In part one of our interview with Tom Bulleit, he shared his experiences with fear and doubt on the way to striking out on his own. In part two, he explained how to become an entrepreneur and the challenges he faced in the process.
In this third and final installment, Tom shares his vision for Bulleit in the future, he comments on continued international expansion, and also shares his three favorite cocktails.
Male Standard – What are the trends that you’re seeing in the industry now?
Tom Bulleit – Certainly the trends that we are seeing now is the rye trend. Rye whiskey. Particularly American whiskeys, bourbons and ryes. And I think that’s going to last a good little while, particularly overseas. Trends? We’re seeing a lot of flavored whiskeys.
The millennial generation is a very interesting group of 70 to 80 million people. A group of people that are very discerning – what they like they really want to know about it. And they’re open to trying things. In my father’s generation, he drank bourbon and water and he’d have a beer when he was fishing. And then water or milk, just really old fashioned. The way people consume soft drinks now is really different. When I asked for a Coca-Cola, I’d get maybe one a week. If I asked for another one in the same week my mother would look at me like “What? You already had a Coca-Cola.” And now people drink them all day. It’s been such a change.
MS – Why do you feel that LA has taken to you? It’s generally a hard market.
TB – Lots of reasons. California’s the connoisseurship capital of America. It’s always been at the forefront of trends in whisky. And if we took a close look, I’d say it would be San Francisco, which is where bourbon in America really started. There’s almost as many people in California as there are in France. So, California is our best market, as I assume it is most people’s best market. It’s probably Toyota’s best market for instance. One of the growth drivers of our brand is the cocktail culture. The celebrities that are created in California are picking up on American whiskeys. Things that start in California, tend to spread across the country. With the lone exception being those that just jump to New York.
MS – What advice would you give to a total rookie about bourbon or whiskey?
TB – This is not the answer you want. But. What I would tell you is find the youngest person in the family. The youngest people in the room know by far, the most about technology. The “social history of bourbon” is a book I would recommend.
MS – What’s going on with the international expansion of Bulleit Bourbon and the future of the product?
TB – Well, I’m really excited about that. 29 years ago, as I mentioned, I knew there was a big market. We were down in Capetown South Africa this summer with 50 winners of a bartending contest from 50 different countries. And the reception we got to our product was amazing. I went all over Asia a couple years ago. The Japanese may be the most serious whiskey connoisseurs in the world since really the mid-90’s. And it went from there to Seoul, Korea. So it’s really just expanding everywhere.
The best thing about traveling is the people. I’ve always been struck by how dissimilar we are. Yet, how absolutely identical we are. I don’t care what race, creed whatever. One to one, we could be brothers or sisters even though we’re raised in very different circumstances. You could be from China, or Jakarta, or Canada, or Paris. But one to one, it’s heartwarming to see that similarity no matter where I go.
MS – What are your top three go-to cocktails?
TB – I’ve tasted thousands of cocktails throughout the years and I’m amazed at the expertise, the palette, the talents of the bartenders and the mixologists – it’s just through the roof. But I’m pretty straightforward, like my parents. My father would drink bourbon on the rocks. Mother would drink a “high-ball” which is adding water to that. My aunt was a Catholic nun, she drank it straight.
My wife Betsy drinks Bulleit Bourbon, lemon and tonic. We call ‘em “BLT’s” – Bulleit Bourbon, lemon and tonic. I’ve had people say, “Tom, I don’t like bourbon and I don’t like you, but I like that drink!” Or, you can do Bulleit Rye, ginger beer with a little lime. Both of those are delicious drinks. And then after that, I completely default to the bartenders.
MS – What does it feel like to walk into a random bar and see your product there? Or to travel the land and see people enjoying something you’ve helped create?
TB – It’s like everything else in life, it’s a journey. First, if they didn’t have it I’d go in and try to sell it. The second thing, if they didn’t have it, I would be heartbroken. And the third, now that you see it a lot, is just amazing!
For more information on the history of Bulleit Bourbon, visit www.bulleit.com