Coming up the driveway to Willett Distillery, my first impression was that it was an interesting mishmash of architecture. The once-white storehouses are stained black by whiskey fungus, making the buildings look older than they are. Off in one corner of the property is a new building doing in that looks like an old-timey log cabin. Then there’s the showroom, built in the style of a Mediterranean villa.
But it all sort of works.
Sitting on the veranda around the showroom, in the Kentucky summer heat, looking out at the pond and the storehouses, with the cats lazing about, you realize this is the kind of place you’d like to drink bourbon in.
Willett Distillery traces its origins all the way back to 1684, when Edward Willet became a pewterer in London. While working as a pewterer, Willett fashioned his own device – kind of like a seal or emblem, by which people could identify his work – and to this day, that device is used on Willett bourbons.
Fast forward a few centuries and a trans-atlantic move, and the family found itself in Kentucky. In 1936, during the post-Prohibition rush to reopen abandoned distilleries, the family broke ground on their own house of bourbon. The following year, in 1937, the first barrel of whiskey was put into the storehouse to age.
The rest is, as they say, history. The business is still family-owned, and they still produce bourbon and rye. And it’s still done using their iconic copper pot still – this still is so famous, in fact, it has its own reserve bourbon, sold in a glass bottle shaped like the still itself.
Visitors can tour the distilling facilities, getting up-close and personal with the pot still and other apparatuses of the trade. If you’ve never toured a distillery, it’s a great experience – distilling spirits is equal parts science and art, and it comes together in a beautiful way.
The whiskeys produced at Willett Distillery as a eclectic as the architecture. We tried whiskeys that were smooth, smokey, warm, and sweet. There was something there for everyone and their preferred style of whiskey. They have everything from top-shelf reserve whiskey to bottled-in-bond bourbon to a burning rye.
Tastings at the Willett Distillery run a bit differently than tastings at other places. Everyone gets a sample of the pot still reserve, seeing as that’s their flagship product. However, unlike other tastings where the establishment chooses what you taste, they have bottles of all the spirits they distill, and you can choose your next three samples. Plus, you get to keep the glass they come in.
Visiting Willett Distillery:
Getting there: The address is 1869 Loretto Road, Bardstown, KY 40004. It’s just around the corner from Heaven Hill Distillery, so you might as well do both while you’re out there!
Admission: Entry fees depend on which experience you’d like to have:
- Distillery and Production Tour with Tasting: $22 per person, lasting an hour and twenty minutes.
- Seasoned to Perfection Tasting: $18 per person, lasting thirty minutes.
Opening hours: The showroom is open Monday through Saturday, 9:30AM to 5:30PM.
Website: You can visit the Willett Distillery website here.
Good to know:
- Bring your passport! Willett Distillery is a stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.
- While you must be 21 years of age to participate in the tastings, under-21s are permitted on the tours and educational experiences. Just no touching the good stuff.
- It’s best to book tours ahead of time, to guarantee yourself a spot! You can do that through their website.
- There are kitty cats running amok! Keep your eyes peeled for the little furballs while walking and driving around the property.