By Jake Emen
The Willett Distilling Company, also known as Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, showcases four different predominately bourbon-based series of whiskeys. There’s Old Bardstown, the Small Batch Boutique Bourbon lineup, showcasing trendy picks like Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek, the eponymous Willett line, and then the Johnny Drum series.
Johnny Drum Private Stock is the flagship of that series, with a namesake and back-story of a Civil War soldier turned farmer turned Kentucky bourbon distiller. It is a product that was available only at select times from the 1960s through the 1980s, before making an appearance in full in the middle of the 90s.
Johnny Drum Private Stock (JDPS) is aged for 15 years, and heads up a series of Johnny Drum products which fall into the mid-shelf family of mixing bourbons. JDPS though is meant for sipping , and is bottled at 50.5% ABV, 101 proof.
Its nose has mint, smoke and vanilla, and a shy saltiness which emerges on a deep whiff. The palate offers an oaky background, with a charred vanilla sweetness, cinnamon and spice, and a bit of a hot, oily profile. The finish comes at you with force. Lots of pepper and rye spice, and lingering tannins in the mouth, with a hot, smoky vibe. On ice, you’ll get more vanilla and caramel, the finish is dampened into a mellow, dry, lingering smokiness.
JDPS was a bit of a letdown for me, what with its double gold background (see below). Taking a peek around at a few other reviews, and I’ve found a mixed bag. Some people love it, others not so much. Maybe it was my own mindset, but while it’s a solid bourbon, it falls short of the expectations I had for it, and short of some of the quality offerings from Willett including Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek and Willett Pot Still Reserve. It may actually be better suited to a mixed drink as the rest of its product family than for sipping or neat consumption.
You can find a 750 ml bottle of Johnny Drum Private Stock for between $25 and $35 depending on your location. It has a wide distribution but tends to be less easily found than some of the other Willett offerings. It’s also available at various online retailers.
Johnny Drum Private Stock is prominent in the awards scene, including bringing home a double gold and highest honors at the 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.