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.