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    March 14 is an important date for Tom Bulleit. It’s his birthday, his wedding anniversary and the day he officially launched the Bulleit Distilling Company. And with the grand opening of Bulleit Distilling’s new facility in Shelbyville, Kentucky, coinciding with the company’s 30th anniversary, Tom Bulleit has another reason to pour one out every March 14. A $115 million undertaking, the new Bulleit distillery is already looking to expand again. I assume if they’re not prepared for the expansion in exactly a year, they’ll wait until March 14, 2019 to keep the streak alive.

    Image: The Shelbyville distillery ribbon cutting; Brian Bohannon/AP Images

    Bulleit isn’t alone in growing faster than it can keep up with; bourbon has been experiencing an unprecedented boom lately, and with that boom comes an identity crisis. Scotch tends to be associated with old men in leather armchairs, and vodka with late nights at dance clubs, but where does bourbon fit in? As recently as a decade ago, American whiskeys were experiencing dismal sales, and though there has always remained a handful of exceptional bourbons, some brands’ quality dropped alongside their pricing, leading bourbon to become associated with a cheap buzz. The eclectic crowd at the new Bulleit Distillery’s grand opening shows just how far finely crafted bourbon has come. Older men in conservative suits with traditional haircuts mingled with millennial tastemakers, squeezed into flamboyant blazers and sporting Peaky Blinder haircuts. Bourbon has become the connoisseurs’ drink of choice, validating the previous generation’s work and teaching a new generation how to appreciate the craft. Fittingly, America’s whiskey has become the American Dream of libations. Sophisticated yet accessible, bourbon represents what everyone aspires to be.

    Image: Bulleit Frontier Whiskey; Bulleit Distilling Co.

    Bulleit’s modern distillery and clean lines reflect the direction that the industry as a whole is headed. The days of bourbon being seen as scotch’s less sophisticated sibling are gone. It’s all grown up now, and the 1.8 million gallons a year that the Shelbyville location is planning on distilling is proof. Although Bulleit is not currently offering tours of its Shelbyville distillery, it’s hard to imagine that will remain the case, with the effort that has gone into aesthetics. The outside of the building is sleek without being too urban, and the colors are limited to neutrals with the occasional pop of vivid orange. Inside, while examining a window overlooking a room full of equipment, one guest muttered, “It’s not going to be able to look that pretty forever.” Perhaps, though it’s hard to imagine anything in the facility ever looking less than immaculate, such as the awe-inspiring, 100%-copper still that rises up three stories tall. When the tour stopped to examine it, one guest proudly revealed that his company had built it. He lingered after the rest of us left to lovingly look upon the copper behemoth, as if he was dropping it off for its first day of school. It’s a reminder of just how many businesses, local and otherwise, came together to make this lofty project a success.

    Image: Bulleit's copper still; Bulleit Distilling Co.

    Tom Bulleit himself said the distillery is committed to being the best neighbor Shelbyvillians have ever had, and it boasts the technology and forward-thinking to back up that promise. For example, the lifts in the distillery are powered by solar panels; a 100-acre border surrounds the main campus to ensure the area is aesthetically and environmentally unscathed; and the distillery provides “mash-cakes” for the local farmers to use instead of creating product waste. This modernism in both aesthetics and environmental practices offsets how the product itself is steeped (or rather, distilled) in tradition. The main Bulleit line is based on the bourbon recipe of Tom Bulleit’s great-grandfather, Augustus. And with a name like Augustus Bulleit, it’d be a tragedy if you didn’t concoct a treasured bourbon recipe and then mysteriously vanish somewhere between Kentucky and New Orleans. A story that riveting is hard to believe, but that’s the alleged history of the brand, and they’re sticking to it.

    Image: Aerial view of Bulleit's Shelbyville facility; Bulleit Distilling Co.

    After passing 1 million cases sold last year and already planning major expansions in Shelbyville, it appears Bulleit may be at the forefront of the future of bourbon. Bulleit labels itself as a “frontier” whiskey, but its modern architecture and environmental consciousness shows they have the potential to lead bourbon from the Golden Years into the Platinum. As I drove away from the campus, I passed a large orange and black sign featuring the Bulleit logo rising out of the ground in front of an old barn at the edge of the property. A man in a dark suit had pulled off to the side of the road to get a better picture of the Frontier Whiskey’s sign and was looking it on his phone and smiling to himself as I sped by. Refinement pausing to appreciate the frontier. If that isn’t a perfect metaphor for the future of both Bulleit and the bourbon industry, I don’t know what is. 

    Cover Image: Bulleit's new Shelbyville distillery; Brian Bohannon/AP Images

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