For so long I have been trying to find one of the much hyped Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbons, with the cool purple label and the purple foil. When Willett restarted in 2012 they were bottling whiskies sourced elsewhere but now all of their bottles contain Willett distillate. What I discovered is that the Willett purple label bourbon is no longer a general release, and that is probably why I have never found one. The purple label is now solely for barrel picks by distributors or individual stores. Wines Unlimited, Willett’s Louisiana distributor, did a pick and Hokus got a couple of bottles and sold me one for $250. Most reviews I have seen of Willett purple label bourbon have been six years old at $150 a bottle. This one is good bit older at nine years, barrelled at a bruising 134 proof, from a barrel that yielded on 159 bottles. The label on the bottle says rare release; indeed that is a fair characterization.
The Willett Family Estate Rye with the green label and foil is much easier to get and is aged four years. However, Wines Unlimited also got a barrel of seven year old Rye, bottled at 117.6 proof. This cost $150 a bottle.
As far as Willett products go, my personal favorite is Noah’s Mill, which is their cask strength bourbon; it is good but not great. I also like Johnny Drum as a relatively inexpensive 100 proof bourbon. So, I will be interested to see what Willett’s top of the line bourbon is like.
The color on the bourbon is a beautiful deep amber with some flecks of mahogany. On the swirl is a thick oily film with gravity defying legs. The nose is very old school bourbon, with an amazing balance of caramel, vanilla, dark fruit, and oak. On the palate, the caramel and vanilla on the front fade into clove, English pipe tobacco, hints of candied cherries, some yeasty bread notes, and lovely oak tannin. On the finish, the clove and oak dominate as the finish lingers and lingers. The high proof does live a long lasting tingle in your mouth.
I would say that, at this price point, this is on the level with George T. Stagg, even though it is younger by a few years. Given that this bourbon comes from some of Willett’s earliest distillate after revival of the distillery for whiskey making in 2012, I would say that not only is this bourbon excellent but future releases of this bourbon will likely be great as well. They are distilling good whiskey that ages well. My nose and my palate keeps saying to me that this is really old school bourbon. Amazing that the only started distilling again in 2012.
The seven year old Rye is medium amber in appearance, with a nice thick film and legs on the swirl. The nose is wonderfully herbaceous, so I would bet there is very little, if any, corn in this mashbill. On the palate, the herbaceous notes take on a candied feel, along with cinnamon and clove and a hint of leather and perique tobacco. On the finish there is the clove along with eucalyptus and mint that lingers. Very nice mouthfeel on the Rye. I prefer bourbon to rye but this is an amazing whiskey. Definitely on the level with Thomas Handy and other high end ryes I have had.
Great job by Wines Unlimited in snagging these Willett barrels. Glad to add these bottles to my top shelf.