Monday, May 25, 2009

June's American Whiskey Club

Alright, y'all can move forward to the edge of your seats. The next American Whiskey Club bottling is going to be a 7 year old single barrel from Willett! Here's an advance of the insert that'll be going out with the bottle (minus the tasting notes as I've yet to locate where I stashed them).

Willett is a brand, albeit one whose name retains historical significance. It begins with the story of John David Willett who formed Moore, Willett & Frenke Distilling shortly after the Civil War (Mr. Moore being John David’s brother-in-law and Mr. Frenke being an interested party from Louisville). In 1876, John David Willett fell ill and sold his interests to Moore and Frenke. Lambert Willett, John David’s son, started working at the distillery at the age of 15. After learning the ropes in his family’s distillery, Lambert moved over to Max Selliger & Co. Distillery eventually becoming one-third owner and superintendent of the plant. A.L. “Thompson” Willett, Lambert’s son, joined him at the plant as assistant superintendent. Thompson eventually left to establish the Willett Distilling Company and in 1935 construction began on their distillery. Five years after the founding of Willett Distilling Company, Lambert too left Max Selliger & Co. Distillery and joined his son to oversee the distilling process at Willett Distillery. Distribution remained fairly localized. During the gasoline crisis of the 1970s, the Willett Distillery switched production from alcohol to gasohol fuel. However, they never got the chance to capitalize on this as the U.S. soon recovered from the crisis. The distillery closed down and the bourbon distilling equipment and machinery was sold off and scrapped, with only the gasohol equipment remaining within the distillery.

Fortunately the Willett’s story does not end here. Thompson Willett’s daughter married a man by the name of Even G. Kulsveen of Hamar, Norway. In 1984, Even purchased the property and has ever since strived towards bringing the Willett Distillery back to life. He began by bottling whiskey that remained from the distillery’s production and remarketing it, primarily to the Japanese and (secondarily) the European markets. The old Willett stock has since run dry, and Even has turned to buying whiskey from other distilleries and bottling it under his brands’ names. This is not as sinister as it might sound. Even Kulsveen is one of many people who do this and his ability to select and blend whiskey from other distilleries in order to attain the profile he is looking for is evidence of his skills. The original Willett Distillery is under construction in an attempt to restore it to its former state of whiskey production; they are in the final stages and we expect nothing less than great whiskey from them as they move to operating out of their own distillery. The Willett label is part of the line up from parent company Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, responsible for such whiskeys as Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, Vintage, Pure Kentucky, Johnny Drum and Old Bardstown among others.

Recently we have been seeing a fair amount independent single barrel bottlings under the Willett name. We’ve been impressed with every one that we’ve tried, all of them showing a distinctive profile that is at once recognizable as Willett but each with their own characteristics and nuances that set them apart. This selection is a 7 year old, barrel number 1572. The nose is ripe with orange blossoms, honey, lemon and brown sugar. The palate is light and lively, citrus driven with dough and nougat. This is a cask strength bottling and we recommend water (not just because of the proof). Water really opens up the palate on this whiskey. We got a lot fuller flavors and much more rye spice with just a couple drops of water. We’ve chosen this barrel in conference with a few bars and restaurants that will be splitting it with us.


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