Medium-bodied barrel strength whiskey; much as the 2-year expression, this drinks surprisingly elegant for a Cask Strength Rye Whiskey. There is the initial spice punch, but it dissipates rather quickly into a very enjoyable sweet/spice combination.
For years, Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, run by the Kulsveen family, has been bottling fantastic whiskey under their numerous labels; Willett being just one of the expressions (along with Noah's Mill, Rowan's Creek, Johnny Drum, etc.). Willett Distillery was actually founded in the 1930s by former Bernheim superintendent Thompson Willett, but subsequent generations of the family would become disinterested in bourbon until the distillery finally closed. Evan Kulsveen, who married Willett's daughter, purchased the abandoned site in 1984 with plans to reopen his father-in-law's once-great operation. Almost thirty years later, his son Drew and son-in-law Hunter have the site refurbished and back on track.
Nose: Huge vanilla. Nougat, chocolate, and deep crisp dark rye. Then the spices: anise, clove, cinnamon stick, pepper. Finally - a little whiff of... Bazooka Joe bubble gum? Something like that, very sweet, sugary candy.
Body: So clean and delicious. The sweetness comes back with a little bit of caramel popcorn. The rye grains are so compact and punchy, it's a great balance of sweet vanilla candy and crisp dry grain. There's also a hint of that oiled leather, old wood taste that you get from much older whiskies floating in there.
Finish: A very long and lovely finish for a rye. There's a hint of char/smoke, some welcome spirit warmth, and more of the rich vanilla. Early in the bottle we preferred a few drops of water, once it had a few weeks to open up, we preferred it straight (this is common with Willetts, open the bottle as soon as you get it and let it sit for a couple of weeks, you'll be delighted).