...where distraction is the main attraction.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

Whisky #401: Willett 2 year old Family Estate Small Batch Rye (54.05%abv batch)

Well, you knew this was coming...

Kristen and I tried this two year old rye right alongside the Willett MGP 4yo that I reviewed on Tuesday.  It gave us quite a perspective on this new thing.

As mentioned on Tuesday, this 2 year old was distilled at Willett's own distillery.  The rye it is replacing in the Family Estate series had been distilled by Midwest Grain Products.  That MGP rye was much beloved in my home.  I'm a little late to the game in reviewing this 2yo.  Hell, even MAO beat me to it by a week.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age2 years
RegionBardstown, Kentucky
Alcohol by Volume54.05%
(Thanks to smokeypeat for the sample!)

Once again my most special of guests, Kristen, contributes to this review.  Please see her notes in italics.

The color is similar to the MGP 4yo, though probably slightly lighter.  The nose begins like a piney cleaning fluid.  Rubber cement.  Elmer's glue.  Definitely an adhesive.  Thin, industrial.  Gradually some pear, rye seeds, and peanut brittle notes emerge.  Then comes those small sweet orange-ish lemons that gringos call Mexican lemons.  Sometimes it's kind of aquatic.  Chlorine.  It gets a little floral with a lot of air, but also gains a sharp cheese note.  The palate starts off sweet.  Sweeter than the nose lets on.  Vaguely fruity.  Red Hots candies, sort of reminiscent of The Rye Storm.  Cheddar cheese along with something green and herbal.  It's still fruity.  Just a hint of vanilla.  A simple sharp spice stab.  The finish is sweet as well.  There's a bit of lemon.  Also cinnamon, chlorine, and cheese.

Kristen's comments: Thinner than the 4 year old, and with less depth, it's okay on its own.  More alcohol in the palate and nose too.  The four year old is fuller, richer, with deeper vanilla and spice notes.

I'm not going to disagree with my wife on that.  It's a much different rye than the ol' 4.  Kristen quickly picked out which was which when trying the two blindly.

This 2yo has been reviewed by Sku, MAO, and Bourbon Truth, three heavy hitters who tell it like it is, shoot straight, and some other clich√©.  If they don't like something, they state as much.  Yet, I think they all like this rye better than I do.  Though (and this may be important) they appear to have had a different (54.7%abv) batch.  Smokeypeat, also a swell whisky fellow, from whom I obtained this sample, did like this batch a lot so please see his review for another take.

To me this seems like a work in progress (WIP), an early prototype.  With American whiskey enthusiasm being what it is and the desire for companies to get something on offer while people are throwing their money around, it seems like this is another whiskey that needs some more time to bake before it's solid.  (Sorry for the mess of metaphors.)  It's not bad, but it is thin, a little flat, feels heavy on white dog, and lean on the finish.  I'm the last guy to shout for More Oak, but this needs more time in the barrel.

I really want Willett to succeed, but I just can't recommend this rye to anyone at its $50 price tag.  Had they labelled it as a WIP and priced it at $25-$30, I'd be happy to buy a bottle to support them.  But not this, not yet.

Availability - Most specialty retailers
Pricing - $40-$60
Rating - 78


  1. Sorry, the post's title was updated to "Small Batch" from "Single Barrel" 10 minutes after posting. This was certainly not a single barrel. I gotta stop copy and pasting everything.

  2. As per Bourbon Truth, even at the same abv there are multiple batches out there. Which *might* explain some of the variance in reviews, but certainly also makes reviews less useful. (Sku and I obviously reviewed the same bottle, as my sample came from his bottle.)

    1. That's interesting. It does make following a review's notes somewhat pointless. But it also makes it a pain in the ass to find a second or third reliable bottle of a batch that one likes. Perhaps adding a batch name would help everybody out.

  3. Also -- I'm just going to keep commenting on my own post -- Mr. BourbonTruth noticed the quality of his bottle dropped after a few weeks, from a 4.5 rating to a 2.75. Also, it appears that as of the time of his review in June 2014, the rye was price in the mid-$30s in his neck of the woods. Mid $30s, while not super, is much more reasonable than the current $50 price in California.

  4. I think that to directly compare this to a rye that is twice its age is really not a fair comparison. Would we expect the same level of sophistication from a 10 year old in a direct comparison to a 20 year old? Just because 2 and 4 are both really low numbers doesn't put them in the same category. Yes it is young and can be a little hot, but there is a lot of great flavor there. At least for me there is. The things it does lack are those that really can only come with age. If this stuff was pure bliss right now I don't think it would age well. I am pretty sure that when this reaches 4 it will be truly amazing. I really like tasting it because I love rye and to finally be able to have some rye that is not from one of the two main rye distillers is quite a treat. I for one will be eager to immediately snap up some of this when it reaches 3 years old in just a few more months. Can't wait.

    1. I guess the devil's advocate response would be......"Or it would be like comparing a 10 year old to a 12 year old, as it's also a two year difference." Not sure which argument I'd buy into right now. Though I do think the primary difference is in the juice they're starting with. MGP/LDI has had a much longer time to develop and perfect its recipe than the Kuslveens. And it's a different recipe as well.

      I don't doubt that the Small Batch will get better with time (and it'll be a completely different rye than the MGP version). But since Willett pulled a consistently excellent product off the shelf and put something else in its exact price slot, I thought it would be interesting to see what we were gaining or losing. I don't know if its the distributor, the retailers, or KBD itself, but $50+ is tough spot to price it in.