Well, first of all, Happy Halloween! Once more it’s the time of year with ghosts and goblins, tricks and treats. Children dressing scarily and wondering through your streets collecting candy. I hope you and yours enjoy it this year. It’s also deep into autumn, with the harvest coming up, and I like to think of all the corn, the wheat, the ryes that will soon be mashed and distilled into my favorite treat – whiskey!
Secondly, congratulations to the San Francisco Giants, who last night won their third World Series in five years. I feel like the Giants are our adoptive team, as my wife Jen and I went to see them during our honeymoon in 2012. Particularly amazing was the performance of Madison Bumgarner, I’m glad I watched this series through to the end!
And now…on to bourbon. Or in this case, rye.
The Willett name has a long and storied history, going all the way back to pilgrims who arrived in the US in the 1600s. The Willett family has been responsible for bourbon distilling in Kentucky since the 1860s, and has played an important role in much of the great bourbon legacy there.
In the 1930s, the Willett family started the Willett Distilling Company on the family farm in Bardstown, Kentucky, and it still sits there today. Willett, which later changed it’s name to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers(1984), made bourbons on the family farm up until the 1970s. At that time, during the oil crisis, they made the decisions to have their whiskey brands made elsewhere and age and bottle them (or just bottle them) onsite. This allowed them to convert their production facilities to make gasahol fuel. This venture did not work out, however, and by the 1980s, the Willett location was only used for it’s warehouses and bottling.
Several brands are released under the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers name – Johnny Drum, Kentucky Vintage, Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill among others. They also do aging and bottling for a few other brands, including Corner Creek and the sought after Black Maple Hill.
In the mid 2000’s, the family started work to reopen the Willett production facilities, and by 2012, they barreled the first of their new products. And in 2014, they unveiled it at last – the Willett Family 2 Year Rye.
I was down in Kentucky in June and visited Willett, and was lucky enough to land a few bottles of the brand new, Willett produced two year rye. So how’d it taste?
107 proof – that was the strength of my Willett 2 Year Rye – a nice barrel proof number. And Willett certainly knows bottling – their Still Pot Reserve has won awards for it’s beautiful bottles, and their ryes come in beautiful bottles adorned with the family seal as well. In short, it’s a lovely bottle.
It has a nice gold color, and the nose is fantastic. There is a definite fruitiness in the nose – I picked up cherry, citrus and a hint of raisin. The woodiness reminded me of something other than oak – more like a cedar or even a Christmas pine. I soaked it in, and found some vanilla. What shocked me the most was the lack of a burn. Despite the high proof, this pour didn’t smell like pure alcohol, and had a surprising richness.
I’ll admit, my first sip was jarring. The nose had put me to sleep, and I took perhaps too big of a drink, forgetting the high potency of the proof. But even as I coughed a bit, caught off guard, I noticed how smooth it was going down. My next drink was more restrained, and I got a good feel for this rye. It was softer than a 2 year has any right to be, with a great range of flavor that belies it’s age. It had an earthiness to it, and I thought mint rose to the top, along with a maple. I didn’t note the usual pepper or cinnamon ryes have – it’s probably too young to have really soaked that in from the wood – but there is far more citrus than I would have ever expected. Overall, it’s rather sweet.
And it has a nice finish to boot. Not the longest finish, but smooth and lingering where a touch of spice mixes with an earthiness (that is probably the biggest tip off to it’s age).
On the whole, I’m not as big a fan of ryes as I am traditional bourbons. But for this Willett entry, I’ll make an exception. It doesn’t have the ‘graininess’ of a young rye – that taste that lets you know that some of this whiskey has never touched the side of a barrel. Instead, I would have thought upon blind taste that it was at least four, and maybe even six or eight years old. What really intrigues me is what these barrels will taste like in a few more years!
Dan’s Rating: 8.5