Willett Bourbon is one of my true loves in the liquor industry. The nose of sweet stone fruits and toasty corn sticks to my tongue and slides effortlessly down my throat. Of course not everyone knows about Willett and for good reason. It’s highly allocated. What does allocated mean? Well, quite simply- an allocation means that you can find it some places- yet not in others. Why? Because they don’t make very much of it!
I’m sure you’ve seen Noah’s Mill or Rowan’s Creek Bourbon Whiskey; they are available around the land- not as highly allocated as the Willett Family Estate Rye or the Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon. Noah’s Mill is gorgeous stuff with a smoky nose of slowly toasted corn and the just over 100 proof heat- as is the Rowan’s Creek with flavors of char and smoke woven around a core of the nearly 114.3 proof heat. These examples are unique in their approach to the art and craft of bourbon. I like my Noah’s Mill with nothing more than a hand cut cube of filtered water ice. I use a pitcher for filtration of my highly acidic water at home made by Mavea. This fabulous invention turns cloudy ice crystal clear- or in my case, nearly so. I think that the ice that I use in my bourbon is nearly as important as the bourbon itself! My ice is usually hand cut or frozen in silicon ice cube trays made for those perfect 2 x 2 squares of ice that fill the glass and chill the whiskey rather than dilute it.
Noah’s Mill was one of the first craft whiskies that I ever tasted. In college I drank plenty of Scotch and my young palate became tired of the smoke and peat. Bourbon offered a different approach, something truly American. To this day I can still taste the limestone-infused water and the finish of sweet peaches that Noah’s Mill offers my taste buds.
Rowan’s Creek is another of my favorites in this tasting with the aromatics of sweet grains and the heat that is inescapable. I don’t ever want to do anything more than splash a bit of Branch water over the top- or add a chunk of Mavea filtered water to a glass. It’s just too good to cover up with syrups. Of course if I was making an Old Fashioned and money was no object, I’d choose the Rowan’s Creek for my muddle of cocktail bitters, sugar and fruit served with a hand-cut cube of ice.
The Willett Family Estate Bottled Rye Whiskey is unlike many of the rye whiskies that are emerging on the market. First of all, rye is not at all like bourbon in taste. Rye is sharper and it has an almost cinnamon tinged nose that attacks all at once in your mouth. This rye is hot, rolling in at 110 proof. You cannot escape the flavors of the grain. It screams out for a splash of Branch or a cube of your Mavea filtered water ice. The rye is historic and memorable. Willett makes their rye sweet, tangy, robust and truly gorgeous in the glass. In a few words, the rye is unlike anything on the market.
The Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon is a reminder of what bourbon distilling was like before commerce entered the equation. The very nature of pot-still distillation is slow and low – like the barbequed meats that are on seemingly every plate in Kentucky. Pot distillation does not strip away flavor from the distillate. I detect notes of orange marmalade, sweet corn syrup, charred nuts and sweet oak. There is a bit of smoke in there too. In some ways it tastes stronger and more alcoholic than the other offerings from Willett, but at “only” 94 Proof, it is anything but weak. This is very sophisticated stuff. Good luck finding it. Remember our discussion about allocation from the beginning of this article? It’s nearly as hard to find as Pappy. And in many ways I prefer the Willett Pot Still version to Pappy. It just fits my tastes. Pappy is great, please don’t get me wrong. It is the veritable Holy Grail of bourbon. But the Willett, in my opinion is better. You may not agree, but to my palate, the Willett is a gorgeous example of taste over popularity. If given the opportunity of the 15 year Pappy vs. the Willett Pot Still version, I seem to prefer the Willett.
Tasting notes on the bourbon(s):
Anson Mills grit cakes smothered in smoky, early season maple syrup and sweet churned butter. Stone fruits reveal themselves in layers of tangy, then sweet, then hot from the nearly 114.3 proof power. Golden in color with no discernable faults.
The crust of Dutch oven cooked corn-flake crusted fried chicken reveals deeper flavors of smoke from long aging in lightly charred oak barrels. There is a bit of sweetness in there, tempered by the 100.1 Proof finish. Long cooked rice and pigeon beans on the finish bring up the rear and carry the heat through for over a minute on the palate.
Willett Family Estate Bottled Rye:
A liquid, pepper-crusted hot pastrami sandwich with spicy deli mustard and a crunchy dill pickle on the side. Piquant, aromatic and just gorgeous with a multi-minute finish that screams YUM!
Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon: (Very, very rare)
Is it the Holy Grail of bourbon? I think so until something else charms me into a state of relaxation. Made the way bourbon used to be made before column distillation changed the old-style methods forever. I only got a 100ml bottle and I want more!!!!