aged at Diageo's Stitzel-Weller Distillery in Louisville.

In 2011, when Diageo released Bulleit Rye, it announced that the whiskey was distilled at MGP of Indiana. The next year Dickel Rye was released with the same disclosure.

The Bulleit Bourbon label says "Bulleit Distilling Company, Lawrenceburg, Kentucky." TTB requires the label to show the producer's name ('Bulleit' is an assumed business name, but that's okay), and an address consisting of a city and state. All it has to be is a place of business of some kind (an office, a warehouse, a post office box), but it has to be something.

So, when I started to hear a very specific rumor that Four Roses was cutting Diageo off soon, or already had, I went to the source and asked again, "who makes Bulleit Bourbon?" Many times since the 2008 statement, Diageo executives have confirmed its essential truth, which I expected to hear again.

Instead, I got this: "We don’t comment on speculation nor talk about the specifics of our relationships with various partners but I can tell you that we are committed to providing our consumers with the same high-quality whiskey that Tom Bulleit created years ago."

Because the guy I am dealing with now is new, I explained the history. "Diageo has said repeatedly that every drop of Bulleit Bourbon is made at Four Roses in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky. That claim was conveyed on several occasions by (your predecessor). Unless you’ve changed the label recently, it uses Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, as the Bulleit Distilling Company’s official address. Is that previous declaration still true? Is the label still accurate?"

His reply: "The label remains accurate."

What he didn't say is what Diageo has always said before. Surely this means it isn't all made there. Is any of it still made there? The label still says Lawrenceburg but that doesn't mean much, as the whiskey in the bottle now was distilled in 2008 or before. What about the Bulleit we'll be drinking in 2019 and beyond? That's the whiskey being made today, but where?

Diageo isn't talking.

Although Diageo is once again promising to open 'The Bulleit Experience at Stitzel-Weller' to the public, it has never said why Bulleit's 'homeplace' should be located there. It is generally believed that Bulleit is aged there, but that has never been confirmed. They're now selling tickets to an event there during The Kentucky Bourbon Affair in May. Someone is bound to ask.

The folks at Four Roses can't say much beyond confirming that Diageo is a customer and has been ever since the breakup of Seagrams, in which Diageo got Bulleit and Pernod got Four Roses, the brand and distillery. That Four Roses would sell whiskey to Diageo going forward was part of the master agreement between Diageo and Pernod, which Kirin inherited when it bought Four Roses from Pernod.

All Four Roses knows beyond that is how many gallons Diageo bought in the past and how much they expect to buy during the current cycle.That's all confidential. Four Roses has no idea what Diageo does with the whiskey.

So "who makes Bulleit Bourbon?" is a mystery once again. It's not up to Four Roses to answer that question, even though visitors often ask them for directions to the Bulleit Distilling Company. It's up to Diageo.

21 comments:

signde said...

The original article from 2008 made reference to the Bulleit bourbon mashbill as being nearly 35% rye

Bulleit is not a typical bourbon. The reason, we've always been told, is that the mash contains more rye than any other bourbon on the market, in the neighborhood of 35 percent

Has the mashbill changed since the original article was posted? The Bulleit website states "68% corn, 28% rye, 4% malted barley"

http://www.bulleit.com/whiskey.aspx#!bulleit-bourbon

Durham4556 said...

I got a question, if Diageo is a non-distiller producer (NDP) could they still rebuild stitzel-weller still and start distilling there? or is that some kinda of law or something? I am excited to see Stitzel-Weller somewhat opening to the public but it would be nice to see it up and running too.

Chuck Cowdery said...

The 2008 post was written with the best information available at the time. You'll have to ask Diageo if anything has changed.

There is nothing to prevent Diageo from becoming a distiller of bourbon and rye.

Sylvan said...

The two mash bills have been floating around for years. In 2008, when Diageo confirmed Bulleit was all made at Four Roses, it was believed that it was Four Roses OB 60/35/5 mash bill. As early as 2010 and to the present day, Tom Bulleit in person and now their website have the 68/28/4 bill. Interesting that none of published Four Roses mash bills are less than 5% malted barley.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Since some readers don't like it when I'm subtle, let me spell it out for you. Diageo is definitely hiding something. There is something about Bulleit's manufacturing that they do not want you to know.

Anonymous said...

Only one other distillery in Lburg. Gobble?

Anonymous said...

They are definitely using some Barton from what I hear. That is from a very reliable source directly tied to one of those two companies.

Chuck Cowdery said...

That's one of the names usually mentioned. The other two are Brown-Forman and Jim Beam. It's an open secret that while these companies won't generally do contract distilling for any comer, they will do it for each other.

Durham4556 said...

maybe I am naive or something but, why would they be hiding anything? that's what has be confused.. yeah It sure seems like they are but why.. call me crazy but I don't care if the juice is made at barton, beam, fourroses, or brownforman. it matters how it tastes. I think bulleit actually grow huge given the chance. its not a bad product by any means.

Anonymous said...

Chuck
You reported awhile back that Diageo was going to restart the stills at the Stitzel-Weller distillery. Is that still going to happen?

Chuck Cowdery said...

To be clear, I reported that other people were saying that. I never said it and neither did Diageo. When Diageo was asked if the recently-announced renovation would include a distillery, the answer was no. Diageo seems content to be a bourbon NDP, they just don't like to talk about it.

7G said...

Four Roses has cut off Diageo their last run for Diageo was in either Jan or Feb of 2014 (cant remember which one). That being said there will continue to be Four Roses Juice in Bulliet for about another 6-8 Years. Initially Bulliet was supposed to be a mix of Four Roses and a few other distilleries, however Four Roses lab tested an off the shelf bottle early in the Bulliet run when they suspected that this was not the case and found it to be 100% Four Roses, seems like Diageo has issues telling any truths at all. This info came straight from Jim Rutledge at a Private Barrel Selection for my bar Seven Grand.

Justin said...

Scotland is littered with tons of independent bottles. They openly state where a bottle of whisky was distilled. Transparency abounds. Why is this not the case here in the states? What's the difference and where is the disconnect?

CS said...

Stupid question (or maybe just unanswerable): is the Bulleit that is distilled by Four Roses a unique recipe or one of their standard mash bills? Do we know?

Chuck Cowdery said...

It's not a special mash bill nor a special yeast. I believe it's a special combination of two or more of the ten Four Roses bourbons, so unique it that sense. Although I don't know, it's possible Diageo got at least those Seagram's yeasts in the original deal, so they could be using those yeasts at a different distillery.

Anonymous said...

Alright, one of the Lawrenceburgs (either in Indiana or Kentucky) has to change their name: this may be the only solution to this problem!!

Anonymous said...

Any update? Do we know anything more about which distilleries are now producing Bulleit? You wrote back in the winter that we would know something after May.

Anonymous said...

Someone beat me to it on June 21, just curious if any more info can be gleaned sa to who makes Bulleit 10 now.

Thanks, love your blog!

Chuck Cowdery said...

The Bulleit 10 in stores now is bourbon made by Four Roses. That will be true for at least the next nine years. Likewise the standard Bulleit Bourbon will be Four Roses for at least the next four or five years. I don't know exactly when Four Roses stopped selling new make to Diageo but I'm confident it was within the last two years. That means the soonest Bulleit 10 could be other than Four Roses is 2022.

Anonymous said...

Look for an announcement in a few weeks. New Bulleit Distillery & aging warehouses at Guist Creek Lake & Benson Pike.

Chuck Cowdery said...

That announcement was made two months ago.