Shaken or stirred, bourbon aficionados enjoy an up-close-and-personal look at a spirit with local roots.
By John Arundel
For Bulleit Bourbon Founder and CEO Tom Bulleit, there was perhaps no better way to kick off the non-stop celeb-thon known as White House Correspondents Weekend than a relaxed Georgetown reception with VIP friends of Washington Life Magazine, and some down-home Kentucky bourbon.
About 200 attendees from the worlds of media, politics and diplomacy converged on the private, members-only Georgetown club for “Bulleit Blazer,” an April 26 reception sponsored by the club honoring Bulleit, a Georgetown-educated lawyer and former Treasury Dept. official who got into the family’s hallowed business of bourbon-making three decades ago.
The Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey, aged for at least six years and made from corn, barley malt and rye distilled from soft Kentucky limestone water, is best characterized by having a high rye content for a bourbon, at about 28 percent of the mash bill. It is produced at the Kirin Brewing Company Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, Ky., where it is bottled 45% Alcohol By Volume (90 Proof).
“I’m always amazed at the number of women who drink bourbon these days,” chuckled Bulleit, as he eyed a room chock full of cocktail-attired ladies — and gents — all enjoying his handiwork. “I mean… unless you’re Southern. I wouldn’t doubt that most of our product is consumed at football games.”
The first batch of Bulleit bourbon was made in 1830 by his ancestor Augustus Bulleit, who continued to produce it during the 19th century. Sadly its production was discontinued after his death. It returned in 1987 when Bulleit, as the great-great-grandson of the original creator, created the first modern-day batch, which was introduced to U.S. markets in 1999, and then to Australia, the U.K. and Germany a year later. In characterizing the recipe, Tom Bulleit remarked on its relatively high rye content, its relatively lengthy aging.
In 1997 the Bulleit brand name was bought by Seagram, and began being distilled in Lawrenceburg. Following an acquisition of various Seagram’s assets, the Bulleit brand is now owned by Diageo.
Bulleit admitted that he drinks his bourbon straight, or with a little ice. Or sometimes as a cocktail. As a cocktail, attendees had some choice options in renewing their love of dark liquor, provided at the event by 2012 ARTini winner Joseph Ambrose, the celebrated mixologist at W Washington’s POV Lounge.
Ambrose shook and stirred all night, providing some creative options such as The Bulleit Blazer, a concoction of Bulleit Frontier Whiskey, St. Germain Elderflower Liqueur, muddled fresh blackberries and orange peel oil, or Bulleit Smash, composed of lemon pieces, mint leaves and simple syrup. The other two options provided by Ambrose included the Old Fashioned, comprised of bourbon, simple syrup, lemon peel and Angostura Bitters, and Summer Sour, comprised of whiskey, fresh watermelon, fresh squeezed lemon juice, syrup and mint leaves.
Washington Life event planner Fran Holuba organized the event for attendees who enjoyed lively conversation, libations and hors d’oeuvres, as well as a jazz trio provided by D.C. Jazz Fest. Notable attendees included Andrew Davidson, general manager of the Park Hyatt Washington; Ben Wiley, head bartender of ThinkFood’s America Eats Tavern; Kristin Bodenstedt, government relations director of Bacardi U.S.A. Inc.; Alicia Rodrigues, marketing manager of Washington’s Jefferson Hotel; Thomson Reuters’ White House reporter Tim Ryan; Richard Latendresse, White House bureau chief of the TVA Network; Artur Orkisz, the Embassy of Poland’s senior adviser for Congressional Affairs & Public Diplomacy; David Kianni, director of Food & Beverage at Sofitel Lafayette Square; Nyree D. Wright, senior vice president of MSL Washington; golf writer and “Washington Golf This Week” anchor Michael Williams, Paxton Stuart’s Charles Paret, Potomac Pilates’ Reina Offut Pratt, and Hill+Knowlton’s Dipka Bhambhani.
Speaking to a rapt audience of bourbon lovers, Bulleit regaled the crowd with choice stories drawn from several decades in the bourbon business. At least four dozen attendees left with a trinket better than a goodie bag: a clear glass bottle of Bulleit with its distinctive raised lettering and sealed with a cork stopper, personally signed by its founder and CEO.
“What did I learn during my D.C. visit? Well, I learned the importance of focus groups,” Bulleit said. “After all my research in different cities around the country, our new tagline might be: Please buy our bourbon. It tastes real good.”