Bully Boy Distillery
35 Cedric St
(between Magazine St & Howard St)
Boston, MA 02119
Hours: Mon-Fri 9 am – 5 pm
Bully Boy is the brainchild of two brothers, Will and Dave Willis. The pair use traditional techniques to produce small batch spirits emphasizing quality over quantity and local ingredients over whatever is available. The name “Bully Boy” references an old horse that lived on their family’s farm in Sherborn, Massachusetts in the 1920’s. Their long-term goal is to source all of their ingredients from the farm: wheat, corn, and apples (for applejack).
A small group of Boston University gastronomy graduate students toured the distillery hoping to get an inside peek at the inner workings of Bully Boy’s operations. Every step of the spirit making process is performed by hand. The 600 liter copper pot still is the workhorse of the facility allowing the brothers to focus complex flavors, aromas, and mouth-feel into their spirits. The brothers had clear ideas about how they would distill their spirits.
Bully Boy makes vodka, white whiskey, and white rum. Dave described the distilling process for each style of spirit. In the world of vodka, potato vodkas are interesting as they have more flavor than traditional vodkas. Wheat vodka has a subtle fruitiness and a soft mouth feel. Vodka is all about the mouth feel since by definition it is a tasteless and odor-less spirit. Corn and rye based vodkas are astringent, and potato has too much taste making it an oxymoron. Bully Boy’s wheat vodka is run through an activated carbon filter to create a clean tasting spirit.
White whiskey is the most difficult spirit to make, and the brothers wanted to create a wheat version as there are only a few American wheat whiskeys on the market. Plus, Will and Dave liked the taste of it. They source their certified organic wheat from Aurora Mills Farm in northern Maine and use a ton every three weeks.
An un-aged whiskey is smooth but not as smooth as aged version. With un-aged, all that is tasted is the grain, but with aged, 70% of the flavor comes from the barrel so the drinker has no sense of the grain. Bully Boy starts their whiskey in new American oak barrels, then moves the spirit to used American oak casks to mellow the flavor, and finally finishes the whiskey in 25 gallon new American barrels. The last stop in the smaller barrels allows for the whiskey to pick up some char and smoke as well as a speedy aging process due to greater surface area.
The un-aged whiskey can be crafted to appeal to the distiller’s palate. Bully Boy’s has banana and vanilla notes with a floral bouquet. It is not too overpowering so it mixes well with other drink components. Boston bartenders are making traditional cocktails with the unexpected twist of an un-aged whiskey. An aged wheat whiskey is in the works, but has another year to go on the aging process.
BB’s rum is made with blackstrap molasses, an ingredient that imparts a lot of flavor and character, sourced from New Orleans. Each tote of molasses weighs 3000 pounds; the brothers use one tote every four runs on the still. Each run generates 150 bottles of spirit. The rum is poured into re-conditioned wine casks constructed from French oak. A benefit for using wine casks is that some of the wine’s residual sweetness is imparted into the rum. This creates a nice smooth and sweet rum. While playing within the role of the spirit but pushing the boundaries of what rum should taste like, the unaged rum has the classic character of vanilla with a soft finish hinting of citrus.
Every bottle of Bully Boy is hand bottled, labeled, and numbered. Will and Dave use a tag team system of bottling and labeling. The brothers started selling their spirits in mid-June 2011.
This impressive business has bottles featured on some of Boston’s top cocktail menus. For more details and where to purchase in the metro area, click here.
A Southern girl born and raised in Memphis, Tennessee, Emily Olson is pursuing a master’s degree in gastronomy at Boston University. On the weekends, she can be found at farmer’s markets, wine tastings, and testing new recipes in her kitchen all documented on her blog http://whatemilycooks.com.