Kentucky Straight Bourbon
$20-25 US Retail
The nose and palate and brimming with flavor, and do not contain any off putting notes.
The finish, while enjoyable initially, becomes forgettable and best, and slightly unpleasant at worst as it lingers.
While less than a century old, Willett Distillery has a bit of a convoluted history for me to briefly summarize. The original Willett Distilling Company was founded in 1936 by the eponymous family that had a long history of distilling prior to building its own distillery on a farm on the south side of Bardstown, Kentucky. This distillery operated into the 1970s, and produced bourbon under brands such as Johnny Drum and Old Bardstown. During the fuel shortage of the ’70s, the distillery transferred its efforts into making fuel-grade ethanol instead of whiskey. That, coupled with the public trend away from whiskey in the ’70s and ’80s, effectively killed Willett’s whiskey producing operations, and the distillery was effectively shut down in the early ’80s.
In 1984, the Kulsveen family purchased the farm, defunct distillery, and onsite warehouses full of aging whiskey, and acquired the brands that the Willett Distilling Company had created. The Kulsveen’s then changed the company name to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) and operated as an independent bottler (or non-distilling producer, if you prefer) for the remainder of the 20th century and through the first decade of the 21st.
KBD continued to bottle the aging stocks from the Willett warehouse, and as those stocks dried up, they began sourcing from different undisclosed distilleries. During the 1990’s, they created several premium brands such as Noah’s Mill and Rowan’s Creek, and in the early 2000’s, they started bottling single barrels of very old bourbon stock under the Willett Family Estate label. Finally, in 2012 KBD refurbished the onsite distillery and began distilling for their own brands once again, under The Willett Distillery label.
As their young whiskey matures, Old Bardstown has become the first standard-release bourbon label to feature Willett’s in-house stock. The bottled in bond was first released in 2016 at 4 years of age, to comply with federal bottled in bond regulations. A 90 proof version of the same label can also be found for a slightly lower price tag.
- Distilled, aged, and bottled by the Willett Distillery in Bardstown, KY
- Age: non-age stated (at least 4 years)
- Cask type: New American oak
- Mash Bill: 72% corn, 13% rye, 15% malted barley
- ABV: 50% (100 proof)
Nose: Sticky sweet and quite floral. Bubblegum, pink starburst, vanilla toffee, pine tar, and licorice. The odd herbal notes provide needed balance against the sweetness. While it displays the flavors of a young whiskey, the aroma is quite composed, rather than hot, brash, or “off”. As it rests, a nice brown sugar note develops.
Palate: The arrival is short and most reminiscent of nutter butter candy bars, before a mild ethanol wave crashes into my tongue carrying notes of barrel char, creme brule, toffee, crushed pine needles, and a touch of fennel. The mouthfeel is thin and syrupy.
Finish: Bold. Peanut butter, cherry juice, and dark toffee. The fruit note fades out first, leaving me with a slightly bitter and stale nuttiness – like peanut butter cookies that have sat out on the counter for several days.
A note on water: Skip it. The nose gets hot and the palate gets stale.
Overall: Worth buying a pour. Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond is quite an enigmatic bourbon. It tastes equal parts young and refined. The overall flavor is solid, and there are no offputting notes commonly found in other young bourbons. Willett’s in-house distillate certainly shows a character of its own, and I’ll be looking forward to keeping tabs on them and trying their bourbon as it continues to increase it age.