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The first Willett distillery was established in Bardstown/Kentucky in 1936 by the Willett Distilling Company that was owned by the Willett family who had been based in Bardstown since the end of the 18th century. During the energy crisis of the 1970s the distillery switched from producing whiskey to producing ethanol for gasohol fuel. This strategy soon failed when fuel prices returned to lower levels, and the distilling facilities were shut down in the early 1980s. The Norwegian Even G. Kulsveen (who had joined the Willett family by marriage) purchased the company and distillery in July 1984 and renamed it to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD) Ltd. For some time, KBD continued to produce bourbon from the aging barrels that the Willett distillery had produced before they had stopped distilling. However as time moved on, KBD increasingly began to operate as an NDP (non-distilling producer), bottling and releasing bourbons and ryes that had been distilled at other distilleries. One of their highly esteemed brands are the "Family Estate" single barrels, some of which were whiskeys from Stitzel-Weller or Old Bernheim, but many were younger whiskeys from the Midwest Grain Products (formerly Lawrenceburg Distillers Indiana) facility. This particular bottling is a 6-year old single barrel bourbon, bottled from barrel #110 as bottle #104 of a total of 204 bottles.
The nose – bam! – is bold and assertive. Big flavours of vanilla, fudge and burnt caramel come first, followed by peppermint, rye and a touch of leather. Some notes of sawdust are there, too, giving this a musty touch that adds complexity. What can I say? Just a few sniffs and I’m in love! With water the flavours become sweeter and I now get cinnamon, nutmeg and hints of milk chocolate.
The palate is full-bodied and just a little bit spicy. The vanilla flavours are back, now together with notes of honey, oranges and a touch of black tea. Later on, distinct notes of cinnamon and peppermint develop. It is hard to believe that this exceeds 60% of ABV: there is great balance and the alcohol has been beautifully integrated. Adding water reduces the intensity of the flavours, and I definitely prefer this neat.
The finish is long and warming. Flavours of cinnamon and mint take center stage, together with notes of vanilla, oranges and caramel. Adding water tones down the intenseness of the flavours and gives the whole whiskey a rather mellow note.
I am absolutely stunned by this bourbon. Everything is right with this one: It boasts big and bold flavours, it has exquisite balance, its flavours vary from sweet/fruity to dusty/musty – in other words, this one is multi-layered and goes deep, this is stellar stuff!