Willet Distillery

One of the ways I research my posts is to scout YouTube for video interviews. I have watched several featuring Drew Kulsveen (Master Distiller) and Britt Chavanne, the younger generation of the Willet family. You are left in no doubt about their dedication and commitment to the Willet brand and products. They are open and candid as well as clearly being expert and ambitious for the future.

This is important because KBD as the owner of many brands the contents of which are not distilled at Willet have been the subject of much speculation.

Willet produces 6 recipes 4 Bourbons, one is a wheated recipe and there are 2 ryes.

The generic bourbon mash bill is, Corn 72%, Rye 13%, Barley 15%.

The whiskey distilled at Willet is what really interests me. The corn is #1 and #2 yellow dent and is sourced within 20 miles of the distillery. There is a long sour mash Fermentation process of 19 barrels a mash.

Distillation takes 8-10 hours at 120 proof. The second distillation is from one of two pot stills. The combination of copper stills, high barley, long maturation and slow distillation at relatively low proof is a proven approach to great flavour. The downside is that from the current stills (including the original 1936 column still) daily production is only 50 barrels. Which if we estimate 250 bottles a barrel given the geography of the warehouse location and climate may be an overestimate, means only effectively 12,500 bottles daily production.

Maturation age depends on barrel 4-20 yrs is the norm with each being tasted until it reaches its peak. The used barrels go to the craft distilling industry, not to Scotland. The bottles are filled in the same filling room as in the 1930’s.

Willet style themselves as a small family distillery and not a craft distillery. All decisions are made by the family together and I respect this. I believe that there is a shared ethos behind these decisions which underpins the quality of their product.

The main pillars of this ethos I surmise are;

The distillery and brand must be authentic
Quality is of paramount importance
The company must remain financially secure
Customers should be well educated about the product and feel part of the brand

Many of these pillars owe their origins to problems the family has encountered in the past. The old distillery went through numerous financial problems including bankruptcy. Because of the need to source whiskey from elsewhere, the brand was heavily criticised for what the family saw as a complete justified business model. This was compounded by a perceived need for secrecy by the previous generations. This has now been replaced with an admirable openness and transparency rarely found elsewhere.

Fortunately, we have our palate to decide what is good and what clues the whisky provides.

Noahs Mill – 57.15% alc./vol. (114.3 proof)

What my palate tells me

There are several different mash bills in this whiskey
There is a high rye component (or a spice promoting yeast).
There are different ages of whiskey
Whoever put this blend together knew what they were doing
It is a genuine small batch (of 20 barrels reputedly).

Tasting Notes

Colour is glorious slightly darker amber.

Nose; Medjool dates, rose, peanuts, cloves and banana

Palate;, tobacco, toffee, toasted oak, walnuts, liquorice, coffee, hot spice possibly chilli. With water, it opened a creamy caramel and peanut butter note.

Finish; long and complex, the creamy sweetness endures beyond the spicy warming edge.

Body – full bodied and balanced with a chewy mouthfeel.

Conclusion – great spice sweet balance, a well constructed bourbon, rich, complex and multi-layered. It needs a couple of drops of water to reveal its full complexity of nose and palate. Tasty and worth sipping.

Using my unique scoring system
Nose : 1 1/2 /2
Palate; 2 /2
finish; 1 1/2 /2
body; 2 /2

Total : 7 / 8


In the spring of 1936, three years after the repeal of prohibition, the family started construction of the distillery, on the family’s farm. In the 1940’s Willett Distillery introduced Old Bardstown Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey.
In the 1960’s Thompson Willett developed Johnny Drum Bourbon, exclusively for a wholesaler in California. Willet for many years was primarily known as a Bourbon exporter.

In 1984 Even and Martha Kulsveen assume the leadership role.

In the 1990’s Willet released its Small Batch Boutique Bourbon Collection; Rowan’s Creek, Noah’s Mill, Kentucky Vintage & Pure KentuckyIn 2008 Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon debuts in the signature pot still shaped bottle fashioned using the original still blueprints. This reflected the Kulsveen families previous business manufacturing glassware.

January 27th 2012 – The family puts the first barrels of their new-make Bourbon Whiskey into Warehouse A for storage.