The Willett brand, owned by Kentucky Bourbon Distillers Limited, has taken a 7-year-old rye and finished it for 90 days in French Curacao casks. If you’re unfamiliar, curacao is a liqueur made with the laraha citrus fruit grown on the island of Curacao. If it sounds familiar that’s because one version of the liqueur is the infamous bar cocktail add-in, blue curacao, popular in tiki drinks around the world.
The Willett Exploratory Cask Finish Version 1.0 is the first in what is planned to be a series of releases in the Exploratory Cask Finish (XCF) line and is priced at a premium price of $140 a bottle, available at first in the Willett Gift Shop with distribution growing. The finishing of a whiskey in a curacao cask is highly uncommon and presents a very unique divergence from the standard cask finishing offerings available on the market today.
It’s a widely known fact that Willett is one of the many brands sourcing whiskey from MGP in Indiana while in the process of distilling and aging their own product in Kentucky. Much controversy from this practice has arisen from the internet public; the general concern being that the consumer has a right to know where a spirit is distilled and aged so they are able to make a more informed decision at the store. Some are concerned that it is disingenuous of brands to sell spirit they themselves haven’t created while others are content to let the whiskey speak for itself. Spirits making is an incredibly expensive proposition and operating a distillery that produces aged spirit even ups the ante by tying up business funds in aging for years at a time before a bottle is ever sold. Some distilleries choose to supplement this income by either producing an unaged spirit such as gin, vodka, rum or “moonshine” and others choose to source whiskey from other distillers including the massive MGP distillation facility in Lawrenceburg, Indiana.
The whiskey for this particular bottling is produced in Indiana and finishing takes place at the Willett Distillery in Kentucky.
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Willett Exploratory Cask Finish Version 1.0 Review
Bourbon Name: Willett Exploratory Cask Finish Version 1.0
Age: NAS – No age statement
How I Drank It: Neat, in a Glencairn Whisky Glass
My Nose Noticed:Vanilla Bean | Cinnamon | Clove | Light Oak
First Sip: Orange Peel | Maple | Baking Spice | Vanilla
The Burn:This whiskey is mouth coating, luscious and sweet from beginning to end, masking any real burn despite the high alcohol. On the back of the tongue there is a slight tingle with a strong hint of orange peel. Orange lingers for quite a while.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: Overall, the whiskey has a delicate but full flavor to it, without any harsh edges. The orange is the prominent component on the tongue, backed up by vanilla and some maple sweetness. The combination of these generally sweet components are balanced nicely with the spicy rye and the alcohol level. A couple of drops of water smoothed the experience further but I felt it lost some of the contrast that made it an excellent drink by pulling the alcohol back and thrusting the orange more forward. I would definitely suggest drinking this one neat to really get the whole package of the balance between the sweet components and the rye at this proof.
Share With: When I purchased this bottle, the retail price was $140 which is steep by any standard for a whiskey like this. It’s a complex bottle that, I’m sure, will have a split reaction to it. But I can certainly recommend that if you have a couple of good friends who are in to trying something unique and different, this is a great whiskey to start a great discussion about the complex and interesting flavors.
Worth The Price: If you’re open to a new, and totally different, whiskey this one might be worth trying. The experience is off the beaten track for most bourbon drinkers and doesn’t fit into a specific style which makes it all the more interesting and enjoyable. However, this is an extremely expensive bottle compared to other offerings and there are equally delicious bottles for significantly less than the $140 price.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: If you find it at a bar try it and you won’t be disappointed. If you really enjoy it and can picture yourself enjoying is then purchase a bottle… if you can find it!