Tag Archives: willett

High West Midwinter Night’s Dram Review

Producer: High West. Distillers: MGP and Barton. ABV: 49.3%. Age: see below. Price: $100.

We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: High West is sourced whiskey done right. (Yes, they’re distilling too, quietly and in no rush, though when they’re ready to release something of their own, I have a feeling it’ll be worthy of the name they’ve already made as a bottler.) Their selection of stocks, often from the ubiquitous MGP, is excellent, and their instincts for blending and barrel finishes are all but unerring.

Witness the latest Midwinter Night’s Dram. It’s High West’s justly praised Rendezvous Rye–a blend of 6-year-old MGP rye and 16-year-old Barton rye–finished in port and French oak barrels, bottled at a potent 49.3% ABV. They apply the Shakespearean conceit to the release numbers on the Mindwinter’s: this is Act III, Scene I.

The core of it is every bit as good as the recipe suggests: the finish adds a round, raisiny warmth to the bold rye notes of the Rendezvous. But there’s more to it than that. Think late-season grapes in the afternoon, heavy with months’ worth of sunlight–and the green vine, and the dusty leaves, and even a bit of the wood from the arbor. Evolves and unfolds in the glass for as long as you’ll give it. Cabernet-soaked oak and slightly bitter blackberries on the finish.

The best finished rye I’ve ever had. Willett’s XCF was an intriguing entry in this genre, but I’d pick the Midwinter’s over it, hands down.

Bring on the blizzard–any month of the year. Cheers, friends! – BO

High West kindly provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.

Buy High West Whiskey online from Mash + Grape

Willett 2-Year-Old Rye Review

Distiller: Willett. 110.8% ABV. Age: 2 years. Mashbill: undisclosed. Price: $40.

Willett’s 2-year-old rye got a lot of folks excited when it was first released in summer 2014 — and with good reason. The Willett family has a 150-year history in the whiskey business, though in recent years it’s been sourcing, blending, and bottling other distilleries’ stocks under the moniker Kentucky Bourbon Distillers — including  the excellent Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, Corner Creek, and Willett Pot Still Reserve, among others — rather than distilling itself.

Correction: while resuming distilling itself. The 2-year-old rye marks Willett’s first home-distilled release in 30 years. And it’s one hell of an attention-grabber.

Why release something so young when you’ve got so much high quality sourced whiskey on the market? Because you already know you’ve got something to get excited about.

Willett’s 2-year-old rye is wild and fiery as a barnstorming teenage preacher.

Hot, brash, fiery nose, with rye bread, anise, candied citrus, and maraschino — not the sickly sweet cherries, but the beguiling Italian liqueur that packs herbs and bark and bitters into an elixir that transforms cocktails with a single drop.

But don’t get your Manhattan glass out yet. This one’s a sipper. There is a touch of white dog on the palate, but there’s so much more going on, all supercharged by the youth without being out of control. Fresh-cut flowers, prickly spice, and sweet citrus again. Give it a little water. It’ll expand, but it won’t slow down. Long, complex finish.

Willett’s older sourced ryes have garnered much praise, but between this and, say, their 8-year-old MGP/LDI rye, I’ll take this one any day of the week.

Great things to come here. Great things are here already. – BO



Jefferson’s Ocean Aged Bourbon Review

Distiller: undisclosed (Kentucky). Producer: Jefferson’s. ABV 45%. Mashbill: undisclosed, but 25-30% rye. Price: $80. Voyage 4 reviewed.

I promise I wasn’t waiting until the whiskey hit the waterline on the graphic — just a happy accident. But I didn’t want to jump out too quickly with a review on this given the controversy. Better to be sure what I thought.

This is v.4 of 5. The first I tried was v.2, which was a knockout — really special, and for me, a revelation (BreakingBourbon has a great review of multiple voyages, plus a good Q&A with Jefferson’s master blender Trey Zoeller). V.3, which I haven’t had, disappointed many.

So on to v.4. It’s both subtler and more complex than v.2, and, I think, more approachable. V.2 had a distinct and to my palate undeniable briny character, as you’d expect (or at least hope) from a bourbon that sloshed across the equator multiple times on a freighter.

V.4’s special touch is something closer to the pulpy bittersweet decay in the stacks of a university library. That leads the nose. Then clove. Dry vanilla. Wisps of rye and mint (the mashbill is a fairly high 25-30% rye). The palate has a blast of Christmas spice together with the brown sugar and raisins that so reminded me of Willett Pot Still Reserve, I had to try them side by side multiple times. Could they be from the same source, with the Ocean rounded out and given a touch more mature oak from the sloshing? I wouldn’t be surprised. Sweetish, medium finish.

I’m a big fan of this. The price is steep, but the finishing method is not only unique, it’s labor-intensive enough that there’s some justification for paying a premium. (Zoeller is justifiably touchy when people call it a “gimmick.”) If you’re looking for pure value, spending $80 on this may leave you grumbling. But if you’re looking for a bottle that offers a truly delicious pour with a great story to match — one not invented (at least purely) by the marketing team, have at it.

Looking forward to v.5 and the planned v.6. Cheers, friends! – BO

Buy Jefferson’s Ocean Aged Bourbon online at Mash + Grape

Noah’s Mill Bourbon Review

Producer: Kentucky Bourbon Distillers. Distiller: undisclosed. 57.15% ABV. Age: NAS (estimated average of 15 years). Mashbill: undisclosed. Price: $55-65.

This one doesn’t mess around.

Noah’s Mill from Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (Willett, Michter’s, Johnny Drum, Black Maple Hill) is a high-powered, widely available small batch offering that formerly carried an age statement of 15 years old, but in the way of many things, has gone the no-age-statement route. The producer says it’s currently a mix of 4- to 20-year old bourbons, with a similarly wide range of mash bills in the mix, from wheaters to high-rye juice.

It shows. Massively complex with a fiery bite at first, then toffee, vanilla bean, cloves, woodbark. Loads of oak and a touch of bitterness on the finish. Takes water very well, and evolves in the glass in a fascinating way.

Easily available in most markets, a fair value even as an NAS, and for my money, a must-try. A whiskey seller friend tells me that he offers it to many folks looking for presents for their whiskey-drinking friends, and they turn it down because the bottle “doesn’t look special enough.” Don’t make their mistake. Your whiskey-drinking friends will thank you. – BO

Buy Noah’s Mill Bourbon online at Mash + Grape

Willett’s XCF Experimental Cask Finish Review

Producer: Willett. Distiller: MGP. 51.7% ABV.

Ran across this in the sports-barriest place you can imagine that could possibly be carrying something this interesting. Which is to say: I was surprised. And it was underpriced, given the $150+ retail cost of the bottle. And I’d noticed the bartender had a heavy hand. So I dove in.

Willett’s XCF Experimental Cask Finish is a 7-year-old MGP rye aged 90 days in Curacao casks (the bitter orange distillate that goes into Grand Marnier). Explosion of fiery orange off the bat. Rich, but with surprisingly little heat. The orange rind at the end of your old fashioned.

As it sat in the glass, the syrupy brandy notes grew stronger, though it retained enough range and rye spice to call to mind the Bulleit Rye, itself an MGP product with some dry orange notes.

Overall, it’s a curiosity I’m glad I tried, and would recommend for the adventurous — maybe as a cordial or digestif — but I won’t be hunting for a bottle at the price. Cheers, friends! – BO