The third stop on my bourbon tour in Bardstown, Kentucky was the Willett Distillery. Sadly, my group did not have time to do a full tour, but it was a gorgeous fall day and we had enough time to stop for a drink at the Patio Bar for a drink. I created a bourbon flight and focused on Willett spirits that I have not previously tried: Kentucky Vintage, Old Bardstown Bottled in Bond, Old Bardstown Estate Bottled, and Noah’s Mill – the last of which was my favorite, so I popped into the store and added another bottle to the day’s haul.
The Willett family’s involvement in the whiskey business began in the 1800s when John David Willett established the Moore, Willett & Frenke Distillery in Bardstown, Kentucky. A turbulent time for many distilleries, during the Prohibition the distillery ceased its operations.
Undeterred, in 1936, three years after the repeal of Prohibition, Willett’s sons Lambert and Thompson decided to revive the family’s distilling legacy and broke ground on the Willett distillery on the family farm. Their new business was named “Willett Distillery”.
The initial whiskey was called Old Bardstown. The distillery continued to produce various whiskey, but the market became increasingly challenging, and by the 1970s the Willett family once again faced challenges due to various factors, including oversupply and declining demand for bourbon. They persevered, though, and in the 1980s, Thompson Willett’s son, Even G. Kulsveen, took over the family business. Kulsveen’s dedication to preserving and revitalizing the distillery led to significant renovations and investments in equipment.
By the early 2000s, the Willett Distillery reintroduced its own label. It also started sourcing and bottling bourbon from other distilleries while its own stocks matured. This practice allowed them to meet increasing demand while waiting for their own aged whiskey to reach maturity.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
Willett considers their mashbill proprietary, so we cannot know for certain what was used to create this bourbon. However, given that this product is an ode to early Willett distillery, many online sources assume that this is the Willett “family recipe” mashbill. If that is true, the family recipe is reported to be 72% corn, 13% wheat, and 15% barley. Willett itself does not disclose much else about their production process.
The grain mix is added to the mash tun with water, and the resulting mash then moves on to the fermentation stage. Yeast is then added to the mash, which converts the sugars into delicious alcohol.
Once the mixture has fermented it is added to the iconic Willett pot still to distill. Willett distills this spirit to a 115 proof, which is much lower than usual — and the lower distillation strength means there’s typically more flavor in the resulting whiskey. The resulting distillate is added to new American Oak barrels with a #4 char and aged. When first made, Noah’s Mill was aged for 15 years; however, this bottle does not have an age statement other than “until fully matured”… which is the same as saying no age statement. This is then bottled at barrel strength (my bottle is labeled at 114.3 proof).
Unlike some of the other Willett products we’ve reviewed, where it’s not entirely clear who distilled and aged the product, this bourbon clearly states “Distilled, Aged, and Bottled by Willett Distillery”.
This bottle looks like a recycled Chardonnay bottle, and no one likes Chardonnay (I am looking at you, United Airlines Lounges). It feels entirely uninspired, but it’s at least something different — there are some basic whiskey bottles that you see used over and over, but you don’t often see wine bottle silhouette.
The label is a taupe print on a yellowed paper. As I mentioned above, it’s meant to be an ode to the early Kentucky bourbon days and they are trying to capture that. That said… I just cannot get behind it. The text looks like the handwriting that inspired Comic Sans font, and the mill looks like it the wheel will not spin in the river.
This bottle is so boring, I realized that I’ve walked past it countless times at my local bottle shop and never looked twice.
I get a lot of interesting flavors on the nose of this bourbon. White grape (damn you, Chardonnay!), peanuts, and apricot are the first notes. I also get what can only be described as a Kit-Kat bar (think milk chocolate and wafer if you are the kind of monster who has never tried one).
When taking a sip, you get a lot of flavors that are similar to the aroma. The grape flavor comes across more like golden raisins and there are still nutty undertones, similar to a handful of mixed nuts. There is also a rich jammy flavor, that combined with the peanut flavor reminds me of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.
For as rich as the flavor is, there is a very robust spiciness — which is to be expected in a barrel strength bourbon. However, it drinks very smooth. But the most surprising part is how dry it is on the finish. It almost leaves you with a cottonmouth feel.
This is a big, bold bourbon that drinks surprisingly smooth.
Normally, you would expect ice to mellow out the flavors of a spirit. Not the case here, though. It almost tastes the same on the rocks as it did neat. All of the primary flavors are still present — and just as bold as they were when enjoyed neat.
Raisin, walnut, and chocolate are still the most prominent flavors. You still get the PB&J flavors, just chilled. It’s not until the ice starts to melt more that the spirit begins to become a bit diluted and the flavors start to fade. And as much as I enjoyed this neat, I might like it more on the rocks.
However, I would encourage you to use a sphere or big cube to ensure that the ice melts slowly.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
A barrel strength bourbon that holds it’s bold flavor with ice? Sounds like the recipe for a great old fashioned!
This might be one of the better old fashioned that I’ve had. The big flavors of the bourbon complement the sugar, angostura bitters, and orange very well. All of the bourbon flavors are there and enhanced in this cocktail, but it seems that the nuttiness is doing a lot of the heavy lifting which is why it works so well.
If anything, it stands up too well. Next time I make one of these, I might have to add some extra bitters (thinking some dark cherry bitters) to add some additional diversity to the flavor profile of this spirit in a cocktail.
Remember how I just highlighted the nutty flavor and how well it worked in an old fashioned? Well, that is a flavor that must be too close to ginger. It seems to get lost in the bright effervescence of the ginger beer.
I wish there were more of the fruit notes to add some complexity to this cocktail. It’s very one dimensional at this point.
I regret walking past this bottle for as long as I have. It’s a solid bourbon that is just unfortunately packaged in a wine bottle covered in Comic Sans writing. It has a very complex and layered flavor profile that stands up well to ice and use in a cocktail (if it’s the right cocktail).
It’s also nice that it was actually distilled, aged, and bottled by Willett, which cannot be said for all of their namesake products.
|Noah’s Mill Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 57% ABV
Price: $68 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
Despite what the bottle might make you think, this is not your grandmother’s Chardonnay.