Kentucky’s Willett Distillery has assumed almost Pappy-like status in today’s bourbon world, helped in large part by their first releases of exceedingly rare, well-aged single barrel bourbon. Those Willett Family Estate bottlings were initially sourced and often pushing 20 years old. Such unicorn bottles complemented a slew of other, more readily available brands like Rowan’s Creek and Willett Pot Still which the distillery made by blending sourced stock. It wasn’t until 2014 that Willett was finally able to slap “Distilled at The Willett Distillery” on their first homemade release, a well-received straight rye. Two years later, the Old Bardstown brand relaunched as Willett-distilled products with a standard 90 proof and a bottled-in-bond 100 proof. It flew under the radar, but a small amount of house-distilled single barrel, cask strength bourbon also hit the shelves as a four-year-old product, most of which was available only at the distillery.
Willett uses three different bourbon mashbills and different barrel entry proofs for each. Strangely, none of that is clear on the bottle, leaving it up to enterprising whiskey nerds to do the research for you. According to a spreadsheet I found online (thanks Bourbonr), this bottle is the high corn mashbill which also has the lowest entry proof of the lot at 103. So how does Willett’s inaugural single barrel bourbon stack up?
The nose is punchy with alcohol and dusty oak. There’s also ample fruit, similar to what I experienced in the bonded Old Bardstown. Notes of maraschino cherry, candied orange peel, and furniture polish overpower more classic baking spice and caramel, which creep in sparingly. The palate is wonderfully creamy but candy sweet with notes of orange Jolly Ranchers and candy corn. A generous heat takes hold on the mid-palate, dominating with a cinnamon Red Hot note well into the finish. A healthy splash of water tames things somewhat, coaxing out more baking spice and drying oak. Not quite as balanced as the bonded Old Bardstown, but showing lots of promise.
113.4 proof. Reviewed: Barrel No. 653, bottle 158 of 202.
B+ / $100 / kentuckbourbonwhiskey.com
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