Quite a few 4 year family estate release purchases that I undoubtedly got from Rapid Liquors had the good fortune of lucking me into this 6 year single barrel. I had a lot of experience with the 4 year releases, having grabbed some from New Hampshire Liquor Outlets in years past as well. The 110.2 proof batch (that seemed to be a really small run as I've never found another from that proof) was what really made me fall in love with Willett distillate. My reviews have certainly gotten longer since that time of writing and I'd like to think I've broadened my horizons a little bit since that day, having also been to Willett to pick a barrel with @LiquorJunction.
I remember being a little let down at time of opening of this bottle - yes this was a bigger and bolder rye than I was used to in the 4 year family estate releases, but it didn't have that magic that I'm always chasing. Having not given it a formal review I figured it was about time to give this another fair try - preconceptions withheld and analytical Nick is here to give this a whirl. I will note that I am using one of the Willett neat taster glasses, which I think closely follows the 'Kenzie' design, as opposed to my usual glencairn glass for this review. Now let's get into it.
Company on Label: Willett
Whiskey Type: Straight Rye Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: 11% Corn, 74% Rye, 15% Malted Barley
Age: 6 years
Further identification: This is a distributor pick single barrel #6061 that I won the right to in the Rapid Liquors 2020 raffle; based on Blake's mash bill breakdown this is a 'high rye' rye mash bill
Nose: Up front I find fig, plum and blackberry jam. There's a thick molasses feel tied to these notes well. Confectioners sugar, funky maple, and big, perfumed patisserie aromas undulate in effervescent waves. There's a distinct dusty characteristic to the oak that is definitely unique in its own right - not the dusty feel you'd get out of some of the older Wild Turkey products for instance. It's notably fruity after a little air time; leaning on some tropical fruit like pomegranate and passionfruit. There's a touch of a lychee characteristic and it comes across quite juicy on the nose. It's notably missing the citrus pop I've come to know, love and expect out of their ryes - but looking past that I find new and wonderous things now that I'm not experiencing the let-down mechanisms of guarded expectations. Already this glass has been so rewarding to sit with for some time, letting the whiskey breath and evolve. I haven't even thought about taking a sip up until this point because the nose has been so enjoyable to explore. As the glass finally settles into what feels like a final form I find anything but tradition; the vanilla in the oak is laced with orange marmalade and a rich, bready characteristic is really sitting in the foreground. Alright, damn, I think it's time for a sip.
After coming back to the nose after sipping I find the glass has not shifted drastically outside of leaning back on the oak base, enhancing some of the darker bread and molasses aromas. Late in the glass I find rich caramel, hints of milk chocolate, and an ashy characteristic like a finished cigar. All throughout the glass I find a nose that feels steeped in history and quality. This is a very well crafted rye that I'll be sad to be done with! As I reach that point, I find that the empty glass smells of the bits of smoke and ash I was finding earlier as well as strawberry puree, milk chocolate and level oak.
Palate: My first sip is packed with juicy fruit upfront, fading into a mint and passionfruit linger that falls a little flatter than the nose let on. Another sip builds well on the previous with more orange marmalade sweetness and a much bigger heft that carries a long, tingling linger throughout my entire mouth. I find some light tea notes on the back end as flashes of clove and black pepper work their way into the fold. Ooh. Introducing some air fully enhances the vanilla bean side of things. A bigger sip and swish results in some tart red berries flashing up before a wave of dark, heavy linen covers everything up in a momentous hush. Drinking this feels like there are particular flavors that are just a bit at odds with each other; as if they are fighting to assert dominance rather than all dancing together. As the glass wears on I do find a comfortable point where the orange zest side has mellowed out its intensity and the black tea, pomegranate and bread all seem to find their homes. Coming back late in the glass I start to taste much more of the punchy tropical fruit the nose was doing early on, but it comes off pretty hot! It started in the mango realm but quickly flashed up into a cinnamon hots explosion. Mmm. Lovely atypical citrus characteristics on this. It's not exactly what I want out of the citrus fruit portfolio, but it certainly will do tonight. My last sip is a lovely medley of vanilla bean, cacao nibs, maraschino cherry, and expressed orange peel. The linger is just the right length and it carries honeysuckle and the orange marmalade that certainly feels like the highlight of the glass.
This one is certainly getting a bit of a nod for the exceptional nose. The 'warring' flavors were certainly an interesting whiskey dynamic I haven't thought much about before. Have you had specific flavors that have come up that seem to cancel others out rather than compliment them? Let me know in the comments below!