Monday, July 14, 2014

The New Willett Rye

Probably no American distillery's first release has been greeted with as much anticipation as the new Willett Rye. The Willett label, of course, is widely known and loved among whiskey fans for its high quality bourbon and rye, but up until now, all of its bottlings for the last forty or so years have been sourced whiskeys (the original Willett distillery stopped making whiskey in the 1970s).

But in 2012, after years of slowly rebuilding, the Willetts (now the Kulsveens by marriage) reopened the distillery.  Now, the first product of that distillery is out, a two year old straight rye whiskey. The bottle is pretty much identical to other Willett Family Estate bottles except that the back label includes the key words: "Distilled, Aged and Bottled by The Willett Distillery."

Two years old is young for a whiskey, but not for a craft whiskey, so kudos to the Willetts for letting this age a little bit before releasing it.  Let's see how it is.

Willett Rye, 2 yo, 54.7% ($44)

The nose has really nice rye notes with pickle juice and caraway; it's nice and spicy but with a touch of sweetness.  The palate has a promising start with a nice sweet and spicy balance. Toward mid palate it shows its youth with some medicinal notes; they aren't exactly new makey, but they are the sort of medicinal, raw wood notes typical of very young whiskeys; those notes are pretty fleeting though. The finish is back to that sweet/spicy balance with just a hint of the medicinal notes. Adding water isn't a good idea; it makes it taste like a low end Canadian blend. 

This was surprisingly good and balanced for a two year old whiskey.  That being said, it's still two years old.  It's not bad at all, and it's great to see what the Willetts are up to, but it lacks maturity and still has that young whiskey rawness.  This whiskey has huge potential, and I'll be very enthusiastic to try this at four or six years old.  With more age, it could definitely be great.  For now, it's worth a try, but I'd recommend trying a glass rather than investing in a whole bottle.

For a more enthusiastic review, check out the always entertaining BourbonTruth who liked it a bit more than I did and includes some good insider information.

UPDATE:  There are two batches of this rye that have been released so far.  The one shown and another at 54.05% abv.  According to Drew Kulsveen at Willett, both batches are made from the same blend of two rye mashbills (about 80% high rye - 74% rye, 11% corn, 15% malted barley to 20% low rye - 51% rye, 34% corn, 15% malted barley) so the composition should be the same even if the proof is slightly different.


Funky Tape said...

I've heard you say 'medicinal note' many times but I'm not really sure what that means to you. Please expand.

sku said...

Funky Tape, I think of it as somewhat bitter, sometimes a touch minty or herbal...literally tasting like my memory of liquid medicines (from the days before everything was grape or bubblegum flavored). It's not always a bad thing, but in too big a dose, it can be off-putting.

Anonymous said...

Would one or two more years made it any better? I know bourbon and rye are hotter than hell these days, so getting this out into the market equals $$. But still, two years for just-about-average rye?

BMc said...

Well, the new make and young wood notes should disappear with age, so yes, in that respect, it should be better.

What I'm worried about is the thin mouthfeel. Does anyone know if that can improve with age?