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Review: Willett Family Reserve Single Barrel Bourbon – 8 Year (Barrel 305)

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) is an Independent Bottler based in Bardstown, Kentucky. While KBD has been in the process of renovating the old Willett Distillery, until recently it had not been doing any distillation. The company‚Äôs model has centered on sourcing choice barrels from other distilleries for bottling under their many labels. After the first of the year KBD was able to crank up the still at the distillery, and I sure hope to see some of their own distillate coming out soon. Until then…….

One of their more popular products is the Willett Family Reserve line of longer aged bourbons. The subject of this review is the 8 year old version. The source distillery is unknown and the folks from KBD would probably have to take out all of my taste buds one by one (a fate worse than death) if they told me. Here are my thoughts….

Willett Single Barrel Bourbon (8 Year) , Barrel #305, 64.15% abv (128.30 Proof), $50

Color: Deep Mahogany

Nose: Baked banana, smoky caramel, sorghum syrup, vanilla, cocoa, flint and roasted nuts.

Palate: This is brooding whiskey – molasses, toffee, dark chocolate caramels, bitter espresso, and heavily toasted bread. There is a good bit of waxiness as well. In spite of the deep dark flavors, this whiskey does not drink it’s proof. I would have guessed something around 100-105 – it hides it very well.

Finish: Huge finish with cocoa, coffee, toffee and more of the wood spices than were present on the palate (clove and cinnamon in spades). There’s a nice interplay between bitter and sweet.

Overall: What a fantastic whiskey! This is “end of a great meal” whiskey that could easily substitute for a well balanced dessert. Intense, sweet, bitter, solidly spiced, and interestingly smoky. I loved it from start to finish. At $50 it’s certainly not inexpensive, but considering the proof it is a tremendous value. Without hesitation, this can go toe to toe with the big boys from the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection. One note of caution – as mentioned in the opener, KBD sources these barrels. I can only imagine their program focuses in some way on consistency and flavor profile, but it’s still a single barrel product. As a result I would expect some variation. Please note that I’ll continue tasting some additional barrels and will post my thoughts and updates as I try them. Even considering the potential for variance, I highly recommend you give this one a try.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.4 (Superb/Outstanding)

22 Comments

  1. SCmayor says:

    Awesome review…..i bought a bottle of this a couple weeks ago….time to crack it

  2. BMc says:

    Hey Jason, where did you get this one? 8-year-olds from different cities can have release dates many years apart.

  3. ChrisB says:

    Ah, but where to find this little beauty! No sign of it in Washington or Oregon. Looks like wish list stuff for friends travelling East.

  4. I’ll keep an eye out for the 8 year, but like you said Jason, it might be a crapshoot given that each barrel can be quite different.

  5. Texas says:

    Spec’s in Houston has an 8 yr/121 proof..not sure what Barrel #. I will have to put this on my splurge list…

  6. Tim Read says:

    Keep an eye out for the older ones. I’ve had a few in the 17-18 range that were beyond stupid. It was a religious experience.

    … and of course a couple were oaked.

    -T

  7. BMc says:

    I’ve had close to 10 different 17-18 year old Willetts. I have my favorite one stashed away, but I don’t think I’d buy any of the others. They’re good, but I certainly haven’t had a Saint Teresa moment with any of them, and besides, the prices are staggering around here, like $130 or more.

  8. Lazer says:

    what happened to the videos?

  9. Lazer – vids are coming. Two in the queue for the coming week. Stay tuned!

  10. BMc – this was bottle was purchased here in Nashville within the last 3 weeks, but I do know that bottles from this same barrel were on the shelf for a few months.

  11. sam k says:

    How about the news that Willett is finally distilling again? That’s AWESOME!!

  12. Nick says:

    I love a lot of Kentucky Bourbon Distllers Ltd. products, and I’ve been dying to know where they are making this stuff. They bottle there and can use DSP # 78, so that’s no help. My guess was that Heavan Hill was making their juice, but any input y’all have would be fantastic. Cheers!

  13. Nick, many have said Heaven Hill, but I’ve seen others mentioned as well. I honestly think it’s all over the place. It’s good though, at least this barrel was. Cheers to you also.

  14. Sam K – very cool indeed. Looking forward to more info from those guys.

  15. Ken Miller says:

    Finally found Willett single barrel bourbon in my area — 11-year-old. Loved the first taste so much I went back and bought a second bottle. I’m still relatively new to bourbons, but of the 11 in my collection, this easily tops the list. It took a long time to find, but it was worth the wait and effort.

  16. I got a bottle of the 10 year old, and I absolutely love it. You’re absolutely right about its ability to stand toe-to-toe with the BTACs. Really beautiful stuff!

  17. James says:

    I’ve been admiring a $155 bottle of the 21 year for a few weeks now. Might be time to take the plunge.

  18. Mike says:

    I just found a 21 yr bottle. Any feedback? Thanks-

  19. Howard says:

    I have become one of the biggest fans of Willett. I don’t know how they keep putting this incredible juice out.
    I believe that the stocks of older aged FAMILY RESERVE bottles is pretty thin. I find that any bottles older than 7 year is nearly impossible to locate. And, when you do, they are quite pricey. I am seeing up to $400 for 20 year from sellers. At the distillery, I found a small offering of 20 year for $225.
    I was recently at Binny’s in Chicago and although they had none for sale, of any age, I was offered a chance to taste from 3 different 21 year bottles. Two of the 3 were incredible, one was a little bitter and hot, and then my host mixed the 3 together, producing a wow moment for me.
    Lastly, I was curious as to a number of Willett Family Reserve bottles that had kitschy names, like Creme D’ Spice, Southern BBQ, Double Bean, etc. and found the trail led to Washington, D.C.
    According to Evan at Willett, there is a fellow from D.C. who, in his opinion, has the perfect whiskey palate (a grand claim, especially from one of the real pros). He is a big buyer and consequently is allowed to roam the supply and select his barrels, which he then names these wild names. I have gotten hold of a few and I must say, they are even a step above. I see a few bar menus in the D.C. area offer these by the glass.
    If you come across any of these I would recommend giving them a try.

  20. tom says:

    Has anyone tried the Binny’s version of the 8 year old? The only Willet’s I’ve had is the 5 year Rye..not 4 but 5 and it knocked the socks off of most Ryes. It made Templeton, which isn’t bad, seem like a whimp. And not strong but very flavorful and in your face with flavor.

    Anyway Binny’s hand selected a number of Willet’s bourbon much like other retailers have done. I believe the range was from 6 years through 12. At the time the 8 and9 and 12 yr old were very highly thought of.

    The bottle I have is from Barrel # 795 and I have bottle number 92 of 155. Again it’s an 8 year old at 122 proof or 61% ABV.

    I haven’t opened it yet and was wondering how it tasted or if it is comparable to the KBD 8 yr old. I believe I bought this in fall of 2012. I’d appreciate any notes on this fine Willet expression.

    Thanks!

  21. After 40 years of drinking bourbon(my favorite whiskey)It blew me away to know someone in my family tree has distilled one of the best tasting whiskeys in the world. I found it a few years ago and prefer it over most Kentucky Bourbons. I’ve only tried the 6 year pot still reserve and hope to find a bottle of the 8 through 20 year that you gentleman have shared. Knob creek,Makes Make,and all the other bourbons move over there’s a new Whiskey in town.

  22. Michael Turley says:

    Great review. Tried some 21 year at Feast in New Albany, IN. Excellent stuff, but not quite as good to me as bottles from two different barrels of 8 year at other local places, both around 125 proof. (Didn’t write down the barrel numbers.) Have had 9, 10, and 11 year also, but the 8 year is the best I’ve had so far. I agree the 8 year is as good as some other more expensive bourbons.