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Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Willett Week: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel Rye 5 years old, Barrel #38

Local temperatures reached 90 again yesterday, so I'm going to keep on keepin' on with the Willett ryes.  Come on, Autumn, the welcome mat is out!

Today's and tomorrow's ryes will be 5 year olds.  One from a sample courtesy of Jordan (thank you!) and one from a bottle I'd actually reviewed some time ago, but had had a completely different experience upon tasting it again.

Both of these 5 year olds had a noticeably different spirit character than the 4 year olds.  I'm wondering if it was because many of the 5 yrs were not distilled by LDI/MGP, but instead by an unnamed Kentucky distillery.  This curiosity came up in a Straight Bourbon forum discussion a few months back.  The floated theory was that the rye came from either the Buffalo Trace or Brown Forman distilleries.

If anyone has thoughts about or experiences with this, please let me know!  [Note: Today's rye was distilled at LDI, tomorrow's rye was not.] Here's the label from my bottle, Barrel #64 (reviewed tomorrow):

The whiskies were still good, but of a different feel than the 4 yrs.  And, honestly, they were more difficult to figure out.

Let's start with Jordan's sample from Barrel #38.

BottlerKentucky Bourbon Distillers (formerly Willett Distilling Company)
Brand: Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Age5 years
MaturationNew American Oak
RegionBardstown, Kentucky
Barrel: 38
Alcohol by Volume55%

The color remains maple syrupy.  The nose on this one is the strongest so far.  Charred oak, almond paste, paint fumes, and prune juice lead the way.  It smells as if there's a little bit of corn (like corn chips) in here.  So, since LDI's mashbill has no corn, either this is from a distillery with corn in their rye mashbill or I'm just smellin' things.  Wouldn't be the first time.  I also sniff some ripe dates, coriander, and cloves.  There's a little bit of leather, a little vanilla, chicken stock, and a whiff of maple syrup at the end.  The palate has a cinnamon schnapps note that was entirely absent from the 4yrs, and sort of reminded me of my Rye Storm but better.  There are sweet and spicy notes like brown sugar, dates, and a minty effervescence.  Those balance well with green notes like grass, celery, and cucumber.  The spirit shouts the loudest on the finish.  Very cinnamony.  Some anise and figs, as opposed to the dates.  It's a bit drying, probably more from the big distillate than the oak tannins.

Kristen agreed that this was a strong sniffer.  She found this to have the least amount of vanilla, but with a dose of those paint fumes.

This is a big rye.  It's not for those who are looking for a mellow sipper nor those yearning for an oaky buttery caramel bomb.  It's a brash fighter and I'm glad the folks picking barrels for Willett went ahead with this one.  It took almost an hour for me to sort this one out, but in comparison with tomorrow's rye it balanced well in the end.

Availability - Not sure who's still carrying the 5 year
Pricing - $35-$40 (East Coast, Midwest), $40-$45 (West Coast)
Rating - 87


  1. This one sounds quite interesting. As far as I can remember, I've only had 2 of the 4-year-old ryes from Willett, but never a 5-year-old. Excellent series, by the way! Between you and Jordan, this is definitely a great blog week.

    1. Thanks! But I can't compete with CocktailChem's Scotland Journey...

  2. Checked the bottle - it says distilled in Indiana, so no question about provenance.

    I get a lot of pine off of it, which is very, very similar to Redemption Rye, so LDI/MGP doesn't surprise me.

    1. Well, I'll be swizzled. I have some more of the sample left. I'll line it up next to the 6 year.

    2. Oh yeah, I forgot to add, when I went back to finish the sample off I found that pine note too. It's interesting that I haven't found it in other Willett Ryes...yet...

  3. I had recently a Willett 6yo (barrel #88) in parallel with the 4yo you reviewed (#82). I've noticed that the 6yo was woodier and sharper, although more expressive. I ended up mixing the two together and enjoying the combination. I wonder whether Willett decides to age the wilder barrels longer, in order to tame them...

    1. That sounds great. Mix Master Florin on the scene!

      The 3yo Willett I tried last year was intense and aggressively spicy, in a great way! It was also bottled 57-58% ABV. Unfortunately I can't find anyone selling the 3yo, so maybe it was too zany for the masses and they've been trying to keep them in wood to tame it.

  4. Also, I had no idea that some of these Willett rye single barrels may be non-LDI!

    1. I didn't realize it, either, until someone saw it in the pic of last year's 5yo report. Not to spoil tomorrow's review, but they probably should just keep using LDI juice.