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A Tale About Frontier Whisky


Marketing studies have shown that by the time people reach my age (even though I don’t consider thirty-something particularly old) drinkers have settled in to a few favorite brands. That’s why most marketing of the “sin” products is targeted in youthful media outlets, to try and sway the young’ns to pick a brand that exemplifies their lifestyles and then, hopefully, stick with ‘em for life. So, it comes as a surprise to a grizzled old veteran of swilling whiskey to add a brand to my already select group that I try to keep stocked at my home bar. Not only that, it comes as a surprise that the brand is relatively new on the market… sort of.

Bulleit Bourbon (pronounced like what you shoot out of a gun) has only been on the shelves a few years. Some states only began seeing it this year, but it already has made some heady progress in knocking out other premium bourbons off their top shelf. At the San Francisco World Spirits competition it took home a gold in 2004 beating out Maker’s Mark, Knob Creek and Jim Beam Black. Paul Pacult, perhaps the spirit industry’s best-known taster and critic, gave it four stars.

As a writer of spirits and cocktails myself it’s about time I came up with my own form of ranking. You’ve got to keep it simple for brains pickled by alcohol so we’ll go with a five-step ranking. In the middle you’ve got “OK”, then with quality going up we’ll go with “Good” and “Damn Good.” On the lower end of the scale we’ll go with “Drinkable” and “Swill.” Hmmm, perhaps that last one should be “Rotgut.” I’ll have to think about that. Anyway, We’ll call Boulleit bourbon “Damn Good” and leave it at that.

While it has only been on the shelves for a few years, the story goes back to 1830 when Augustus Bulleit moved from New Orleans to Louisville, Kentucky. Being a brandy maker in Louisville it was only a matter of time before he began making bourbon. My guess is grapes weren’t readily available, but corn was. When given lemons make lemonade right? As migration expanded the Western frontier, settlers and frontiersmen took whiskey along with them for trade, for medicine and for kickin’ back a little on the long wagon ride. Business was good for a whiskey maker but in 1860 Augustus died and so did his bourbon. Over a century passes and along comes Tom Bulleit, a descendent who resurrects the recipe and begins making it again. Thanks Tom.

Bulleit comes in a very cool, frontier looking bottle. The bottle is narrower at the bottom than at the top giving it a hand-crafted, old-time look. The label is put on slightly crooked, again a shrewd marketing ploy to make one believe each bottle is lovingly hand filled, prepared and packaged. It sure tastes like it is. And lest you forget what kind of whiskey it is, embossed letters on the bottle remind you that it is “Frontier Whiskey,” just like old Augustus used to make. But unlike frontier whiskey that will take old paint off a fencepost, make hardened old cowboys rasp and cough after a chug from the corked top, pickle a rattlesnake or sterilize a wound caused by an wayward arrow, this whiskey is smooth. Of course, after you drink it, just for fun, you should wheeze to your friends “That’s some damn good whiskey pard’ner.”