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Willett's Single Barrel Bourbon

Average score from 2 reviews and 15 ratings 90

Willett's Single Barrel Bourbon

Product details

  • Brand: Willett
  • Bottler: Unknown
  • ABV: 47.0%

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Willett's Single Barrel Bourbon

I’m primarily a Scotch drinker, attempting my first bourbon review here, so I’ll limit my comments mostly to tasting notes. If you want a succinct history of the Willet Distillery, please see @Victor’s reviews of various Willet expressions. I won’t attempt to compete with his customary deep knowledge and eloquence.

I should mention, however, my surprise at being the first to review this bourbon. This is the Willet Single Barrel familiar to U.S. buyers: the one in the pot-still bottle, and bottled at 47% ABV. The reviewed bottle is #133 of 272, barrel #8582; no dates or age statements provided. The bottle was opened about four months ago, and this will be about my sixth dram.

Nose: I get a strong whiff of mint each time I bring my Glencairn to my nose. The mint lingers throughout, but it soon becomes part of an ensemble that includes cinnamon, vanilla, butter, honey, cedar wood, flowers, and plenty of sweet corn. Light but complex, ever-evolving, and warmly satisfying.

I’ll qualify my comments by pointing out that I tend to get more mint in many bourbons than most people. If I had a mint in my bank account rather than my nose, I’d have many more bourbons for comparison.

Palate: Rich butterscotch and maple on the arrival. Very, very sweet at first, but develops dry and spicy. The somewhat hot finish recalls the cinnamon, corn, and spices, and introduces some earthy, woody textures.

Overall, the palate is much simpler than the nose foreshadowed, but the limited flavors are quite tasty nonetheless. I didn’t notice so much going on in my earlier tastings, so I’d say it definitely benefits from a few months on the shelf after a few drams have been poured. If you like it less than I do, at least you’ll have a showy bottle for your collection.


The Willett family owned the Willett Distilling Company until they sold it to Even Kulsveen in 1984. The company was renamed Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd. in order to make the company name more recognisable as being associated with Kentucky whiskey for the purpose of international marketing. Willett label is used for premium bourbons of various ages, and for some premium rye whiskeys. KBD has not operated the Willett distillery to make whiskey since it acquired the facilities, but instead has acquired and labeled whiskeys produced at other unnamed distilleries. The reviewed whiskey was from barrel #8065, distilled March 28, 1996

Nose: brown sugar, like an aged rum, black cherry, plum, rye spices, subtantial oak, with just hints of vanilla and caramel

Taste: the spices explode all over the palate--this is spicy like the spiciest rye whiskey. The alcohol taste reinforces the spicy effect. The wood is very strong here as well. This is a bourbon of enormous flavour, able to keep company with George T. Stagg, William Larue Weller, and Old Potrero. Vanilla, caramel, oak, black pepper, cherry and plum dance and crackle all about the mouth. A spicy beginning gives way to developing sweetness, which becomes all-encompassing

Finish: these enormous flavours just last and last, doing a slow fade together. The sweetness remains strong in the mouth throughout the finish

Balance: Lovely, lovely, lovely! I have had other Willett Bourbons, and have loved them all. This bourbon is quite delicious and quite balanced, for all of its enormous powerful flavour. Even though this premium product sells at a premium price, I have never once heard anyone complain about being dissatisfied with a Willett Bourbon.

@Kryonas and @Wills, these numbered and sometimes named Willett Single Barrel products are 'private' bottles from private barrels, sold to private businesses, eg Binny's in Chicago, the Jack Rose/Bourbon Saloons in DC, Ace Beverage in DC, The Party Source in Bellevue, Kentucky, private clubs that bid to buy a barrel, or private individuals. The barrel #8065 "Calypso" was bought, I think, by one of the DC organisations, and, as has been typical in this town in the recent past, that organisation farmed out a few bottles here and there to 3 or 4 other restaurants, bars, and liquor stores. These Willett Single private barrels only pop up for sale here and there occasionally. They are usually, but not always, quite lovely. It is hard to find places to sample them before laying out what they cost to purchase, so there is some chance of disappointment. The bottle pictured here in this review is not what the bottle shape and labeling of Willett private single barrels looks like. To see a picture of a wall of Willett private single barrels, take a look at the profile picture of @bourbondork.

@GBrough, there are two types of Willetts at present, the pot still bourbon with the pot still shaped bottle @47% ABV, and the private single barrel Willetts, usually at Barrel Proof (usually @55-72% ABV) which come in standard thin upright bottles, eg from the current profile picture of @bourbondork. All will differ from barrel to barrel, some are so-so, but most are outstanding. Private single barrel Willett bourbons and ryes can be anywhere from 3 to 23 years old, and are only available at a few places, and only occasionally. Binny's in Chicago gets some periodically, as does The Party Source. There are probably no more than a couple of dozen retail vendors that ever see a Willett Single Barrel bourbon or rye. Other than buying a barrel from a distillery yourself, Willett Private Barrels are the closest US whiskey parallel to Scotch Malt Whisky Society bottles. This Calypso 12 yo reviewed above is an outstanding bottle, and the 18 yo 68% ABV "Sopressata" Willett I own is usually my very favourite standard (ie rye-containing) bourbon.

People usually like the Willett Pot Still bourbons too.

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