Thursday, March 6, 2014

Where Is the Bulleit Distilling Company?



As you can see, the label for Diageo's Bulleit Bourbon says the product is "distilled, aged and bottled by the Bulleit Distilling Co." It further states that the product is "distilled by the Bulleit Distilling Co. in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky." The 2013 Kentucky Bourbon Festival directory of participating bourbons gives the address of the Bulleit Distilling Co. as P. O. Box 136, Lawrenceburg, KY 40342. It also gives a phone number of 1-866-251-7200, which is answered "Bulleit Distilling Company Customer Care Center."

In light of what was reported here on February 26, you might want to call that number and ask them for the street address of the Bulleit Distilling Company in Lawrenceburg, Kentucky, so you can visit the Bulleit Distilling Company's distillery. They will tell you, of course, that they can't give out that information because, unfortunately, they are unable to offer tours.

Diageo wants to have it both ways. The "distilled, aged and bottled" statement is not required by regulators. Diageo chooses to put it there because they think it is wording the consumer wants to see. Likewise the second statement. Although they are required to put on the label a city/state in which the company has a place of business, the "distilled by" part is not required. Again, Diageo presumably likes the way it looks.

Yet Diageo continues to be secretive about where Bulleit bourbon is actually distilled, aged, and bottled. We believe it is aged at Stitzel-Weller in Louisville and bottled at Diageo's facility in Plainfield, Illinois, but Diageo won't confirm. Where is it distilled? Who knows? We know it has been distilled at Four Roses in Lawrenceburg in the past.

Diageo used to confirm that but no longer will. This sudden change is strong evidence that Four Roses is no longer selling distillate to Diageo.

This doesn't mean the label is wrong, since it reflects the truth of the whiskey in the bottle, which was distilled in 2010 or earlier. What we don't know is where it is being distilled today.

The Bulleit web site says nothing about production. It does, however, offer a new story about Augustus Bulleit, who in earlier iterations was a French brandy maker who immigrated to Kentucky, where he applied brandy-making principles to bourbon-making. In the new version he is a tavern keeper in 1830s Louisville, Kentucky, "dedicated to a single goal: the creation of a bourbon unique in flavor. After experimenting with countless varieties in small-batch trials, he finally came upon a bourbon with the character he had long sought after."

That doesn't sound like a distiller. That sounds like a rectifier. No matter, because there is no evidence that Augustus Bulleit even existed. Most property owners in Louisville in the 1830s show up in some official records. Not Augustus Bulleit. Everything about him is attributed to 'family stories.'

Comments to posts like this one often run along the lines of "what does is matter if the whiskey is good?" And the whiskey is good. It matters because Diageo obviously thinks it matters to consumers, because they put the information on the label, but while Diageo carefully stays within the letter of the law it is just as carefully hiding the product's true origins. Do you like to do business with companies that mislead you? Are you suspicious when a company won't even tell you where their products are made? Does that make you feel appreciated and respected as a customer?

Furthermore, the history matters because the bourbon industry is graced with several centuries of actual, fascinating history, some of it at the very heart of the republic's own story. Making stuff up and passing it off as history dishonors the real history and tends to confuse students of it. Again, Diageo disrespects its customers.

Unfortunately, it needs to be said again. There is no shame in being a non-distiller producer and if the actual producer won't let you reveal their identity, that's understandable too.

The shame is in not being honest about it.

27 comments:

sku said...

Great post Chuck. I would argue that they are not within the letter of the law though. Check out section 5.36 of the regs which states that "distilled by" is to be used "where distilled spirits are bottled by or for the distiller thereof".

Wade said...

Chuck - did you see the Diageo North American Whiskey presentation that was posted on straightbourbon? I can email you a copy of the pdf. They state they will make Bulliet a 1 million case brand and that they have the supply for 2 million case brand. So sure sounds to me like they have new source.

Gregg Burger said...

I was at an Angel's Envy event a couple of months ago and Wes Henderson mentioned in passing that AE Rye was the same juice as Bulleit, only they of course finish it in old rum casks.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I am familiar with that presentation, thank you. You're right, of course, they aren't getting 2 million cases from Four Roses distillate alone.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Diageo has fully disclosed that Bulleit Rye is MGP of Indiana's 95% rye, which is the same rye Angel's Envy and about a dozen other NDPs use.

Andy said...

What are the odds they have multiple suppliers for the bourbon? Would potentially make sense that they think it makes the product sound less special or proprietary if it's not coming from one distiller.

Chuck Cowdery said...

All of the evidence points in that direction.

Peter Stanton said...

Do you think as the interest in origin, production methods and aging will slowly push the adoption of some kind of third party certification to help clarify not only place of origin but all important factors that help define American whiskey (like an AOC). Or is it too difficult to adhere to one labeling while keeping up with demand trends?

Chuck Cowdery said...

I doubt we'll see anything formal because it's hard to imagine where the energy and money would come from. On the other hand, with so few producers it's hard to keep secrets. In part, that's what makes the secrecy so stupid.

Anonymous said...

Excellent post, and thanks for highlighting the changed backstory of Augustus, which I hadn't heard about previously.

Even when Bulleit was getting whiskey from Four Roses (believed to be ending after March 2014), Bulleit stated a mash bill including 4% malted barley whereas all of the Four Roses ten recipes use 5% malted barley. So I've been curious as to whether the 4% reflects the fact that Bulleit is Four Roses combined with other juice that lowers the overall barley to 4%, or whether Four Roses was producing whiskey for Bulleit with a recipe other than its own ten bourbon recipes.

And Chuck, I'd be curious to know if you're familiar enough with the Four Roses products to compare it to Bulleit, e.g. how close is it to yellow label, small batch, or single barrel? I'm thinking of the original versions, not the limited edition versions which may use other recipes.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I'm not familiar enough with them both to say, although I think on paper Four Roses Single Barrel is the nearest match. Perhaps some reader who has both open will offer an opinion.

Unknown said...

Chuck - do you think it's possible they're re-distilling sourced whiskey?

Chuck Cowdery said...

I'm not sure what that would accomplish but I'm pretty sure they're not doing it.

Unknown said...

I'm venturing a bit off topic here but - is that not what Willett does with their Pot Still Reserve?

Anonymous said...

I have personally seen Cuervo Tequila and Bulleit Rye bottled in Maryland at a factory that is shortly to be closed. Diageo bottles where it's cheapest to get to market. I'd say more, but it could get me in trouble at work.

Warren Bobrow said...

Over in Europe, they still call Jack Daniels, Bourbon.

That is a tough thing to change...

Spirit Savvy said...

I had heard from a source at 4 Roses that Bulleit was the same juice/barrel as 4 Roses Yellow Label. That was about a year ago.

Anonymous said...

Isn't the 4 roses yellow label a blend of all 10 of their recipes??

Anonymous said...

Bulleit is distilled at Diageo's Groom Lake facility. A.K.A. Orphan Barrel Whiskey Distilling Company.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I hear it's made by elves in a hollow tree.

Martin Duffy said...

Hey! where did I hear that one before?

Anonymous said...

[Spirit Savvy]: "I had heard from a source at 4 Roses that Bulleit was the same juice/barrel as 4 Roses Yellow Label." -That might tend to put me off any more Bulleit (4R Small Batch is a different story).

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't it be logic for Diageo to make Bulleit at a Distillery they already own (GEORGE DICKEL)?

Chuck Cowdery said...

Agreed. All it would cost them is the word 'Kentucky' on the label.

josh king said...

The bottle I have says Lawrenceburg Indiana.... If that sheds any light

Chuck Cowdery said...

Your bottle also has a green label, doesn't it? That's Bulleit Rye. We're talking about Bulleit Bourbon.

Mary Cunningham said...

I can assure you, Augustus Bulleit was real. He was my g.g. grandfather. He had a mill near Lanesville Indiana when he disappeared in 1860 taking a flatboat full of produce and bourbon down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. He was definitely an Indiana resident during this time.