Once upon a time (as recently as two years ago), Willett Family Estate Single Barrel ryes were 4-6 years old, bottled at 55%abv, and were priced from $40-$55. At the height of their popularity these regular releases were replaced by barrel proof versions, aged 6-8 years, and priced from $80-$200. I remember the first time I saw a 7yo Willett selling for $129.99. I came home and told my wife, "Willett has arrived." It was now priced for "collectors", or rich dumb shits, or I don't know. Now considered to be in the same realm as the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, and Weller 12, these single barrel Willetts are priced far from the grasp of the original fans. Much of this has to do with retailers bloating prices. But it does seem as if the suggested retail prices are as follows: 6yo - $80; 7yo - $90; 8yo - $120. I bought one six and two sevens, spending more than I ever have (and probably ever will) for an American whiskey, and then I bid Willett adieu. I covered all of this better in a post last year.
Bottler: Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (also known as Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Age: 6 years
Maturation: New American Oak
Region: Bardstown, Kentucky (Distilled in Lawrenceburg, Indiana)
Bottle: no info listed
Bottle: no info listed
Alcohol by Volume: 58.2%
The last of the four MGP ryes this week, this is the only one that actually came from my stash. Specifically, this pour came from about the midpoint. No water was added
The nose is remarkably fruity at first. Lots of musty overripe tropical fruits and orange oil. Toasted oak and toasted almonds arise from underneath eventually taking over, mingling with smaller notes of mint, caramel, and vanilla bean. With 20+ minutes in the glass, the rye grows darker (if something can smell darker). Burnt bacon and wood smoke notes meet arugula and jalapeños.
Enormous pepper and dill notes are balanced out by brown sugar and dark cherry sweetness in the palate. Sometimes there's a bright fresh note like lemon-cucumber water, but then that's swooped away by raspberry-syrup-filled dark chocolate. With time the pepper note moves from black corns to cayenne. Things get a little earthy and bitter, though again it's met with a fruity sweetness.
In the finish there's toffee and bubblegum, but also peppercorns and a slight herbal bitterness. Some dark cherry syrup. Marzipan and mint. A rye seed or two. Tremendous length.
You know, I'd prepared this whole screed about how this was not only not worth the $200 prices dumb retailers are selling it for, but that it wasn't even worth the $80 I'd paid for it. But, it is worth the $80 I paid for it. This whiskey, like a number of Willetts before it, has the It Factor. It's in a different league than the other three ryes this week, though two of them were quite good. Is it better than the the ol' $45 4 year olds? Possibly not. But if one takes quality into account, those 4yos were underpriced (gasp! I said it!). Other than the BTAC Thomas H. Handy releases, there was no comparable rye on the market back then, and those THHs started at $80. Is this whiskey worth $200? NOPE. That's not an insult. This is the first time I've found a contemporary American whiskey to be worth nearly $100.
So, what is this It Factor? It begins with the most exotic nose I've ever experienced on a rye, but then the nose progresses, developing into new angles, never drifting too oaky or spirity. The palate also takes on different personalities, but also remains totally in balance throughout. The finish brings in new characteristics and flexes plenty of stamina. I have no idea how the Kulsveens do this, but they do it.
Tomorrow, I'll reveal what my wife though of these four ryes, and if we need the UN to help sort out the ensuing conflict.
Availability - This barrel may have sold out, but there are other 6yo Willet ryes out there
Pricing - I bought this one for $79.99, but have seen other 6s selling north of $100
Rating - 90