Review: Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon – 12 Year (Barrel 491, 124.8 proof)

Willett 12 year

It is no secret that the whiskey in this Willett Family Estate (WFE) Bourbon bottle is not actually made by Willett (or Kentucky Bourbon Distillers – KBD – if you want to get technical).  Willett’s operating distillery is about 5 years old and counting (having shut down distilling operations from the early 1980’s until 2012), and a 5 year old distillery obviously can’t produce 12 year old whiskey.

But, Willett hasn’t ever hidden from this fact, and has in recent years turned out some of the objectively best Non-Distillery Produced (NDP) bourbon around.  It has done so while holding tight its secret as to who makes the whiskey in these bottles – although we would be remiss if we didn’t share that most suspect across-the-street neighbor Heaven Hill is the source for much of Willett’s products.

The WFE product line was introduced in 2006.  Each bottling is a single barrel product and bottled un-chillfiltered and at barrel proof.  We know Willett sources from multiple distilleries.  Beyond these facts, little is known for sure.

As to the WFE in particular, some believe that these bottles merely constitute older versions of bourbons held for Willett’s other sourced products.  But it is possible that Willett sources particularly for this product.   We don’t know where these WFE bottles were warehoused, or if even they have all been warehoused fully on Willett’s grounds or when they may have come to Willett’s grounds for further aging.

Since its inception, there has been a significant craze around these bottles.  Many offerings are gift-shop only offerings.  Nearly all, in my opinion, are priced at a significant premium over similarly aged products.

With all that, member Jay Cary was lucky enough to score a gift-shop only bottle.  On June 14th – National Bourbon Day – Jay was kind enough to open it up and share a pour.  There would have been 104 bottles from this particular barrel.


Nose:  Cinnamon and cocoa; canned pear sweetness, cherry and raspberry; fresh sawed oak; a bit of heat but no burn.

Palate:  Much more of a delicious, but unique, canned pear sweetness, like drinking the sugary syrup once the fruit is removed.  This drinks way under proof, much like a 95-100 proof pour.  The palate is thick and creamy, but not in the least oily.

Finish:  Retreating syrupy sweetness followed by butterscotch, baking spices and cocoa.

Overall:  This is very unique and delicious pour that left us all scratching our heads.  Knowing it was sourced,and not knowing the mash bill, left us all wondering what in fact we were drinking.  Could the sweetness be indicative of a wheated mashbill?  Is the cherry reminiscent of Heaven Hill?  Certainly the lack of oak notes did not indicate a 12 year-old high or medium-high rye.  Beyond those observations, we were all merely left with knowing that what we were sampling was truly top-notch.

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