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Review: Willett 3 Year Old Single Barrel Rye

The Willett Brand is owned by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, LLC (KBD), a Bardstown, Kentucky Independent Bottler. The company is responsible for a number of well known bourbon and rye whiskeys – Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, and of course the Willett label to name a few. In spite of having the word “distillers” in its name, KBD does not currently distill whiskey. Instead, the operation relies on partnerships with established distilleries to produce its whiskeys.

As an aside, KBD has been working for years to get the former Willett distillery up and running (in Bardstown, KY). In a discussion I had this past fall with Drew Kulsveen, the man behind most of the company’s whiskeys, KBD is making significant progress in getting the distillery operational. Kulsveen estimates the distillery will be producing whiskey at some point in 2012. Until that time, Kulsveen takes a hands on approach to selecting barrels for KBD’s many products.

The subject of this review is KBD’s Willett 3 Year Old Single Barrel Rye. What we know is this product is made by Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana (LDI) in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. For more information on LDI, please check out my reviews on Bulleit Rye, Redemption Rye, Templeton Rye, and a number of the High West whiskeys. LDI is responsible for distilling each of those products.

Willett 3 Year Old Single Barrel Rye Whiskey, 55% abv (110 Proof) $35.00

Color: Medium Amber

Nose:  Razor sharp rye, granulated ginger, pine sap, licorice, and fresh, juicy oak at the fore. Rock candy and vanilla share the stage, but in the background.

Palate: Concentrated, brittle caramel sweetness fades to crisp, dry peppermint, evergreen, and clove at mid-palate. Lots of deep, dark barrel notes anchor the brighter flavors of this whiskey, adding depth and complexity.

Finish: The finish is huge – spiced with rye, clove, and mint as well as bold notes of the oak.

Overall: The hallmark of LDI’s rye whiskey, particularly their 95% rye, is that bracing rye nose and palate, with brittle caramel, juniper, and fresh green notes (evergreen, pine, and herbs). Willett 3 year Single Barrel Rye certainly demonstrates the family resemblance, but is also different from the rest in the way it delivers aroma and flavor. I consider this a good thing because most of the independently bottled LDI juice tastes so very similar. Releasing this at 110 proof was a wise move first and foremost. The result is a deeper sweetness, complexity, barrel/toasted notes. From a textural point of view, the Willett Rye is more viscous as well. I’d go so far as to consider this one of the best young whiskeys (under 4 years old) made. Quite a distinctive pour for $35.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.8 (Superb/Outstanding)

26 Comments

  1. I had the 4 year Willett Rye (also LDI) but I agree, it’s fantastic. Think Bulleit Rye but at higher proof so not watery/lacking in flavor like the Bulleit, which is also good. The extra proof really makes it. So good.

  2. Andrew Jones says:

    I enjoy reading your reviews.

    Another excellent young rye (2 years I believe) is Michter’s Straight Rye. I got a bottle for $35-40 a while back. I think I prefer it to the Willett Rye but I agree that the family resemblance makes Willett and interesting choice. It seems that Michter’s is becoming more scarce in Texas. I’m still trying to chase down a bottle of their 10 year rye.

  3. matt d says:

    Was waiting on this review since you posted your intention to review it because I have been working my way through a bottle and love it. Great job!

    I like Ryan (in first reply) have a bottle that is aged for 4 years from barrel #2515. The only difference I see is that the label is on Vanilla colored paper and not white as pictured above.

    Is the aging the only difference in comparison to the 3yr old you reviewed?

    Love rye and needed to find a replacement for Sazerac Rye 6 year I was drinking as it is no where to be found in CT anymore.

    After looking at your intro to the post I seem to gravitate towards the KDB/Willet family of products, I guess really enjoy their flavor profile. Right now I have willett rye, willett pot still reserve, bulleit bourbon and rye (price performers for partys and mixers if need be) and just picked up a bottle of Rowans Creek and i’m really enjoy it as well.

  4. Matt, sorry for the delay. I’ve had a few in the queue and my review order got a little switched up. But this is excellent stuff for sure.

    Ryan, I’ve not actually had the 4 year, but if it’s anything like the 3 then I’m sure it’s excellent. Proof is an overlooked weapon in a distiller’s arsenal.

  5. Thanks Andrew. I’ll see if I can track down a Michter’s Rye. Been a tough get around here as well though.

  6. sku says:

    I feel an obligation to chime in when I actually agree with you. Good stuff for a decent price, and I’m also really glad that they released this at a higher proof.

  7. Josh says:

    Completely agree. I scored a bottle of the 4 year version and at $32, it’s a steal. My local store is also carrying this same label, but in a 4, 6, 7, 8 year old single barrel cask strength straight BOURBON whiskey all priced between $40-50. Any feedback on these??

  8. Andrew says:

    About where it belongs, just above the Bulleit. If nothing more than for the additional proof. Still like Rittenhouse 100 better when I can get it.

  9. Tom says:

    Josh,

    In my opinion, the Willett Bourbons are also really great values for their quality. Unlike the rye, they are not from LDI, but come from other distilleries in Kentucky which Drew and the rest of KBD are not at liberty to disclose. The Willett line gave KBD an opportunity to bottle particularly good single casks (unfiltered, cask strength) instead of adding them to their main releases. If you ever have an opportunity to try some of the older ones, they are pretty fantastic as well.

  10. Josh says:

    Tom:

    That reminds me, they actually had 8 bottles of 20 yr with this same label at barrel strength and single cask. But at $139/bottle I had to pass.

  11. Tom says:

    I could be wrong, but I think the 20 year is some of the last of Stitzel-Weller juice, so if you can’t find any Pappy or Jefferson’s presidential, it might be worth investing in. But I agree, it’s a little pricey, I passed on it too.

  12. AaronWF says:

    Jason, you put it well with ‘deeper sweetness.’ I have a bottle from a local Chicago barrel of 3-year Willet Rye (West Lakeview Spirits); only its bottled at 113.9pr. I was a big fan of Templton Rye first or second batch, which was apparently older LDI rye than what’s in the more recent batches, and this Willet reminds me of why I liked those TR so much.

    How novel is it to drink young whiskey straight out of a barrel? The difference in barrel size between the Willet and, say Hudson Manhattan Rye is very telling; what’s waxy in the the Hudson Rye is a much more sophisticated oil in the Willet.

  13. Michael says:

    For anyone interested, KBD also produces Vintage Bourbon in a 17yr and 23yr that are pretty available. Both are very reasonably priced, and made with SW distillate I believe. Both are quite good as well, but you have to like a lot of oak to enjoy the 23yr. The Vintage Ry 21yr is also very good, and excellent value.

  14. Andy says:

    Sorry to nitpick, Jason, but have an important distinction to make. The word “distillery” is not in the KBD name. “Distillers” is. And therefore, I believe the name fits the company. On the other hand, the word “bourbon” is in the KBD name, so it is ironic that they have so many ryes available.

  15. Andy, good catch. I’ve corrected it, but also as I noted the full name of KBD in the opening sentence, I was operating with that frame of thought when remarking about the name. It is interesting to me that it’s in the name, but they don’t distill. That said, I know they’ve always had intentions to and hope they get it up and running soon. They do a great job selecting barrels that are distinctive and clearly of high quality. That bodes well for when they distill their own juice.

  16. Florin says:

    Jason, cheers to you with a glass of Willet 4yo rye. Right now it’s my favorite every-night drink. I love the honeyed spiciness coating the mouth — even long after the whiskey is gone! A 5yo is on the way, and I may open it very soon for a head-to-head comparison. Well done, KBD!

  17. Yep Sku, indeed it’s a feat when we agree eh? ; )

  18. Wes says:

    Jason, thanks for the great review. I have been eyeing a bottle of this rye for some time and you helped me pull the trigger. I really like the spiciness of this whiskey (this is my first rye) and the long finish.

  19. Texas says:

    Jason, since I was out of the country during Christmas my wife took me on a shopping trip to Spec’s here in Houston and I was able to snag a bottle of the 4 year/110 proof. It is just amazing stuff, although I do find it is better with a splash of water. I like the Bulleit rye and sure would like to see it at 100-110 proof. Right now I’d say the Willey 4 year is my favorite everyday pour.

    BTW, I read elsewhere that Willet/KBD is now distilling at their newly remodeled distillery. Can you confirm that? if so, I sure hope they stick with the 95% rye mashbill.

  20. Texas, indeed they have cranked up the still at KBD. A small still, but it’s a start. Kudo’s to those guys. I think many got on to them a bit about always pointing to the fact that it was going to be operational soon. In all fairness they had setback after setback that cost a great deal of time and money to fix. So this is great news.

  21. Texas says:

    Judging from the quality of the bottlings from them I have had, Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill, and the Willet Rye, they obviously know their whiskey, and I understand that the original Willet whiskeys were very good. I think this is real exciting. Hopefully in 4 years they will release a BIB product for us to try!

  22. Andrew says:

    This one has finally made its way to the shelves of one store here in S. FL and at a reasonable price, along with both Michter’s Rye products. Things are looking up. Have added the Willet to my shopping list for next time I am in that neighborhood.

  23. Let me know what you think Andrew once you try it.

  24. Tyler says:

    Jason,

    Love my Willett, thanks for the great review. My question is, do all of the younger (3, 4 & 5 yr old) Willett rye have the same mash bill? 95/5, rye/barley malt?

    Cheers!

    Tyler

  25. Spiro says:

    Introduced to Willet rye by the big man, Frank Webster,at the Omni Parker Hotel in downtown Boston, Mass. The bar, hotel, atmosphere, and selection of juices is exceptional. Directed me to the Federal juice store a block away where Willet and Old Fitzgerald were found with good cheer and knowledge by Joe and personnel. Great town and great folk. Back on the range in nw Illinois and will be heading to Chicago to find my Willet and others. Here, here!!!!

  26. Mike Out West says:

    Late comer to the Willett game but boy am I loving it! Frequently neat but often with one small ice block.
    I am a recent rye fanboy convert from bourbon, which I now classify differently, only referring to both as whiskey (or whisky) to lay persons or canadians & scottish folk.
    I found my first rye addiction cured with the Rittenhouse Rye 100 at $16 a bottle locally her in Los Angeles, but those days are gone and RR100 is now closer to $23. After trying High West’s Redemption Rye and our beloved Willetts, I now find RR100 a bit too sweet for an every day sipper, but I prefer it neat or rocks vs. a mixer that some online reviewers have called it. My GF likes the Rendezvous so I bought her a bottle to keep at her place along with my Baker’s 107 (also too sweet for me now after finding a single barrel rye.)
    On the Bourbon tip, I also like the Eagle Rare KSBW at a respectable 45% ABV, which I found after buying Knob Creek’s Single Barrel at 60% ABV – which I am not ashamed to say I no longer favor or drink neat.
    Looking forward to trying an older Rye but am loving the Willett Single Barrel in the mean time!