Willett 2 Year Old Rye (108.4 proof)
The Willett Distilling Company was established in the mid-1930's by A.L. "Thompson" Willett, a man born with whiskey in his blood. His grandfather, John David, helped found the Moore, Willett, and Frenke Distillery (which became the Mattingly Moore Distillery when John David sold his interest in 1876). His father, Lambert, worked his way up to plant superintendent at the Max Selliger & Co. Distillery.
Following John David's death in 1914, Lambert and Thompson purchased farmland near Bardstown, but Prohibition forced them into raising hogs and cattle. After repeal, however, Willett officially opened in the Spring of 1935. Thompson and Lambert went to work using recipes that John David had developed in the 1860's and 70's. Their most popular brand during that time was Old Bardstown (which lingers on the bottom shelf today).
Following Lambert's death in 1970, Thompson shifted the company's focus away from whiskey for two major reasons. First, interest in American whiskey was on the decline, and second, the global energy crisis created an opportunity for the Willetts to distill and purify ethanol for use in "gasohol." When oil prices stabilized, his plan went bust, and the distillery shut down altogether in the early 1980's.
But love and marriage saved the day. In 1972, Thompson's daughter Martha married a Norwegian man, Even Kulsveen. Even (pronounced Evan) purchased the distillery in 1984 and did what he could to sell the aging bourbon in the mothballed warehouses. Over time, Even ran out of Willett bourbon and began sourcing products from other distilleries (e.g. Heaven Hill, down the road). Even and Martha gave birth to a son, Drew, who continued sourcing whiskey and released products like Black Maple Hills, Rowan's Creek, Noah's Mill, and Johnny Drum.
Drew is now the Master Distiller and has revamped the property and its operations. With whiskey mashed and distilled on the property that Thompson and Lambert bought, he has released this straight rye at cask strength. As many, many bloggers and other writers have noted, it is a sign of promise that Willett's own products will live up to their masterfully sourced and blended products.
The rye is believed to be a blend of whiskey created from two recipes- 74% rye in one, 51% rye in another.
Willett 2 Year Old Rye Whiskey
Kentucky Bourbon Distillers
$43 at Burris Liquors in Charleston, SC
Color: Bright gold.
Nose: The nose is light and youthful and not particularly strong for a cask strength whiskey. It prickles a bit, with a Big Red cinnamon gum spice but there are citrusy aromas and an undeniable lumber presence.
Tasting notes: Smooth and dry- that Big Red chewing gum cinnamon gets me early but is followed by a deep, pine, minty note reminiscent of a gin cocktail. The finish remains dry and leaves a lingering woody and mint flavor behind.
Overall: B. There is no question that we're glad we picked this one up. As most folks have noted, this rye is a tad wild and will benefit from more time in the wood. But it is an exciting invitation to try the older expressions as time does what time does.