Sour Mash Manifesto

Bourbon and American Whiskey

Tag: Willett

Review: Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon

Pure Kentucky XO Straight Bourbon is one of the many brands produced and bottled by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. (KBD) out of Bardstown, KY. If you are unfamiliar with KBD as a company, you will probably recognize many of the whiskeys they produce – Willett Family Estate Bourbon and Rye Whiskeys, Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon, Noah’s Mill Bourbon, Rowan’s Creek Bourbon, and numerous others.

KBD operates out of the Willett Distillery, which it has owned since the 1980’s. As an aside, it’s a charming distillery that sits atop a bluff not far from Heaven Hill distillery. The whiskey that makes up Pure Kentucky XO, as well as the others mentioned above, are sourced from unnamed distilleries. KBD has built their supplies by purchasing new make spirit sourced in bulk, and then aged in the Willett Distillery’s aging facilities on property. They’ve also procured fully or partially matured whiskeys that were distilled and aged elsewhere. I’m sure many of you know by now that a lot of this stuff is shrouded in mystery. I’m certainly not going to be able to clear that up – it’s sourced and I suppose that is that.

In January 2012 the Willett Distillery began distillation once again. This past fall the company released their first rye whiskeys that were distilled, aged, and bottled on property. I have bottles of both the 107 and 109 proof ryes (purchased at the distillery). The whiskeys absolutely need more time in oak to realize the complexity and depth that longer aged rye whiskey typically possesses, but Willett has a good foundation with these whiskeys.

Let’s get back on track to the whiskey in question. Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon is a high proof (107) small batch straight bourbon whiskey. It has no age statement (NAS) so we really don’t know how old the whiskey is, but that’s not uncommon nowadays. As recent as 2-3 years ago, Pure Kentucky XO stated the whiskeys in the bottle were at least 12 years of age. We can venture a guess that is no longer the case. Age only matters to a point, and at the end of the day what matters is how the whiskey tastes. Let’s find out….

pure-kentucky-xo-300x300Pure Kentucky XO Straight Bourbon, 53.5% abv (107 proof), $28/bottle
Color: Copper/Medium Amber
Nose: Cinnamon and barrel spices (right up front), toffee, maple sugars, dry dusty oak quality. Faint dried apricot and fruit notes linger on the edges.
Palate: Spicy, rustic, and woody. Cinnamon, clove, and some bitter barrel notes (and grip) make way for oily corn, vanilla, and faint toffee sweetness.
Finish: Warming spice/heat and zip, corn, and a fruit. Long finish.
Overall: Pure Kentucky XO Bourbon is a good choice for those that like spicy and oaky bourbons. It’s not overly sweet, and the price point is good considering the proof. It does take water well, and is recommended to brighten up the party a bit. If it has a fault it’s that it’s not particularly well balanced, but it fits a profile that many may appreciate.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.3 (Very Good)

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’s 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)

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)

Willett Pot Still Reserve Single Barrel, (aka Buttered Popcorn) Bottle 145/Barrel 4799

Willett Pot Still Reserve Single Barrel, Bottle 145/Barrel 4799, 47% Abv/94 Proof, $38-45

This is a very interesting bourbon and somewhat unique. First sniff opens up tightly and takes time to evolve and deepen. It offers whiffs of vanilla, lightly toasted oak, and very faint spice notes. Some maple and burned sugar peeks through as well. All very restrained and light, this is not a “flooding” nose and requires a bit more patience to fully open up. On the sip this bourbon shines a lot more with flavors of maple and caramel, light spice, and a fairly intense blast of salted, buttered popcorn – a very nice arrangement. The finish is moderate in length with some oaky dryness, vanilla, and corn. Well done.

Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.5 (Excellent)

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