Whiskey Review: Willett Wheated 8 Year Bourbon

My last article was about Willett Family Reserve Rye 4 year whiskey. If you read that one, you know I bought that bottle the day I was laid off, and decided it was going to be a positive in my career as I re-evaluated what was important to me. Well, turns out the search for a new role was a short one. Once again, I decided to celebrate with a trip to the local liquor store… and once again, it seems like fate was celebrating alongside me that day by presenting me with a gorgeous black whiskey bottle topped with royal purple foil. Willett bookends: it’s like kismet.



In 1692, the Willet family moved to Maryland from England as part of a wave of settlers to the new world. They would live there throughout the American Revolution until 1792, when William Willett, Jr. moved to the recently formed state of Kentucky.

The Willet family would first get into the distilling business as part of a larger venture, with John David Willett (born 1841) becoming the master distiller at a number of local distilleries in the area. His son A. Lambert Willett would follow in his father’s footsteps, also getting into the distillery business and purchasing a small farm in the area.

The whiskey business practically dried up during prohibition — but once it was repealed, the Willet family got to work. They broke ground on a new distillery facility located on Lambert Willet’s recently purchased farm and in 1936 they incorporated as the Willet Distilling Company. The very first barrel of spirit went into the warehouse on St Patrick’s Day of 1937.

Willet would continue to produce bourbon continuously throughout the years, but starting in the 1970’s the company stopped actually distilling their whiskey. Trying to take advantage of the 1970’s energy crisis, they switched to alcohol-based fuel called “gasohol”… but that strategy proved unprofitable and in the 1980’s they stopped producing alcohol in all of its forms.

Around the same time they stopped distillation, Willet also changed their name to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (or KBD). With the crash of the whiskey market in the 1970’s, Willet had plenty of stock on hand that they simply couldn’t sell, so they kept putting out bottles of their spirits from that old stock. When supplies started to run low, rather than restarting their own distillery, they instead took advantage of similar situations at other distilleries and bought their excess whiskey to be bottled under KBD’s brand. Rumor has it that the biggest source for their products was Heaven Hill Distillery, which was located down the street.

But everything changed in 2012 when the company started using its original name again and restarted their own distillery. However, since many of their products require some significant aging, it will take time before all of their products are once again made in-house.


It’s worth noting that, like much of Willet’s product line, the source distillery for this whiskey is not disclosed. This particular bottle only says that it was bottled by Willet, not that Willet did any of the distillation. It’s probably safe to suspect that Heaven Hill had something to do with it, but that is far from confirmed.

Despite the unclear ownership, Willett considers their mashbill proprietary. There are several sources that describe their wheated mashbill as 65% corn, 20% wheat, and 15% barley, but Willett itself does not disclose this (or much else about their production process).

The general process for making a whiskey starts by grinding the grains, cooking them to convert the starches into sugars, and then throwing them into a big pot with water and yeast to allow the mixture to ferment. The mildly alcoholic liquid is then distilled to concentrate the alcohol content and selectively capture the elements of the whiskey that the distiller wants to highlight. In this case, the spirit comes off the still at about 115 proof (57.5% ABV) which is significantly lower than the maximum allowed by law and typically makes for a more flavorful and characterful spirit.

The newly made whiskey is then added to new charred American Oak barrels with a #4 char and aged for eight years. When bottled, the resulting whiskey is proofed at 108.


This might be one of the best-looking bottles on my shelf. The shape of the bottle is not anything new — it’s about a foot tall, with a slightly flared body that has a gentle curve at the shoulder with a smaller bubble at the bottom of the neck. In fact, it’s very reminiscent of Weller’s bottles. 

What sets this bottle apart is that the glass has been colored glossy black. While this does prevent buyers from seeing the whiskey inside (usually a negative mark for us), it also provides a level of elegance not often seen on the backbar. This feels reminiscent of an expensive scotch bottle, which are usually dark colored glass as well.

The bottle is adorned with gold writing, starting with the Willett name and logo and finishing with information about the whiskey contained within. This stands out beautifully on that silky black background and continues to add to the prestige-bottle vibe. It’s all topped off with a royal purple foil keeping the cork intact until you get it home from the store.

The only flaw in this design is what I initially thought was a crack growing along the shoulder of the bottle.  Given it was the last one on the shelf, I bought it — but what I thought was a crack actually seems to be a flaw in the glossy black finish. For this price point, I don’t expect this kind of packaging production flaw that I’d expect from mid- and lower-tier bottles.



This whiskey gives off a very mild aroma, but it is very sweet. I get hints of molasses, chocolate, and cinnamon, along with faint scents of fresh oak, baking spice, and just a hint of dried fruit.

The first sip is surprising compared to the nose. It has a very rich flavor, but it’s not overwhelming thanks to the wheat in the mash. Oak and pepper are at the forefront, with a light citrus note that follows. There also is a sweetness throughout, which almost reminds me of drinking a flat cola. The finish brings out just a hint of fruit.

My first thought is that this would pair great with a prime rib. You know, the kind you get from a Wisconsin supper club; a slab of beef served only medium rare with au jus and cut to order. Rich yet mild flavor with it’s hint of sweetness would complement the deep earthy tang from the beef.

On Ice

The addition of ice seems to help the fruited notes come more to the forefront, allowing them to be more distinct and recognizable compared to the general fruity impression that was there before. I can start to pick up notes of banana, strawberry, cherry, and lemon. The sweetness is there, but it is less like a cola, and more like a dull baker’s chocolate.

You lose a lot of the oaky and earthy notes, though, and the pepper and baking spices all be disappear. All in all, compared to other experiences with wheated bourbons, this holds up surprisingly well on the rocks. 

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

This is just okay. Not bad, not good… just okay.

The whiskey shows through the bitters and sugar, but barely. You get the lighter notes the same as when sipped on the rocks –but the fruitier flavors just don’t jive well with the angostura bitters. 

I could imagine that this could be improved by changing the bitters up. (Black walnut, for example, might go really well with some of the fruit notes.) However, given the great flavors neat and on the rocks, I would skip the cocktail all together… especially considering you are drinking a rare $230 bottle of bourbon.

Fizz (Mule)

I was pleasantly surprised by this Kentucky mule. I think it must be some of the fruit notes, but this actually pairs well with the ginger beer. You do lose a lot of the earthiness that I like to get when making a mule, but I’ve had worse mules. 

My recommendation is the same here as it was with the old fashioned: it’s a good cocktail, but I think there are better whiskey choices you could make for this cocktail, given the price and rarity of this bottle.


Overall Rating

This was a good bottle, but not quite good enough to justify its $230 price point. In it’s favor, it does have interesting notes both on the rocks and neat, and I would not recommend using this to make a cocktail. 

As I mentioned earlier, I bought this bottle as a celebratory purchase on the day I was offered a new job. It was a hard-to-find bottle from the same distillery I had purchased the day I lost my previous job. All of this to say… the price point was of little concern when I purchased this. But unless I was giving a gift to a good friend or real bourbon fanatic, I am not sure I would buy this bottle again.   

Willett Wheated 8 Year Bourbon
Produced By: Willett
Owned By: Kentucky Bourbon Distillers
Production Location: Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: 8 Years
Proof: 54% ABV
Price: $229.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
This is good, just know that you are spending more than it is worth.


One comment

  1. This was definitely too pricey for my pockets, when I visited the Willett distillery last week.
    I went instead for their “Pot Still Reserve” in a pot-still-shaped bottle, after including it in a “flight” tasting at their on-site tasting bar. I will fess up to buying it more for the bottle than for the contents, but I’ll probably bring it out to a bourbon-tasting in the not-so-far-out future.

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