By Richard Thomas
In my mind, certain types of releases mark a transition point for any new distillery, and putting out a Bottled in Bond is certainly the clearest milestone one sees today. Although people tend not to think of Willett as either a mid-sized distillery or a new one, since the family has had a sizable presence in the Bourbon industry since the 1980s, their still is a relatively modest 1,200 gallon model and it’s only been in operation since 2012. So it is that Willett joined a handful of other operators last year in releasing a Bottled in Bond Bourbon.
Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond is made using the old Willett family recipe: 72% corn, 13% rye, 15% malted barley. That is an odd one, what with the malted barley being a bigger component than the rye, and thus becoming a full flavoring element rather than just there for the enzymes. Past that, it’s a typical example of Bottled in Bond: all from one distilling season and aged under government supervision; four years old; bottled at 100 proof. Given the timing, the first batch of Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond was undoubtedly from Willett’s early run of Bourbon production.
Right from the start, Old Bardstown BiB has the suggestion of lightness. In the glass, the whiskey has a light copper coloring. It’s sharp and clear and pretty to see, but at the same time one might wonder with a four year old Bourbon bottled at 100 proof isn’t a little darker.
The nose has a light, airy and slightly floral character to it as well. The scent of brown sugar and vanilla lies in the main, but seasoned with a toasty cereals note that puts the heightened malt content on display. Behind that is a slight spiciness, like cinnamon and anise. In fact, the aroma reminds me of nothing so much as a well done plate of cinnamon toast, fresh from the oven.
The lightness carries over on the palate. It’s all sweetness and vanilla up front, with a spoonful of dry wood and barrel char on the back. The finish is a little dry and spicy, leaving some nice warmth.
The aspect that strikes me the most about Old Bardstown BiB is that, while the heightened malt content takes it just half a step outside the usual Bourbon flavor profile, it’s such a light-bodied whiskey that it really is just that half step. In fact, if I didn’t already know it from the label, I would be very surprised to learn that this was a 100 proof whiskey. It just doesn’t drink like one.
Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond is a Kentucky-only whiskey for the time being, and usually goes for $22 or $23. That ranges from slightly to substantially more expensive for other, similar offerings.