The Willett distillery stopped production a few decades ago. What has been available under the Willett marque in recent years, in their eye-catching bottles, has been sourced whiskey (at least one of which I’ve really liked in the past). In 2012, however, they started distilling again and this 2 yo rye, released last year, was one of the most anticipated releases of recent years. And when it showed up it got fairly good reviews from people (such as Sku and the notorious Bourbon Truth) who are usually allergic to hype. Sku offered me some the last time we swapped samples and I couldn’t say no. After all, my experiences with other “craft” American whiskeys have been so positive, be they from Balcones, Koval, Corsair or Charbay….
My understanding is that this is a blend of two mash bills—one that’s 74% rye and one that’s 51% rye, with far more of the high rye mash bill in the blend.
Willett 2, Rye (54.7%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Soft and mellow at first (caramel) but with a mild rawer woody note below. Some sweeter, fruity notes begin to develop (plum, cherry, a bit of orange peel), along with some leather, but then it takes a turn towards a prickly brine (with mustard seeds in there) . Definitely not the MGP profile—I’m not getting big hit of pine or dill—but that may in fact be down to the age; indeed, as it sits mezcal’ish new-makey notes begin to emerge, simultaneously floral and prickly. Calms down with some more time but then falls apart with water: the fruity and spicy notes disappear and there’s mostly just some dusty wood now and some acetone.
Palate: Much rawer on the palate and with more of a bite than the abv would suggest. Some of this is from the wood, which is pretty sharp, bordering on astringent. Much sweeter on the second sip and now there are more of the usual rye notes as it gets spicier with some dill and cold black tea. On subsequent sips the oak is far more assertive but it’s not as sharp as it was at first. Water is better for the palate and tames the wood a fair bit.
Finish: Medium. Fortunately, those strong woody notes dissipate leaving a slight bitterness that plays well with the sweeter corn notes that hang around. As on the palate with water.
Comments: This is an interesting young whiskey, and already more than just a curiosity. It starts out seeming not very young, then the youth asserts itself, and then it calms down again and acts older than its age. I don’t know that I’d buy a bottle but people more into American whiskey, and rye in particular, than I am should really think about it. And I think it will certainly be really very good after a few more years of aging.
Rating: 81 points.
Thanks to Sku for the sample!