Well if you're still here, thanks for sticking with us through the past seven days of Willett madness! It sure has been fun drinking our way through this amazing lineup. Hopefully you've enjoyed the reviews and have been able to track down some Willett of your own and drink along with us.
We've been working our way clockwise around the Willett board the whole week. The bottle on the front left is the 2-year small batch rye, which is the first original whiskey distilled by the Willett/Kulsveen family in Bardstown in forty years. The greatest thing about this whole exercise is dreaming about what this stuff will taste like as it matures through the ages of the sourced products. Hopefully we'll all be around to taste it at twenty-four years old!
The green wax bottle next in line is the 5-year rye, perhaps the least exciting in the lineup but still a great everyday drinker. (By "everyday" we don't mean you should necessarily be drinking every day, just that this is something that price-wise doesn't have to be saved for a special occasion.) On the far left corner is our first bourbon: the blue wax Liquor Barn 9-year. This was unexpectedly good. Just released this year it was a very sweet candy-bar bourbon. That bottle will go quickly! Second from the left in the maroon top is "The Mohawk" - Shorewood Liquor's 10-year bourbon barrel 828. What a beast that was! Just a huge ripper of a bourbon showing off the high-test (almost 130 proof!) George T Stagg qualities you'll find in some Willetts. In the middle the dark purple wax is the 21-year bourbon which was quite a treat, sort of bringing together the freshness of the 2-year rye, the sweetness of the 9-year, and some of the richness of the 10-year, integrating all these elements together magically. Moving back to rye, second from the right is the copper wax 25-year gift shop bottle, which upon its opening was one of our favorite whiskies to date.
And finally we make it all the way to the right to the white wax Bonili 24-year rye.
The first thing you should notice is the barrel number, #446. This is the earliest Willett bottling in the bunch. (Some of the newer barrels have lower numbers, but among the older vintages they're pretty much in chronological order). There's actually a great new resource about all the Willett releases here. You'll also notice that this is a different bottle shape. They used a slightly shorter, squatter bottle back then.
Bonili is a Japanese liquor distributor that has done several private barrels of Willett including the above 24-year rye, another version of the 24-year rye at 110 proof, and two 17-year bourbons. The fact that these bottles were sent all the way to Japan may be the reason that they were slightly more available at this late date than some of the other private barrel ryes like Rathskeller, LeNell's, or Doug's Green Ink. It took a long time but through some connections deep in the whiskey biz, we finally found a bottle of our very own. Check out the date on that back label: Distilled April 10, 1984. What a score!
Nose: The big richness is there in spaces, but the spice is way more alive - like a big birch fire with fresh mint and tarragon, vanilla, nutmeg, fresh spring ramps and green garlic, sea salt, saddle leather, pipe tobacco, and then the sweets come last with nougat, chocolate, molasses, and honey.
Palate: Wow just a kick of spice that will wake you up in the morning. Ok now we get all the "past its prime" comments on the 25 year. There's a liveliness here, a big bright rye spice explosion, that's missing from the other bottle. It's huge and brings all the taste ingredients together for some of the best juice we've ever had the pleasure of drinking.
Finish: And there's none of the funky bitter digestif quality from the 25 year in the finish this time. It's long and lively and full of spirit warmth with zero burn, smoldering char and spice, and a big sweet kiss at the end. Perfectly balanced and just... DAMN. It's perfect.
Sometimes you get so wrapped up in trying to use all these words to describe a whiskey. Then you just have to sit back and say God Damn This Is Good Shit. And on that note we'll end. Have a great holiday weekend and thanks for reading!