Welcome to The Whiskey Room! We’ve been talking about this series for a few weeks now and I’m excited to finally get it off the ground and introduce the newest member of the HSS team, my good friend, and now Contributing Whiskey Editor, Chris Sarangoulis. We’re kicking off the first episode with one of our all-time favorites: the Willett Family Estate 2 Year Rye.
Willett 2 Year Rye: Where have you been my entire life?
If you’re wondering why you’re just starting to see Willett pop up, it’s because 2012 was the first time since the 1980s that they started marketing it, though it’s been more or less family owned the whole time. Willett’s hiatus from distilling was driven by the energy crisis of the 1970s, when they turned their efforts toward making ethanol, which lead to their downfall when gas prices returned to normal.
We can’t help but think of all the amazing whiskey they might have in stock if they continued to distill through the 80s and 90s. Would they have something equivalent to the current Stitzel-Weller 23yr Pappy Van Winkle? We have some thoughts on the preoccupation with Pappy, but we’ll leave those for a different post. Or we can kick off that discussion in the comments. Have at.
Here’s a fair question: if they took an extended break from distilling, where are they getting their older aged juice? Willett won’t actually say, but the Heaven Hill distillery is located right down the road, which makes us wonder if this rye might actually be the same mash bill as Rittenhouse Rye or maybe even Pikesville. My money would be on the former.
Pushing the Willett family name.
What’s in a name might be what’s in a rye. The daughter of Thompson Willet married a Norwegian man, who actually ended up buying the distillery to refurbish it – a process that took seven years. That there’s a bit of Norwegian blood attached to the Willett name is intriguing. Norway is, of course, famous for its Aquavit, which is something we found interesting given some of our tasting notes on this rye.
Caraway, cumin, orange peel, cardamom, anise, and fennel are all common Aquavit notes. And Chris gets a strong anise flavor from this whiskey? Could this rye be something of an American version of Aquavit? On the to-do list: a side by side comparison of Willett 2 Year and some Aquavit.
Let’s talk a little bit more about the flavor profile without describing what it tastes like. If you lined up 10 ryes with this one in the mix, it would be a definitely stand out. It might even take you off guard. The small number of ryes offered at cask strength are usually aged far longer than this one which mellows them out a lot. (What’s cask strength? Check out our guide on some of the whiskey terms you need to know.)
Chris and I both agree that older ryes don’t taste as rye-ish as younger ones. There’s an edge and liveliness in a good rye and the extra time maturing tends to soften those qualities. We’ve tried the seven year version of this one and both agreed that, hands down, the two year is superior.
Tell us: Have you tried Willett 2 Year Rye? What did you think?
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Thanks for watching.
Brian & Chris
He Spoke Style