A perfect storm has been brewing over the years in favor of Bulleit Bourbon's new Barrel Strength. Unlike most whiskeys that are mixed with additional water prior to bottling a barrel strength whiskey is bottled directly from the cask. Bulleit Bourbon is considered to be one of the best bourbons on the market for less than 30 bucks a bottle but the introduction of the Barrel Street version will push them in the premium $50 price range. There are three main drivers forming a perfect storm that may make this successful;
- A return to authenticity
- The rebirth of cocktails
- The flavored whiskey rebellion
Firstly, over the last two decades cigar and whiskey aficionados have been flooded with information (blogs/vlogs, magazines, television) which has formed an educated mass of passionate patrons. They have an intimate understanding of premium ingredients, how barrels influence the flavor profile, and the difference between chill and non-chill filtered drams. They demand authentic products because they know the value of quality. A barrel strength whiskey is about as authentic as it gets because there is no meddling with the final product. You are free to taste how the grain, barrel, and nature have crafted the whiskey with only the guidance of human hands.
Secondly, bartenders, along with chefs, have returned to terroir and how it influences flavor. This has changed the landscape of cocktails to the point that celebrity mixologists are licensing patented recipes. In addition, patrons recognize the huge difference between a Mojito made from a premixed bottle and a Mojito mixed with fresh mint, fresh lime juice, sugarcane, premium rum, and shaved ice from distilled water. The same is true for an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan. Without bold flavors cocktails lose the synergy of individual parts in a mix of blandness. This bodes well for bold barrel strength whiskey which is essentially concentrated because its straight from the barrel.
Lastly, the whiskey industry has been invaded by flavored whiskey (the same thing has happened to cigars) forcing more distilleries to meet demand. Bulleit is a brand known for its it quality and it genuineness; therefore, it cannot grow market-share with a blueberry offering. Instead they choose to listen to their base and sacrifice above average returns for brand loyalty which is a good move in the long term as aficionados rebel against flavored whiskey.
The release has been rumored throughout the world of whiskey bloggers for months, ever since a label was approved by federal authorities.
But only a few have actually tasted it. Among those who have: the judges at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition who in March awarded the new Bulleit a gold medal. The regular Bulleit was awarded a double gold.
With a deeper color, as would be expected from an unwatered-down version, Bulleit Bourbon Barrel Strength delivers more intense notes of butterscotch, fruit and pears, and oak than the orange-label 90-proof version.
Doug Kragel, master of whiskey for Diageo’s North American whiskey portfolio, said that the flavor reflects the high-rye mashbill.
“Barrel strength just accentuates that even more,” Kragel said. “You smell a lot of the barrel wood coming out in the caramel-butterscotch notes. That fruity note … comes from the rye itself. It’s really interesting to see and taste this now in this strength. There are so many people who are asking for it. And high-proof whiskey has become so popular right now.”