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Whisky Reviews

Willett Pot Still Reserve

 

Willett's been back at it for a hot minute, with sibling duo Britt and Drew Kulsveen at the helm, having brought the distillery back to life in 2015. The name Willett itself definitely goes way waaaaay back than that though.

The Willett name casts a big yet rather mysterious presence in the American whiskey scene - it's a name that certainly commands weight, but most folks probably aren't too familiar with what exactly the name is about.

 

 

So let's get to it! 

Willett actually goes all the way back to the 1600's, with the Willett family having distilled rye in Maryland at the time, before eventually moving over to Kentucky - today widely regarded as Bourbon country. Prohibition proved to be a snag in the family's trade but nevertheless when Prohibition was over, the Willett family went right back to distilling. This would go pretty well for several decades up until the great American whiskey bust in the 1980s, which would see the Willett Distilling Company run into some trouble. 

Thankfully, the family's company was saved when Martha Willett and her husband Even Kulsveen would fight to keep the business alive, but importantly made a crucial change to the family business - they would trade in distilling for bottling. This came with a name change to the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (or KBD), and under the astute eye of Even, the family would go about the country purchasing incredible barrels of American whiskey at a time when no one wanted the stuff.

  

  

When the American whiskey scene picked up again, guess who had stock of some pretty incredible barrels - you guessed it, KBD. As a Non-Distilling Producer (or NDP), which is the American way of saying independent bottler, KBD would help supply great whiskies to many legendary cult American whiskey brands, the likes of Black Maple Hill, Michter's, Very Olde St Nick (VOSN), Rare Perfection, Red Hook Rye and even Pappy Van Winkle.

Yet, as the family business was handed down from one generation to the next, it eventually came time to bring back the family's distilling tradition. This would happen under the watch of Martha and Even's grandchildren, Britt and Drew Kulsveen. Under their helm, they've refurnished the distillery, bringing back many artefacts from its past, and since 2015, have begun producing their own whiskies again. With distilling back on the table, it was time to change the family business's name back to Willett. 

  

  

Today we've got with us one of Willett's flagship releases - the Willett Pot Still Reserve. While earlier batches of this expression, which was first introduced in 2008, was sourced from other distilleries (said to be 8 to 10 Year Old Heaven Hill) under the KBD brand, the one we have today (from 2023) should most likely be the Willett Distillery's own whiskey (you can tell by the label "Small Batch Bourbon" which indicates Willett's own whiskey, versus "Single Barrel" which would indicate KBD-sourced whiskey). This transition happened around 2015, and is said to be made from approximately 12 barrels per batch, and comes from Willett's wheated recipe, with whiskies aged a minimum of 4 years old.

Worth noting is that this is Willett's entry level offering, and what the brand has come to be known for these days are the Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon and Willett Family Estate Rye, both of which are single barrel releases.

Let's give it a go! 

Willett Pot Still Reserve - Review

 

Tasting Notes

Aroma: Bright confectionary sweet notes - honey, caramel, vanilla cream, light dusting of baking spices. It’s alittle thin, with some ethanolic prickle. There’s also notes of cola syrup, cherry candy, lemon sherbet, orange zest. There’s a slightly sour bit of bread dough, and also this slight metallic and pencil shaving sharpness.

Taste: Syrupy sweetness, maltose candy, brown sugar, backed up by more of that cherry candy, and also a sort of wheat with a good dash of pepper. There’s a distinct grain-y profile, with some orange zest, corn mash, and vanilla frosting mixed up together - rather confectionary. It’s alittle thin and tannic in texture.

Finish: Cherry cola, more of that peppery note, and now mixed up with a more prominent herbaceous parsley edge. It’s still rather thin as it fades out.

 

My Thoughts

Overall this tended towards something that felt young (the key is to exude a sense of agedness even if it were young, being young in and of itself isn’t really too much of an issue) - so we’re talking some sharpness, hotness and not too much in the way of cohesion and depth of flavour. It felt rather thin at times, alittle prickly and disjointed, but overall had a sense of being quite confectionary - like walking into a bakery of sweet pastries. What I did especially like was the finish where that cola flavour really peaked and nailed it for me.

Worth trying, but don’t expect too much. 

PS. I do suspect there might be quite a bit of batch variation given that Willett is really still in its early innings and even the Pot Still Reserve started out being made with sourced whiskies and eventually moved towards being Willett’s own distillate.

   

Kanpai!

 

@111hotpot