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Whisky Reviews

Willett Family Estate 6 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon #8281 62.7% ABV


Hang on to your seats because today we're gonna get deep with one of America's whiskey's biggies - Willett.

Besides a really cool, almost medieval looking label and sleek and slender bottle, Willett is one of those names you'll hear about in high regard when talking about America's whiskey producers - but as with everything, it's complicated. For once, let's get into it.


Willett Distillery in Kentucky.


Willett is not a new kid on the block by any sense of the word - the brand has had its root all the way back to the late 1600's when rye distilling was still big in Maryland - the Maryland Rye style pretty much that even the likes of George Washington was fond of. Eventually the family moved over to Kentucky, American whiskey distilling mecca, and brought their ryes with them, producing two labels - Belle of Nelson and Morton's Spring Rye.

Eventually, Prohibition hit and things grounded to a halt. Nevertheless Aloysius "Lambert" Willett continued to hold on tight to his distilling dreams. When Prohibition was finally repealed, Lambert got to work! On St. Patrick's Day 1937, Lambert's son, Thompson, would together barrel the family's first post-Prohibition whiskey - this was the start of the Willett Distilling Company.

By the 1980s, the all of American whiskey was in a downturn and the Willett Distilling Company was not spared. Nevertheless Lambert's granddaughter Martha and her husband Even Kulsveen had fought to keep the family business alive, and at which point changed the company's name to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (or KBD). What's really crucial here is that under KBD, the business model was changed - the Willett's would move away from being a distiller to becoming a Non-Distilling Producer (or NDP), the American way of saying Independent Bottler.



This is key to note because Willett was probably no more prolific than when there were an NDP under the moniker KBD, and at the time had come to be involved in a number of cult bottling collaborations that would substantially raise Willett's profile - Black Maple Hill, Michter's, Very Olde St Nick (VOSN), Rare Perfection, Red Hook Rye and Pappy Van Winkle. There is likely no other NDP that has come to be affiliated with such an incredible roster of legendary brands. 

As it turns out, the Kulsveen had an immaculate eye for amazing whiskies and had turned one man's junk into another man's treasure. As you recall, this was the 80's when no one wanted American whiskey - which ironically made it the best time to be picking out well-aged stocks of whiskies to purchase from the likes of Stitzel-Weller, Heaven Hill, Four Roses and Jim Beam. By turning themselves into an NDP, KBD was able to gain rarefied access to some of the most sought after warehouses and have their pick! Eventually as the things started to pick up a decade later, KBD became known for their treasure trove inventory that stocked the cream of the crop whiskies from pretty much every distillery in America, except one - Willett! 


Britt and Drew Kulsveen.


By the early 2010s, Martha and Even's grandchildren Britt and Drew would now run the family's company and given American whiskey's revival, would begin planning a long awaited revival of the family's legacy Willett name. They would refurbish the distillery equipment that had not been touched for decades, and by 2012, they were ready - KBD would go back to being the Willett Distillery. 2015 would see the first Willett-distilled expression from the family's own copper pot still, the 2015 Willett Family Estate Bottled Rye Whiskey.

This would expand to also include the Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon. Willett has now been regularly releasing whiskies produced by themselves to much acclaim - each one being cask strength and single barrel, hailing from one of six different mash bills. As such each batch of bottlings varies from to the next, and yet has generally been very positively received.

Today we're going to try the Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon, a 6 Year Old single barrel that was bottled for Australian liquor distributor Cerbaco.


Willett Family Estate 6 Year Old Single Barrel Bourbon #8281 62.7% ABV - Review


Tasting Notes

Color: Deep Amber

Aroma: Deep, rich, dense sweet notes of butterscotch, caramel and baked cherries, as well as baking spices, cinnamon, clove, and lots of brown sugar. It’s mellow, rich and rounded, with a silky quality. With a couple of seconds, this evolves into more on cherry bakewells, oodles of brown sugar, and also a deep and aromatic note of lacquered wood.

More time allows the aromas to brighten with more on vanilla cream, cinnamon, aromatic wood spice potpourri, and of course brown sugar.

Taste: Caramel and brown sugar aplenty - deep, dense and rich. Incredibly smooth too, leading onto a minty herbaceousness, and also a little bit of oily char reminiscent of burnt meat.

Finish: Back on the brown sugar and cherry bakewells, this time with more eucalyptus and mint - a lightly menthol herbaceous bitterness. It packs a super long finish with amazing warmth. Lingering notes of oily charred meat, and also more of cherry twizzler liquorice.


My Thoughts

This really blew me away - first off, it was so smooth, so rounded, such an amazing density from its aromas to flavours and texture; all incredibly rich and dense and packed with those warm comforting flavours.

I frankly found it wholly incredible with such a great mouthfeel, that super long and deep warmth on the finish, and aromas that continued to open up with time.

Now, admittedly the flavours to be had were quite simple - but trust me, it’s no issue here. The flavours were so bold and powerful, and yet well-rounded at the same time. When you pack that much power and cohesiveness, these lovely warm confectionary flavours really hit the spot.

Awesome awesome awesome.


My Rating: 9/10 


Score/Rating Scale :

  • 9-10 : Exceptional, highly memorable, 10/10 would buy if I could.
  • 7-8 : Excellent, well above most whiskies, worth considering buy-zone.
  • 4-6 : Good, okay, alright; a few flaws, but acceptable; not bad, but not my personal preference; still worth trying, could be a buy if the price is right.
  • 1-3 : Not good; really did not enjoy; wouldn't even recommend trying.
  • 0 : Un-scored, might be damaged, new make, or very unusual.