The Willett Distilling Company was established by the Willett family in 1936, shortly after the end of prohibition. A distillery was built and distilling started in 1937; The primary label produced was Old Bardstown. In the 1970s the distillery switched to producing ethanol for fuel, and in the early 1980s stopped distilling entirely. Even Kulsveen had married Martha Willett, and in 1984 purchased the company and renamed it to Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD). Acting as rectifiers (or NDPs – Non-Distilling Producers), KBD bought bourbon stocks from other distilleries and released them as their brands: Johnny Drum, Old Bardstown, Kentucky Vintage, Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, and the Willett brands, among others. They also bottled whiskeys for other brands such as Michter’s and Black Maple Hill. In early 2012, KBD started distilling again, with Even’s son Drew as master distiller, producing several different mashbills. As of summer 2014, their in-house 2-year rye has been released.

Some of the most sought-after bourbons and ryes have come from the Willett Family Estate line, or have been private bottlings done by KBD under different names (such as the Rathskeller and Red Hook ryes).

 

Photo libraries, in ascending order by bottling year

Kentucky Bonded Bourbon, 4/5qt, 1959-1978

This was distilled by Willett, and although it’s marked as 16 year it was actually aged 19 years.

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Jazz Club 20yr Bourbon, 101pf

This was a Japanese export bottling done by KBD.

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Wattie Boone & Sons 15yr Bourbon, 95pf

Bottled for the Japanese market presumably by KBD. Release year unknown.

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Pure Antique Bourbon 25yr, 90.2pf

A Japanese export bottling likely done by KBD, though not much is known about this rare bird.

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Vintage Bourbon 23yr, 94pf

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Vintage Bourbon 21yr, 94pf

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Willett 22yr Rye, Doug Phillips “Green Ink” 2006

Selected personally by Doug Phillips and friends, this is the first Willett single barrel rye to be released, and many say the best. The whiskey inside is rumored to have been distilled at Bernheim.

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LeNell’s Red Hook Rye, Barrel 1, 2006

Brooklyn liquor store owner LeNell Smothers had four barrels of Bernheim rye bottled by Willett in the 2006-2008 years. This bottle is from the first barrel, #1.

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Bitter Truth 24yr rye, 2007

German bitters maker Bitter Truth was one of the early recipients of some of the barrel proof Bernheim rye bottled by Willett, along with Doug’s and LeNells.

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Rathskeller 24yr Rye, 2007

In 2007 the historic Seelbach hotel in downtown Louisville acquired a single barrel bourbon and rye for their hotel bar. A few bottles were sold through local stores too.

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Speakeasy Select Bourbon, 2007

In 2007 the historic Seelbach hotel in downtown Louisville acquired a single barrel bourbon and rye for their hotel bar. A few bottles were sold through local stores too.

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Willett Rye, 23yr, Barrel 11, 137.1pf, ‘The Iron Fist’ 2007

The Iron Fist and its sister barrel, The Velvet Glove, were some of the earliest rye picks done by Willett, preceded only by the first Doug’s and Red Hook barrels.

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Willett Rye, 23yr, Barrel 11, 137pf, ‘The Velvet Glove’ 2007

The Iron Fist and its sister barrel, The Velvet Glove, were some of the earliest rye picks done by Willett, preceded only by the first Doug’s and Red Hook barrels.

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Willett 15yr Barrel 841, 129.4pf, Whiskey Keller ~2007

Distilled 4/16/92, selected by Heinz Taubenheim.

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Willett 25yr Bourbon, Barrel 8, 90.2pf, ~2007

This bottle was picked by BevMo in California, and nicknamed “Chocolate Monster” by enthusiasts.

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Willett 11yr Bourbon, Barrel 105, 108.8pf, Whiskey Keller ~2007

Selected by Heinz Taubenheim, Distilled 5/14/1996

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Willett 4yr Bourbon, Barrel 2, 125.4pf, Toddy’s & Dougz 2007

Fall Festival 2007, distilled 5/21/03

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Willett 24yr Rye 110pf, Bonilli Japan, 2008

Japanese importer Bonilli brought in two barrels of Willett’s 24 year old Bernheim rye. This one was bottled at 110 proof, and the other was bottled at 94 proof. Both are considered to be exceptional ryes, surpassed only by their barrel proof Willett brothers.

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LeNell’s Red Hook Rye, Barrel 4, 2008

Brooklyn liquor store owner LeNell Smothers had four barrels of Bernheim rye bottled by Willett in the 2006-2008 years. This bottle is from the final barrel, #4.

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Willett 17yr Barrel 1598, 2008

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Willett Bourbon, 17yr Barrel 1564, 148.4pf, ‘Dug’z & Willy’z’ 2008

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Willett 27yr, Barrel 473, 136.8pf, 2008

This barrel-proof Stitzel-Weller Willett bottled for Binny’s only produced 24 bottles!

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Willett 25yr Rye, 94 Proof, 2008

Distilled 5/10/1983, “imported by 158023.” Originally bottled from Liquor World in Bardstown.

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Willett 24yr Rye, Glen Fahrn Barrel 14, 138.8pf, 2008

Distilled 4/10/1984, Selected for Glen Fahrn GmbH by Doug Phillips, and came with two different wax colors. Bottles 1-60 were black and the whiskey was unfiltered; bottles 61-218 were white and the whiskey was filtered.

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Willett 7yr Bourbon, Barrel 8219, 122.2pf, 2008


Selected by “The Bourbon Society”

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Willett 6yr Bourbon, Barrel 6813, 121.6pf, 2008


Selected by “The Bourbon Society”

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Willett 28yr Bourbon Barrel 1056, 128.8pf ~2008

Selected by Pacific Edge

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Willett 13yr Bourbon, Barrel 691, 110.8pf ~2009

Bottled for Ledroit Brands/Bourbon DC and named “Mackinac”

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Rare Perfection 25yr Bourbon, 86pf

An export brand to Japan by KBD

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Willett 18yr Bourbon, Barrel 43, 2010

Barrels 43 and 44 were released in California, and in limited numbers in Colorado, by the distributor Pacific Edge in 2010. The whiskey inside is most likely Bernheim wheated bourbon.

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Willett 18yr Bourbon, Barrel 34 “No Chemists Allowed” 2010

No Chemists Allowed is one of the Willetts picked by Bill Thomas, owner of Bourbon DC and Jack Rose, as well as the distributor in the DC area. It’s likely a Stitzel-Weller distilled wheat recipe bourbon, and is highly sought after.

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Willett 17yr Bourbon, Barrel 55, 2010

Barrel 55 was split between Liquor World and Toddy’s (who share owners). It’s likely a Bernheim-distilled wheat recipe bourbon.

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Willett 17yr Bourbon Barrel 33A, 133.7pf, 2010


Distilled 4/6/1993, selected for “The Bourbon Society”

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Willett 17yr Bourbon, Barrel 44A, “First in Peace” 2010


Selected by Ledroit Brands/Bourbon DC

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Willett 17yr Barrel 54, 137.6pf, Shoppers Vineyard ~2010

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Willett 8yr Barrel 6823, 123.8pf, “Suspension Bridge” ~2010

This was a Ledroit Brands/Bourbon DC barrel from around 2010.

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Willett 17yr Bourbon, Barrel 58, 138.2pf ~2010

Selected by Mike’s Whiskey-Handel, Munich Germany

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Willett 17yr Bourbon, Barrel 64A, 135.5pf, “Perfect Square” ~2010

Picked by Ledroit Brands/Bourbon DC, Distilled 4/6/1993.

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Willett 17yr Bourbon, Barrel 55, 137.6pf ~2010

Barrel 55 was split between Liquor World and Toddy’s (who share owners). It’s likely a Bernheim-distilled wheat recipe bourbon.

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Willett 4yr Bourbon, Barrel 2065, 121.1pf ~2010

Bottled for Ledroit Brands/Bourbon DC, named “Green Horn #2”

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Willett 18yr Bourbon, Barrel C41, 2011

Barrel C41 was bottled for a liquor store in New York State in around 2010.  It’s likely a Bernheim-distilled wheat recipe bourbon.

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Vintage 21 Rye, 2011

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Willett 18yr Barrel C48, 138pf, Astor Wines ~2011

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Willett 18yr Bourbon, Barrel 66, 135.4pf ~2011

Selected by a European importer

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Whiskey Trails Bourbon, 17yr, 112.3pf ~2011

Bottled by KBD for an Illinois distributor.

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Willett 28yr Bourbon, Barrel 68, 102.6pf ~2011

This barrel was split between Rogin’s Tavern in Japan and the Willett gift shop.

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Willett 20 yr bourbon, barrel 321

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Willett 21yr Bourbon Barrel 9948, 107pf, 2012

This bottling was marketed by K&L Liquors as having been distilled by Stitzel-Weller, though Willett has never confirmed.

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Willett 7yr Bourbon, barrel 6529, 126.2pf, “Kaffieklip” ~2012

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Willett 9yr Bourbon, Barrel 1286, 120.7pf, “Origami” ~2012

Selected by Ledroit Brands/Bourbon DC.

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Willett 7yr Bourbon, Barrel 1446, 125.6pf

Selected by Whiskeyhandel in Munich. Photos courtesy of Mimmotron.

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Willett 13yr Bourbon, Barrel 360 “Boardwalk” – 2014

DC Bottling

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Willett 20yr Barrel C43A, 2014

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Willett 21yr Barrel C19A “Pot O’ Gold,” 2014

DC bottling

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Willett 21yr, Barrel C12, 2014

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Willett 10yr Barrel 1401, 2014

2014 summer bottling for Binny’s

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Willett 13yr Bourbon, Barrel 377 “Time Out” – 2014

DC Bottling

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Willett 21yr Bourbon, Barrel C13a “Red Eye” – 2014

DC Bottling

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Willett 23yr Bourbon, Barrel 2873, 127.2pf “My Brown Bunny” – 2014

Selected by the Illinois distributor.

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Willett 24yr Bourbon, Barrel 9956, 121pf ~2016

This barrel only resulted in 28 bottles and was given out to close friends and partners of Drew Kulsveen.

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Willett 10yr, Barrel 1643, 2014

10-year Willett released for the 2014 Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Split between Liquor World and Toddy’s in Bardstown.

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