August 26, 2014

The Big Willett Tasting

Well we're seven days away from Labor Day.  Despite the paralyzingly terrifying prospect of watching the news these days (Israel at war, Iraq in chaos, Robin Williams, cracking polar ice caps, poisoned drinking water in Ohio, riots in Missouri, clans of gun-wielding southerners hunting busloads of orphans from South America, we could go on but you get the point) it's actually been the most beautiful cool and sunny August in New York City ever.  Usually we dread the month and try to spend as little time as possible in the cauldron of humidity, sweat, and foul street odor we call our home.  But this year it's divine. You can wear a nice summer jacket in the evening without sweating like a pig.  The city is half empty.  You can get a reservation at any restaurant on a Friday night.  You can take a cab through midtown without committing heinous acts of road rage. Hell, Amsterdam Avenue doesn't even stink.  Well not that bad anyway.  So in celebration of the end of a lovely NYC summer, we wanted to break out the big guns and do a marathon tasting that's been cooking here at Beast Headquarters ever since we started writing this blog.

OCWD - (Obsessive Compulsive Willett Disorder)

Collecting...  Acquiring...  Assembling...  Hoarding...  These are all words you could use to describe our activities in regard to Willett whiskey.

Wifey: "How many Willetts do we have open?"

Hubby: "I don't know, why?"

Wifey: "Let's line them all up and see."

Hubby: "Good idea."

5 minutes later...

Hubby: "Six.  Should we open one more?"

Wifey: "Why not?"

And so begins the big Willett tasting.  Before you we have a representative lineup of Willett reaching back to the early 1980's and spanning all the way to the brand new 100% Willett-distilled product that Drew & company released a few months ago.  The contenders:

Willett 2-Year Small Batch Rye 

Willett 5-Year Rye Barrel #85 110 Proof 

Willett 9-Year Bourbon Barrel #196 119.6 Proof (Liquor Barn Private Barrel 2014)

Willett 10-Year Bourbon Barrel #828 (Shorewood Liquors Private Barrel)

Willett 21-Year Bourbon Barrel #3702 97.4 Proof

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

Willett 24-Year Rye Barrel #446 (Bonili Selection Private Barrel)

Yes, we realize that the last two are out of order age-wise.  But if you know your Willetts, you know they're right where they belong.  The 24-year rye is part of the original 1984 batch of private barrels that produced legends like LeNell's, Rathskeller, Doug's, etc.  We've been lucky enough to taste some of these bottles and review them here on the site, but we've never actually owned one... until now! So what better time to do our big Willett marathon?   Starting today, we're going one bottle at a time through the lineup until Labor Day Monday when we'll toast with the long-coveted 24-year.

To whet your appetite, here is our first bottle...

Willett Family Estate Small Batch Rye
(Two Years 54.7%, Batch 1)

For a little history: Willett had been sourcing their whiskey from other distilleries since they stopped production due to lack of demand for American bourbon & rye in the 1970's (can you imagine??). Fifth generation Willett master distiller Drew Kulsveen has painstakingly rebuilt the brand and has been producing original spirits in Bardstown, KY again since 2012.  So this is the first actual Willett-distilled spirit in forty years!  We gave this rye a great review last month when we got our first bottle.  It's fresh, minty, sweet and lovely.  Now we're back for a second taste.

Tasting Notes

Nose: Double Mint Gum!  It's got that refined sugar mint thing going on big time.  Remember these two??  

Palate: It's not rich with chocolate and butter like the big old ryes, but for a young rye it's very fresh with citrus - pineapple, orange - some floral / oily stuff like aloe or olive oil, light wood, and a healthy kick of spice.

Finish: Shows it's age a bit on the finish with some definite throaty heat, but still really drinkable at 110 proof.  Easily the most drinkable spirit at this age and proof that we've ever tasted.  This is what rye should be, strong, spicy, bold, and fresh.  Really great to see success with something that's not your standard LDI rye these days.

Stay tuned tomorrow as the big Willett tasting continues and we move up the age ladder to the 5-Year Rye!

The Big Willett Tasting part 2...


  1. Replies
    1. thanks chris. did you get your hands on a 2-year rye yet?

  2. so glad to see this--am sure a lot of people will be anxiously awaiting each new edition--thanks for sharing

    1. thanks to you alan without you it wouldn't be possible!! look to the east for a man in brown shorts in a week or two :)

  3. Nice work, Steve! Looking forward to hearing about the rest of the lineup.

    1. Thanks Brett! it's tough work, but someone's got to do it...

  4. Double Mint gum?!? Great, that's all I will smell from rye from this day on.

    I just tried W2 the other day poured blind against an old standard, WT 101 rye - both virgin sips. Found the W2 to be quite approachable but really unremarkable. Not sure what time will do to it, but I'm willing to come back for sure.

    And speaking of gum, don't chew any Big Red before hitting that SW 828. That would be like dividing by zero. And we can't afford to lose a Beast in times like these.

    1. haha double your pleasure! the 2yr definitely grows on you. it's not life-changing but it's definitely a unique product and very different from any other $40 rye you can get right now. will be fascinating to see what it's like at 8-years...