Travels through Bourbon country

Written by: Christian Barkley



Time to read min

In late January, I had the opportunity of travelling through Kentucky, with the objective of sourcing delicious bourbons for Cerbaco, and of course, selecting 3 barrels of Willett Whiskey for Cerbaco.

Makers of Kentucky Bourbon and Kentucky Rye Whiskey

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers

The Willett Distillery Estate is a historic and renowned distillery located in Bardstown, Kentucky, USA. It is known for producing high-quality bourbon whiskey and has a rich heritage dating back to its establishment in 1936. The distillery is situated on a picturesque property nestled among the rolling hills of central Kentucky.

A Charming Estate

The estate itself features several distinctive buildings that contribute to its charm and character. The main distillery building is a beautifully preserved stone structure that reflects its traditional roots. It houses the various stages of bourbon production, including the mashing, fermentation, distillation, and aging processes. The distillery takes great pride in its craftsmanship and attention to detail, maintaining traditional techniques while incorporating modern technologies to ensure the highest quality spirits.

Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon bottle is fashioned using the signature pot still original blueprints.

Adjacent to the distillery is the barrel aging warehouse, where thousands of oak barrels are carefully stacked and stored. These barrels hold the aging bourbon, allowing it to develop its signature flavors and aromas over time. The estate's aging warehouses are often referred to as "rickhouses" and are an iconic symbol of the bourbon industry.

Surrounding the distillery buildings, the estate boasts picturesque landscapes and scenic views, with rolling green pastures and Kentucky's iconic horse farms in the distance. The serene setting adds to the overall ambiance and provides visitors with a tranquil environment to enjoy their whiskey tasting experience.

The Willett Distillery Estate also features a visitor center, offering guided tours and tastings for whiskey enthusiasts and tourists. Visitors can learn about the distilling process, explore the aging warehouses, and gain insight into the rich history and heritage of the distillery. The center often showcases artifacts, memorabilia, and displays that highlight the legacy of the Willett family and their contribution to the bourbon industry. 

Christian's Adventures

I got stuck in Chicago airport due to a massive snowstorm, but eventually found my way to Louisville after some very long hours at the Chicago airport. Made my way to Neat Whiskey Bar, a somewhat famous bar here that had been recommended to me, and as this is the dead time of the year in Kentucky, it was quiet. Sitting at the bar enjoying bourbon, I met two people (you never know who you will meet):

- Mike, a retiree, bourbon lover and old vintage collector, Kentucky local.

- Amin, a Tunisian immigrant, bourbon distillery owner, who founded Old Louisville Distillery a few years ago whiskeys and whose whiskey at the bar was very good

After spending several hours with these two people, I invited Mike to visit Willett Distillery and sample the barrels, to get a second opinion on the selected barrels. also, to get his opinion on the Willett barrels. I also booked a meeting with Amin to visit his distillery, but that will be for another blog post.

Barrels selected:

There was samples from 11 barrels, with various mash bills, 3 Ryes and 8 Bourbons. I sampled them all alongside Josh from Willett and my new friend Mike.

1st barrel selected was my favourite, and not a usual release by Willett. 79% Corn, 7% Rye and 14% Barley is a sweeter profile (high corn) seen in the more famous bourbon distilleries, and not common for Willett who prefers their more cinnamon heavy release mash bill (72-13-15). So what’s so special about this one ? After adding 3 drops of water and waiting a few minutes for a second tasting, it turned out to be the very best whiskey of the entire lot  with my two helpers agreeing.

2nd barrel selected – due to demand, I was going to get 3 Bourbon barrels, but this damned high rye barrel sample (74% rye, 11% corn and 15% barley) proved out to be a strong candidate for the best available whiskey, and so I told myself that, at Cerbaco, we historically try to pick the best available, regardless of what the market dictate, so I went with that philosophy.

3rd barrel selected had a fantastic nose, that lingered on for the duration of the tasting (over an hour!) This is a classic Willett bourbon recipe (72% corn, 13% rye, 15% barley) with a strong flavour profile of cinnamon, biscuit, gingerbread and a little bit of spice.