Willett. Bringing family traditions full circle.
Willett. Whiskey and distillation are not new to the Willett name. The Willett’s had been on this land producing spirit since prohibition and then even continued after it was uplifted. During the decline of whiskey in the early 80’s, the family decided to sell the distillery to non-consumption spirit producers that eventually went bankrupt. It was at this time when the husband to one of the Willett daughters purchased the land and buildings to start what is now Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD). The family was now sourcing whiskey and privately bottling and marketing it. This would officially bring the family back into the industry, but not as a producer. This is a great video I found with Drew Kulsveen, one of the Willett grandchildren and also the current master distiller. He talks about the history of the family and their plans for the future.
These sourced and bottled whiskies from KBD include the brands we all know such as Willett, Noah’s Mill, Rowan Creek and Johnny Drum. Similar to many others in their situation, they had goals of producing their own spirit and began renovations to the original distillery. Spirit started running off the stills in 2012. This means of course that anything from them in the market is still a sourced whiskey. The family is intertwined with both Willett Distillery and KBD to this day. I actually saw some of them walking around the new visitor center and event space.
The renovated distillery is beautiful. It has high, wooden arched ceilings and beautiful stone and brick around it. They use a hammer mill and have two grain cookers. The first cooker holds 6,000 gallons and the second is for additional grains with a capacity of 2,500 gallons. There are seven open, stainless steel fermenters that can each hold 10,000 gallons of wash. The washbacks (fermenters) have coils at the bottom where cold spring water is circulated through to cool down the mash in the summer months. The fermentation period lasts about 3-5 days and then are systematically moved into beer holding tanks. I unfortunately didn’t physically see their column still.
As you can see from the outside view, it is a tight squeeze to get into the column still part of the building. Apparently it is 60 feet tall and is made by Vendome. I did get to see their pot still with a column on top. You have to give them credit in regards to design. Their Willett Pot Still Whiskey bottle matches almost exactly to their actual pot still! Filling stations are right on site and we watched casks get rolled down to a few of the warehouses. As you could probably assume, they have bottling and labeling pretty well covered on site.
They have 8 rickhouses and each are 5 stories high holding about 60,000 barrels each. They do not rotate barrels and oddly enough currently have cured hams hanging in a few of the warehouses. Apparently after a few years the ham picks up awesome flavors from the angels share. I guess we can assume what they are having for Christmas dinner. Luckily they have a lot of land because after the completion of the new visitor’s center, they have a bed and breakfast in the plans. I guess they are striving for a plantation style 9-10 bedroom bed and breakfast somewhere on the farm.
These are the drams I tried…
Bottle in Bond Old Bardstown – 50%ABV
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Fruit, caramel, sugar, spice fruit drops.
Palate: Cinnamon, spike, oak, sharp alcohol and tar finish.
For the price of this it is okay, but a little too sharp for my palate.
Holly’s Tasting Note..
Nose: Cranberry apple, sweet spice, creamy oak, vanilla and some mint?
Palate: Vanilla, oak spices, slight cinnamon raisin and red velvet cake ( I know this is just chocolate, but it really just tasted like red velvet! ).
Wasn’t bad, but I would still go for Noah’s Mill over this one.