This new bourbon brand has Wilmington roots. And a Delaware preacher's son is behind it.
Growing up in some households comes with a set of expectations.
And when your dad is a politically connected Baptist pastor who rubs elbows with the Rev. Jesse Jackson and the Rev. Al Sharpton, one of those expectations is probably that you're not going to get into the booze business.
But after a career as a chef, Daniel Bullock has now launched his own bourbon brand, Bull Young Bourbon.
If his name is familiar, it's probably because he's the son of the Rev. Christopher Bullock, pastor of Canaan Baptist Church and former president of New Castle County Council.
And, yes, it was awkward at first. But as the supportive elder Bullock puts it, "That's the way the world is."
Daniel Bullock, 30, has been living in Chicago ever since graduating from Brandywine High School in 2008 and heading west to study culinary arts at Kendall College.
After nearly a decade cooking at Windy City restaurants such as Trump International Hotel & Tower and the Ritz-Carlton, as well as working as a private chef, Bullock returned home a few years back to help launch the Westin Wilmington. Earlier this month, he surfaced on the Food Network cooking competition show "Supermarket Stakeout," finishing in second place.
But his splashiest homecoming came over the past few months as the well-dressed entrepreneur has been pushing his new bourbon line in northern Delaware, landing in restaurants and liquor stores such as Stitch House Brewing, Dorcea, Kreston Wine & Spirits and Kirkwood Liquors, so far.
Bull Young also can be found at Concord Mall's Bonefish Grill, where he's hosted a pair of pop-up parties since December, signing bottles and taking selfies with family and friends who came out in support. His brother Benjamin, a content producer for Dallas megachurch Concord Church, helps with marketing the bourbon.
Even though the Rev. Bullock may not be a liquor promoter or a bourbon drinker, he sees his son as a trailblazer for getting into the spirits space. And as the first Black president of New Castle County Council, he knows a bit about being one.
As Delaware Online/The News Journal reported last summer, there are only a handful of Black-owned distilleries in the United States, including Smyrna's Painted Stave Distilling, co-founded by Ron Gomes.
While Bullock has not opened a full distillery — Bull Young is a sourced brand made in conjunction with Indiana-based Midwest Grain Products (MPG), a mega distillery behind more than 100 whiskey brands — he is one of a few when it comes to being a Black owner in the industry.
And he's fully aware of it. It's been a bot of a slog to break in.
"People know the financial success this business can bring, and no one wants to get kicked off the totem pole, especially if it's [by] a young African American chef from Chicago," Bullock said. "It's a 'who does he think he is?' mentality. Now that I'm in, we're going to knock all those doors down that I wasn't able to get into, elevate the culture and bring a lot of my peers along with me."
Since launching nearly a half-year into the pandemic, Bullock's bourbon can now be found in several markets in addition to Chicago and Delaware, including New York, Los Angeles, Miami and more.
He's using all the connections he's made over the years in the food industry to help push the brand, which he funded by reinvesting the money he made during his two-year run overseas as chef for the Maccabi Tel Aviv basketball team in Israel.
But sometimes, the only connection it takes to make a sale is a barfly friend who really likes your whiskey.
That's how Dorcea owner Anthony Bomba began carrying Bull Young, which is bottled by West Fork Whiskey Co. in Indiana.
A friend of Bullock's is a regular and encouraged Bomba to try it. Bullock himself came and gave Bomba a taste. He liked it, bought three bottles on the spot and has since sold out twice at his Washington Street restaurant, which opened in April amid the COVID-19 disaster.
"That's kind of a lot to go through for a bourbon not as popular as Jack Daniel's or Maker's Mark, something that's well-known," said Bomba, who initially just wanted to support another Wilmington business owner who decided to launch during the pandemic. "I figured we could help each other."
With Bullock visiting Delaware in recent months to help push the brand, he's also been able to see friends and family, including his locally famous father.
Looking back, Bullock's able to sum up how he dealt with the pressure of being a pastor's son with a simple saying: "If everyone's watching me, I might as well do something great."
For the Rev. Bullock, he sees his son's quest for greatness as a reflection of the work he and his wife, Debbie Strickling-Bullock, put into their son — even if his path involves cases of 90 proof whiskey.
"He knows the value of work ethic and the dignity of work. He knows that faith is driving him. He grew up in an atmosphere where the expectations were high. And while there was some pressure to achieve, we didn't push him in a negative way. We encouraged him to dream his dreams and go for them," the Rev. Bullock said.
Bullock was driven even back in high school. He was on both the Brandywine High School basketball and track teams, performed in the marching band and was on the student council and homecoming court.
Loaded with his own ambition, Bullock said didn't want to trade on his father's name or power. That's why he stayed in Chicago after college to begin his career: "I wanted to get out of my dad's shadow. He could have gotten me a meeting anywhere because of the reputation he carries, but I didn't want that. I wanted to add to the family name by doing something different."
Libations certainly are different than the Lord. Box checked.
When we spoke with Bullock, we had to ask him if his father drank bourbon. He laughed and said we should ask the reverend, adding, "The Bible isn't against drinking; it's against getting drunk."
When we did ask, the Rev. Bullock said he isn't a bourbon drinker, but admitted that he did "taste the product," as he put it.
"I had to," the preacher added. "He wanted my opinion. It was very good."
Got a tip? Contact Ryan Cormier of The News Journal at firstname.lastname@example.org or (302) 324-2863. Follow him on Facebook (@ryancormierdelawareonline), Twitter (@ryancormier) and Instagram (@ryancormier).