By Father John Rayls
In 1792, the first Willett arrived in Kentucky and took up residence in Bardstown, Kentucky. However, it wasn’t until after the Civil War that the Willetts opened their first distillery. From the 1980s the Willetts became known for producing very good non-distiller producer (NDP), or sourced, whiskey as Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KDP). Once they began distilling again, they brought the family name back into the picture.
The Willett Family Estate Bottled Small Batch Rye is the culmination of a long sought after dream: production on-site of their own whiskey. This is a young rye whiskey that barely qualifies with the two year minimum required to be called “straight whiskey,” bottled at cask strength of 110.8 proof. However, it is an interesting one, and for some reason, rye seems to take on good color and flavor early in the aging process.
The bottle is a little unusual for an American whiskey, in that it’s shaped very much like a wine bottle. It looks elegant and classy with cream colored labels and a multi-colored logo/icon. The rye appears much darker in the bottle than in the glass, and has an orange cast to its brownish base. In the glass, it appears much more orange than brown, but has a warm coloring. The viscosity is very thin leaving a very light coating to the glass. The legs are almost non-existent.
The nose begins with an immediate presence of pine. There is some alcohol burn with hints of leather and vague floral notes. There doesn’t appear to be a lot of depth at this point. Some might even describe it as a light perfume fragrance with some slight vanilla base underneath.
The taste is a little surprising for a two year old. There is some real flavor there, something I expect will only get better as this stock continues to age. This is a light bodied whiskey that has a solid rye foundation, but also reveals its youthfulness. You get a little sense of drinking white dog, white lightning, clear whiskey or simply moonshine. It doesn’t punch you in the face, but you know where it’s been hanging out and with whom.
But the overall experience is actually better than that. There is a sweet mintiness accompanied by honey and a rye spiciness on the palate. Underneath is just a hint of orange almost like a fresh slice right from the tree attached for looks to your glass as an after thought. The finish is medium with spice and mint and even slight butterscotch. The alcohol continues the activity in your mouth well after the flavor has died out.
You should be able to lay your hands on this whiskey for between $36.00 to $50.00. Considering its age, this is a very good rye whiskey for the price. It’s not as rambunctious as pure white dog and is much more refined and flavorful with excellent table manners. This is a fun whiskey with which to experiment.