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Willett Single Barrel Rye 3 yo

A 3 year old prodigy...

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@hunggarReview by @hunggar

29th Jul 2013


  • Nose
  • Taste
  • Finish
  • Balance
  • Overall

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It’s a challenge finding anything other than scotch in Taiwan. Bourbon is rare, and rye is utterly non-existent. That’s why whenever friends or family come to visit, I promptly ask them to pick up something that’s out of my reach here. In this case, I managed to get my friend who’s visiting from Shanghai to bring along a bottle of Willett’s Single Barrel Rye 3 years. It’s a young rye with a definite kick, but Willett releases tend to enjoy a good reputation, despite the fact that they are bottlers rather than distillers. Also, apparently they’re quite rare even in the states. That’s enough to pique my interest. This one is from barrel no. 1243.

Nose: Crisp rye. Very grassy. The cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger rye notes are big and sharp. Cherries. Natural, fresh cherries. Vanilla, grass and wood notes seem to work quite harmoniously here. Pine and maple dominate the woody notes. Crisp, sharp, yet inviting nose.

Palate: Creamy, milky mouthfeel. Maple again. A bit bitter in a good way. Intense rye spice, big oak flavours, grass, gentle cherries, vanilla, and some earthy notes. Caramel and almond brittle. The spiciness is tempered by a wonderful, sugary sweetness, which peaks and then smoothly dissipates. Really loving these sweet notes. They aren’t too syrupy or mouth-coating. A lot of action here.

Finish: Long and consistent, with a distinctively creamy appeal. Lingering rye spice and maple dominate, but very little is lost from the palate.

I was taken aback by how good this is. Partly because I haven’t had a proper rye whisky in ages, and partly because it’s so bold and intense. Ironically, the bottle itself looks very elegant, classic, and sophisticated, with a coat of arms and handwritten production details. But the whisky itself is incredibly young, ballsy, and vibrant. Put simply; this stuff is incredibly rich, very creamy, wonderfully spicy, and unapologetically sharp and intense. While water calms it down, I prefer this neat. Victor mentioned in his review of the 4 yo how big the wood flavours are. While they may be more pronounced in the 4 yo, the 3 yo also seems to have profited from what must be top notch barrels. I love the boldness, and I love how this stuff manages to pack in so much intensity in at such a young age, yet still avoids being stinging or astringent. I’m reminded of Kavalan whiskies in the sense that they have managed to infuse their whisky with so much richness and flavour in such a short amount of time, and then released absolutely wonderful cask strength offerings that are neither harsh nor biting. This stuff is genuinely well-crafted. Just wonderful. A new favorite.

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CanadianNinja commented

As usual sir, a great review! I was particularly interested in what you had to say about this whisky because I just recently added a Willett 24 yo Rye to my cabinet. After reading your comments about the wood influence it will be quite interesting to see what's going on with an older expression. I don't think I'll be opening it until Christmas though, so I'll just have to wait a little longer... Based on what I've been reading about Willett ryes and bourbons they are definitely worth looking out for.

8 years ago 0

Victor commented

That's great to see that you were able to get yourself some very good rye into Taiwan. It is also interesting that that bottle of Willett was apparently sold in Shanghai. That makes me curious as to just how many barrels of Willett Family Estate whiskeys are sold in China.

The Willett Family Estate Private single barrels are quite individual, one compared to another. There will be great variation among them in style. To me, most of the Willett Private barrels, though not all, vary from very good to off the charts amazing. There are a few of them I haven't cared for, though, especially some of the bourbons. But the ones I haven't liked have all been bar samples, so it is also possible that the problem may have related to too-long-opened bottles. I do not have adequate information to know for sure whether or not I would have liked those same whiskeys from a fresh bottle. It is very good to know the history of each bottle from which one decides to do a review.

@hunggar, thank you for a very nicely done review.

8 years ago 0

hunggar commented

@CanadianNinja: The mouth waters at the prospect of a whisky of this caliber that has been well-aged. Good call on saving it til Christmas. Definitely a special occasion bottle. Be sure to review it for us!

@Victor: I was equally surprised that this was available in Shanghai. However I see it more as a fluke than anything else. Chinese don't generally have much of a taste for bourbons or ryes. The website I bought this from had very few bourbons, and this was the only rye. What's available in Shanghai is by no means representative of what's available or enjoyed China-wide. There are a lot of foreign and 'exotic' goods available which cater to Shanghai's upper classes which aren’t necessarily signs of a broader national interest. Novelty items, more or less.

As per your comments on batch and bottle variation, that may very well be true. This is the first and only Willett I've ever tried. Although the general consensus is favourable, I have seen a few online reviews that wouldn't recommend this for anything beyond a cocktail, claiming too much harshness and burn. That could not be further from the truth with the stuff I’ve got. Big and sharp, but nowhere near harsh. In fact this is incredibly smooth. Perhaps I just got lucky, as this stuff is absolutely sublime and will never find its way into a cocktail. Which is a shame actually, as it's my only rye...

As usual, thanks for the helpful comments.

8 years ago 0

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