A simple google of Willett Pot Still Bourbon will bring up a lot of controversy and a lot of rumors, too. I’m going to address the facts first, and then I’ll throw out an opinion – maybe even a little speculation, too.
At the end of the day, the most important thing we’re going to talk about is how this whiskey tastes. Is it good? Is it worth the price? Before we get into that, though, let’s look at some of the controversy surrounding Willett Pot Still Reserve.
Why Does Willett Pot Still Bourbon Get a Bad Rep?
There are many different reasons why a lot of people, over time, have had bad things to say about Willett. I think there are two main reasons that have some justification behind them.
Willett Pot Still Reserve was released in 2008 (originally as a single barrel bourbon), yet it wasn’t even made entirely from Pot Stills. It was sourced from multiple Kentucky Distillers and was thought to be a combination made from column stills and distilled a second time in a pot still. To say the least, people felt a little deceived.
Second, the combination of price, taste, and bottle design. The bottle is designed just like a pot still (also goes into the issue with #1). It’s a very cool bottle, though it will get a bit of crap for it’s phallic nature. Then you add a price tag that varies quite a bit. I’ve seen it being sold for as low as $48 but as high as $68 – we’ll call it $55. Then, a lot of people find the whiskey to be mediocre at best.
So…. take a whiskey that seems to be a little deceptive, make a nice bottle with cheap whiskey inside, and sell it at a premium… yeah, that’s gonna piss some people off.
I recently reviewed Balcones Pot Still Bourbon – if you’re looking for a good pot still bourbon at a fair, even cheap, price point, check out the review and find yourself a bottle!
Not everyone is a hater of Willett Pot Still Bourbon. Some people claim to love it for the price. Good whiskey and bad whiskey is very subjective.
Things have also changed over time. Willett is now a small batch bourbon, using ~12 barrels per batch. It’s also rumored that Willett Pot Still Reserve is actually distilled by Willett. The Willett Distillery began distilling their own whiskey (after a long hiatus) in 2012. It’s rumored, though never confirmed, that they began using their own wheated mashbill for Pot Still Reserve.
Now, that’s all nice in theory, but the bottle still says “bottled by Willett Distillery” and not “distilled by….”. If they did begin using their own whiskey, Willett certainly hasn’t come out in any way to confirm it. They also could still be using a blend of their own whiskey and another distilleries bourbon.
Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon Overview
- Spirit: Small Batch Bourbon
- Owned By: Even & Martha Willett Kulsveen
- Distilled By: Unknown Kentucky Distillery(ies)
- Aged: NAS
- ABV: 47%, 94 Proof
- Mashbill: Unknown (thought to use in-house 65/20/15 wheated bourbon mash)
- Price: ~$55
During its single barrel years, Willett was thought to be 8+ years. As a small batch whiskey now, it’s likely a bit younger. There is no age statement, so we know every barrel is at least 4 years old. I wouldn’t be surprised if a couple or even all the barrels had a couple more years than 4, though.
If this whiskey were distilled wholly by Willett Distillery, I think they’d let us know. Somewhere on the bottle it’d say “Distilled by Willett” and not “Distilled, aged, and bottled in Kentucky”. If this does use their in-house distillate, I wouldn’t be surprised if it was married with another Kentucky distillers bourbon. Unless they come out and say anything, there’s not really any way of knowing.
Enough of the speculation and could-be’s, let’s jump into the actual whiskey.
We’ve covered the rumors, gossip, and talk about Willett Pot Still Reserve, but it’s not all that important. Yeah, it’s nice to know what you’re drinking, but it’s even better to like what you’re drinking. Time to pour myself a dram and find out if this is worth buying.
Nose: Right away I like the nose. Lemon cake, brown sugar, red apples, honey, and a light floral note. I actually love the nose, so now I’m worried it’s going to let me down.
Palate: Not quite as good on the palate as the nose, but certainly not a let down by any means. It definitely has that wheated ‘smoothness’. Brown sugar cinnamon, burnt lemon cake & oak, a touch of pepper with some caramel in the background.
Finish: A touch of grain and oak with cinnamon and licorice. medium in length, a little dry, a little grainy. The weakest link in my opinion, but not awful.
Taste Summary – Is It Good?
I’m not always a huge fan of wheated whiskey. I typically much prefer my rye. I find wheated bourbons to often times be grainy and dusty. While a little grain shows up on the finish, perhaps even a little bit of the dustiness, the palate completely lacks any off-putting flavors.
So, yes, Willett Pot Still Reserve is good. It all starts with the nose – delicious lemon cake, brown sugar, apples, honey. I just kept thinking of lemon cake, coffee cake, apple pie. The nose was dessert-y without being over the top sweet.
The palate, while not up to par with the nose, was quite good. Again, it lacked any of the off-putting notes I find in wheated bourbons – grainy and dusty – while having all of the wheated ‘smoothness’. The oak came on a bit stronger on the palate adding a more roasted, or even burnt, flavor to those dessert notes.
The finish was not up to the nose or the palate, but not what I would consider bad or off-putting. It actually starts off as quite a decent finish, but when the flavors go away, some of that dusty grain is left behind. I’d much rather have it at the very end of the finish than on the palate, so I’m not bothered by it.
Review Summary & Value
I can say with confidence that this is certainly a wheated bourbon, or at the least that wheat is in this mashbill, so it’d make sense that Willett is using their own stuff.
Now, I know whiskey tasting is largely subjective, but is it time to give Willett a 2nd chance? I mean, I’ve seen threads where many people talk about pouring this bourbon down the drain, or that it’s not even worth $5…. It’s subjective, but it’s nowhere near bad enough to have large numbers of people claiming it’s not worth $5….
Price may still be an issue, though. Don’t get me wrong, I like this stuff, but my local Total Wine sells it for $68. It’s just not something I’m going to buy at that price point. At $50, it’s much more reasonable, but I’d feel so much better about this in the $40-50 range. A lot of people, especially whiskey fanatics, hate spending an extra $10-15 on whiskey because it’s in a cool bottle. I think there’s some value in a cool bottle from time to time, but I still prefer paying for the whiskey, not the bottle.
If you’re researching Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon, do not believe all of the negative reviews and comments online. Maybe don’t even believe the positive ones. If you can find a bottle for ~$50, give it a try. Or find a 50ml bottle like I did and see if you like it for a lot cheaper.