Great bottle, but ‘Willett’ be any good?
Initially, I approached this review with a sense of trepidation. Why you ask? Well, because while researching Willett Pot Still Reserve, I discovered it appears to be the Bourbon version of marmite – people either love it or hate it!
It has received some rave reviews from renowned whiskey writers, but the consensus among the majority of Bourbon drinkers in some of the Facebook groups I am in, is quite the opposite. However, first rule of whiskey reviewing applies – these are my thoughts. I don’t care if it has won awards and some people think it’s the dogs doo-dahs, or if you’re one of those who would rather use it as drain cleaner (as some have suggested)- what matters to me is if I like it or not. If you agree or disagree, fine. Let me know why, but do it constructively please.
The Willett Distillery, located in Bardstown, is also known as Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. It does not provide any mashbill or age statement for Willett Pot Still Reserve.
What we do know is that it was distilled, aged and bottled in Kentucky. From that, and the fact it is a Kentucky Straight Bourbon whiskey, we can deduce that it is over four years old. To qualify as straight it has to be over two years, but if under four years the bottling must declare an age statement. It is rumoured to be between 8-10 with the whiskey sourced from Heaven Hill.
This lack of information is a shame because, otherwise, the actual Willett website is full of information. I thoroughly recommend you visit it take in a bit of the Willett history and its products.
Anyway, on to the actual Willett Pot Still Reserve itself. The bottle I picked up is number 188 of 281 from single barrel 5364. I will admit, when I first tried this back in December, I was underwhelmed.
However, a good friend – with a remarkably similar palate to mine and whose judgement I trust – urged me to give it a bit of time, let it open up and revisit it. I did, found it had grown a bit on me and now, after a few more drams in between, it’s time for the verdict.
Willett Pot Still Reserve gives a nice liquid caramel, mahogany type appearance in the glass. The initial floral aroma gives way to a warming citrus with stewed apples and a subtle rye spiciness.
While the initial nosing is light and flowery, the initial taste is warm spice and nutmeg. It doesn’t have the burn of other Bourbons at this kind of proof, but it is gently warming with hints of honey and spring-fresh potpourri. It is both fresh and zesty before the darker side weighs in with a bit of oak, cinnamon and burnt toffee.
Adding a few drops of water into the mix doesn’t open it up much. It makes it more fruity, both on the nose and on the palate, but kinda kills off much of the flavours going on when you drink it neat. But then again, I’m a guy who prefers my Bourbon neat anyway.
Overall, I’m firmly on the ‘like’ side when it comes to Willett Pot Still Reserve. That said, I wish I was on the ‘love’ side. I love the bottle, I love the glugging sound that it makes when I’m pouring a dram, but the dram itself doesn’t have that wow factor I’d expect from a bottling of this nature.
The other downside is the price. While this is an easy drinker with nice flavours, there are better pours for much less. Plus, the other Bourbons in the same UK price range are generally much better. Knock 20 quid off the price, I’d buy more. However, I can’t justify another outlay of £50-plus because it just doesn’t do enough for me to warrant that. I want more for my money.
This is all a shame because I do like it. Like I said, the price is a bit steep and I wouldn’t overly recommend forking out that much unless you really want to try it – or unless you really want what is probably the coolest Bourbon bottle you can get. If you do take the plunge and get a bottle, give it time. It is one of those that does improve when you let it breathe and give it a chance.
Taken from the Willett website:
Intensity – 2; Floral notes – jasmine & orange blossoms, ginger, cinnamon, lots of bananas when water is added.
Lemon, black tea, butterscotch, citrus, nutty, honey… With water added, bananas & milk chocolate.
Length – Medium; Eucalyptus, herbal, rye, spicy, pepper, barber’s shop… With water added, light toffee & pecans.
Willett Pot Still has won quite the following awards since its inception in 2008:
- Double Gold Medal 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition – Product Design Category
- Gold Medal 2009 San Francisco World Spirits Competition – Bourbon Category
Other ratings include:
- Four Stars/Highly Recommended F. Paul Pacult’s Spirit Journal
- 95.5 Rating Jim Murray’s 2012 Whisky Bible
- 90 Rating Malt Advocate
- Louisville Magazine’s “Sexiest Bourbon”… No, seriously!
DISCLAIMER: I am not a whiskey expert, just a guy who loves whiskey and writing about it from a completely personal point of view. All opinions expressed are mine and the only influence on what rating I give comes purely from what I think of what’s in the bottle.