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Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Sipp’n Corn Bourbon Review – Willett Family Estate Single Barrel 8 & 9 Year (Liquor Barn Private Barrels)

*Updated on September 16, 2014 after adding the review for the 9-year expression.
Thirteen months ago, Liquor Barn selected three barrels at The Willett Distillery, and last week they finally hit the shelves.  The length of time from selection to bottling in Willett’s private barrel program has been the subject of other blogs, so for my purposes, let’s just see if it was worth the wait.

The three barrels include an 8-year 119.6 proof (gold wax), 9-year 119.6 proof (blue wax), and 9-year 121.8 proof (burgundy wax).  Having three different wax seals is a nice touch, but I was disappointed to see that Willett moved away from handwritten labels.  While using the exact same label from previous Family Estate bottlings, this time the age, barrel number, ABV and proof are computer-printed.  Sometimes the printer was not exactly lined up with the blanks and the toner looked like it could have used replacing.  Whoever made this presumably time-saving call at Willett might re-think appearances and attention to detail.

As with all current offerings from Willett (whether hard-to-find Family Estate bottles, the ubiquitous Pot Still Reserve variety, or any of the numerous brands bottled by Willett), Willett did not distill this bourbon.  Still, Willett knows how to select and age barrels, as they’ve proven time and time again.

Bourbon:
Willett Family Estate Single Barrel
Willett Family Estate Single Barrel

(Barrel No. 106)
(Barrel No. 196)
Age:
8 years
9 years
Proof:
119.6 proof
119.6 proof
Cost:
$74.99
$84.99
Distillery:
Not disclosed, but bottled at The Willett Distillery, in Bardstown, Kentucky, which is an assumed name adopted by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, Ltd in 2005.  The Willett Distilling Company was originally incorporated in September 1936.

Tasting Notes

Willett Family Estate 8-year
Color:  Bright brown.  The light plays really well with this one.
Nose:  Cracked corn and straw, some corn sweetness, subtle spice, a bit of clove and a little smoky.  The nose is very pleasant.  While ethanol is certainly noticeable, the nose masks true ABV.  After some aeration, the only difference is the addition of slight cocoa notes.
Willett Family Estate 9-year
Color:  A very similar bright amber-brown.
Nose:  Definitely a sweeter nose than the 8-year.  It’s heavy on the caramel and toffee, and combines that candy sweetness with roasted nuts, toast and oak.  A little air also helps soften the ABV on the nose.
Taste:  Nice bite revealing that it’s a higher-proof bourbon, but still masking that it’s nearly 60% ABV (I would have guessed about 100 proof).  It has a great balance of brown sugar with grains and oak, pepper spice, and some slight bitterness of espresso; really fantastic flavors for an overall dry taste.  After trying this neat, you’ll need a splash of water or ice, which regulates the heat and brings out a little more sweetness.  A few ice cubes is probably my favorite way to drink this one.
Taste:  Consistent with the nose, the taste starts with candy bar sweetness, but it has incredible balance with a smokiness that wasn’t present in the nose, along with black pepper and oak.  As with the 8-year (and as with most – but not all – barrel proof Bourbon) after trying this neat, try it with a single large ice cube and a splash of water.  You may be surprised at how new flavors open up.  However, this 9-year was better neat than the 8-year.
Finish:  The finish was medium in length with great warmth, and overall somewhat subtle in its flavors.
Finish:  The finish may have been a little shorter than the 8-year, but maybe it just seemed that way because of its sweetness.

Bottom Line

These Bourbons are fantastic, with great, classic dry profile, and no downside on the taste.  Finding a Family Estate bottle is going to be a little difficult, but keep looking.  And if you know that your favorite store selected a barrel some time ago, be patient; it’s sure to be worth the wait.  Of course, because this is a private selection single barrel, Family Estate bottles that you find anywhere other than Barrel No. 106 bottled for Liquor Barn will be different, but I’ve never gone wrong with Willett private selection. 

Of course, the price is steep for anyone except diehard bourbon fans or those looking for a special bottle as a gift.  These particular private barrels are great but they aren’t magic, so if you’re new to bourbon, I’d spend your $75 or $85 on one bottle each of Weller 12 ($24.99 last purchase), Elmer T. Lee ($28.99 last purchase) and Four Roses Yellow Label ($19.99 last purchase).  Those three combined will cost roughly the same amount, and you’ll increase my chances of finding another bottle of Willett Family Estate.

Score on The Sipp’n Corn Scale
Willett Family Estate 8-year:  4.0
Willett Family Estate 9-year:  4.0


The Sipp’n Corn Scale:
1 – Wouldn’t even accept a free drink of it.
2 – Would gladly drink it if someone else was buying.
3 – Glad to include this in my bar.
4 – Excellent bourbon.  Worth the price and I’m sure to always have it in my bar.
5 – Wow.  I’ll search high and low to get another bottle of this.



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