BLT – Bulleit, Lemon and Tonic or “The Tom Bulleit”

I have written more than a few words about Bulleit Bourbon. When I first started exploring whiskey I shied away from Bourbon, mostly because of my college memories of Wild Turkey in the mountains of southern California. I remembered Bourbon as harsh and fiery and a one-way ticket to a bottle of aspirin.

At WhiskyFest 2007 I snagged a bit of glassware from the Bulleit Bourbon table. I wasn’t tasting Bourbons that night so I left with just the glass. The branding stuck with me though because about a month later I was checking prices at Trader Joe’s and Bulleit was about $20, so I picked it up. That first bottle was shared with everyone I could hand it to. I was so delighted with this wonderful spirit that I had to share.

Bulleit has a well balance flavor profile. It has notes all along the candy spectrum; toffee, caramel, vanilla and touches of smoky spice. It’s very sweet and smooth for a Bourbon but has a bold character from the heavy presence of Rye. These flavors work well when mixing because they complement other mixers very well. One of these days I’ll pound out a couple hundered words on Ginger Ale…

I’ve used Bulleit in every Bourbon cocktail we’ve made here at HQ. But the biggest suprise has been the BLT.

I first heard this drink mentioned by one of the Diageo Masters of Whisky at a talk held by Steve Beal at Whiskies of the World 2008. At that talk I also met Hollis Bulleit for what I thought was the first time. The description was simply Bulleit, Tonic and a wedge of lemon. At first this seemed completely off the script. Tonic and Bourbon seemed like a bad place to start.

Bulleit, Lemon and Tonic

Months later, I’m pouring Bulleit at WhiskyFest San Francisco 2008 with none other than Tom and Hollis Bulleit.  Hollis was sharing the basics with anyone interested in Bulleit cocktails. She never sat down with me to share the family recipe (she was too busy working the crowd and that dress) so I had to try to find the balance and understand the appeal.

I started with a ratio of 2:1 Tonic and Bulleit with just a squeeze of fresh lemon. This was close but ultimately it was more lemon that made the difference. So here is what I ended up with:

  • 1 1/2 oz (4.5 cl) Bulleit Bourbon
  • 3 oz (9 cl) Tonic Water
  • Juice of one quarter ripe Lemon

Build the drink over ice and stir. Garnish with a small lemon wedge.

I never would have thought this would work. The quinine adds a very subtle sweet & bitter complement to the very sweet lemon. Bulleit’s balance of flavors is enhanced by the tangy citris and bitter completing this drink. I hope that my recipe is close to what Tom makes because it came out very nice. It’s just the sort of thing I’d imagine drinking on the porch, in summer, in Kentucky.

I mentioned that I thought Whiskies of the world was my first meting with Hollis. Well, I was wrong. She was serving Bulleit at WhiskyFest SF 2007. She remembered that I had taken a glass and not tasted the whisky. I did the same thing with Woodford Reserve, I jsud wasn’t doing Bourbon that night. We seem to be on good grounds now though, I’ve given away gallons of bourbon and made quite a few fans in the process.

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