August 31, 2014

the big Willett tasting part 6 (25-Year Family Estate Rye)

Happy Labor Day Weekend!  Hopefully you're at the beach or in the country or on your roof with a few beers and some meat on the grill.  But as a loyal whisky-lover you've taken some time to check in and catch up on our big Willett marathon.  And that's why we love you.  Well not to disappoint, we've got serious heavy hitters lined up for you in part 6 today and of course in tomorrow's big finale.

Willett Family Estate 25-Year Rye
Barrel # 1776 100 Proof (Distillery Gift Shop Bottle)

New Friends

The greatest thing about writing the blog by a long shot has been all the new friends we've made along the way.  If we haven't met you yet, look us up on (make sure to "like" our page!) and send us a message.  That's how we met Alan "Al-Pop" and his son Brock who live down in Lexington.  When Al-Pop let us know that Willett had released a limited edition 25-year rye that was only available for a very short time at the distillery gift shop, we jumped on his generous offer to grab us a bottle.  A short time later we visited Al-Pop down in Kentucky and Brock arranged a private tour of Willett Distillery with Master Distiller Drew Kulsveen.  Having Drew personally explain his whole production process and then take his drill into the rickhouse to give us samples straight from the barrel was one of the most special whiskey experiences we've ever had.

Brock, Drew, and Al-Pop in the Willett rickhouse

First Impressions

When we cracked open this bottle and took an eager first sip, our impression was pretty straightforward: it was the best rye we'd ever tasted.  The only possible exception was Black Maple Hill 23-Year rye, which had been our favorite special occasion bottle some years ago before we started writing the blog (interestingly KBD/Willett did some bottlings for BMH, no surprise there...).  Sadly those days are long gone and we didn't have the foresight to buy a case of BMH23 when we had the chance.  We thought we were crazy spending $100 on a bottle of rye back then, who knew they'd be worth many times that just a few years later??

We'll even go a little further.  Since rye is our favorite whiskey right now, and obviously whiskey is our favorite liquor, you could even say that this was the best bottle of booze we'd ever tasted.  That's a tough one because scotch was our first love and we still have a few bottles in the cabinet (reviews coming soon) that are out of this world.  Scotch and rye are so different it's impossible to declare one better than the other.  But sufficed to say, we dig the Willett 25 pretty hard.

Tasting Notes

Nose:  It's got the most extreme gooey sticky scent!  Huge melted butter, molasses, honey, dark chocolate, sour cherries, muddled mint, and then layer after layer of char and wood.  Almost like old smoky oak melted into the brown butter.  Then the spices come at you with chili powder, anise, mesquite barbecue, cumin, black pepper, nutmeg, baking powder.  And then finally there's something a little mysterious, sort of herbal and musty, a little funky, at first we tagged it as a Chinese herb like you'd find in one of those herbal medicine mixtures.

Palate:  It's got the biggest body of any American whiskey we've had, that's for sure.  "It's like drinking melted butter" offered one of our beast masters.  Iceberg-slow legs dripping down the sides of the glass.  The palate is more of the same, just so unbelievably rich and sweet.  The sweetness, brown butter, and wood overshadow the spice.

Finish:  The finish is the strangest ingredient in this taste.  It's funky, similar to a bitter herbal digestif like Fernet Branca.  Over-oaked?  It's unique and very powerful.  This finish is quizzical, but overall it's still an absolutely dreamy experience.

Fierce Debate

When we reported our findings back to our heavy hitter friends in the whiskey community there was a wide range of reactions.  Some who'd tasted this bottle felt the same way we did and absolutely loved it.  Others were not so effusive in their praise.  "Past its prime" was a phrase we heard more than once.  Seriously??  Granted, whiskey folks can be over-critical and generally love to blow smoke, but these were folks who knew their rye so we couldn't write off the comments entirely.

The Last Barrels

The going theory seemed to be that Willett had procured a massive stash of legendary rye from Old Bernheim Distillery in the eighties before it was shut down and had been aging it in their warehouses.  This amazing stash powered all the old ryes in Willett's private barrel program starting when it was around 22/23 years old in the mid-2000's.  Basically the theory goes something like this:  Drew & company sold these private barrels to liquor stores and restaurants, giving them their pick of the litter.  The stash was picked over year after year and kept producing legendary bottles.  These gift shop barrels were the last few barrels left of that mythical stash.  So that means two things: a) these barrels may have not been the cream of the crop, or they would have been chosen earlier; and b) perhaps they passed their prime by not being bottled earlier.

The Hunt Begins Again

Well there was only one way to confirm or deny this theory, and that was to go hunting for one of the private barrels from this same batch.  Sure enough, your loyal beasties were able to track one down that had been part of an export to Japan.  Tune in tomorrow for the big finale, 1984 Bonili 24-Year Rye!

The Big Willett Tasting Part 7 - The Grand Finale!!

1 comment :

  1. I was finally able to buy a bottle 6 months ago barrel 1770. The back label says 62/108. Sat down and enjoyed about 6 ounces last night. The only thing I can add is the tobacco on the nose, very prominent. A friend that was with me is new to wonders of rye, and she blurted out "tobacco!"I could not stop sticking my nose in it, just incredible depth on the nose and taste. Rest assured I will buy another bottle if I see one on the secondary market. A painful expense but a must have.