Willett Rathskeller 24yr Rye 2007

WILLETT RATHSKELLER 24YR RYE 2007

SPIRIT: Rye

VOLUME: 750 ml

ABV/PROOF: 68/136

AGE:  24 years

Built by two German immigrants in the opulent style of Europe’s grand hotels, the Seelbach, in downtown Louisville, has seen its ups and downs and ups since it opened in 1905. Celebrities like F. Scott Fitzgerald and Al Capone once flocked to it; then, as the city declined after World War II, so did its fortunes. It shut down for a while. Today it is back on its feet, though without quite the polish of its Jazz Age heyday.

In its basement sits the Rathskeller, a ceramic-encrusted pub that today is used as a ballroom. It remains one of the more striking spaces in Louisville, and the Seelbach has repeatedly hyped it – including with this 2007 rye whiskey that also happens to be one of the greatest ever bottled by Willett.

Even Kulsveen, the Willett patriarch, had been buying surplus barrels from Kentucky distilleries for almost 20 years and using them to feed Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, a bottling operation he ran on the Willett campus in Bardstown. At the time, distilleries like Schenley (later United, later DIageo) and Heaven Hill were eager to sell barrels whenever and to whomever they could, with little regard to the age or quality of the liquid inside. As a result, Kulsveen and his son, Drew, were soon in possession of some of the best whiskey ever put in wood – and they knew it.

There was little rhyme or reason, at first, to their single-barrel releases. Many came with their own labels, whether they were one-offs, like the Bitter Truth, bottled for a German bitters company, or a standing brand, like Black Maple Hill. Rathskeller was the former. Its label features the Seelbach’s crest, with “Louisville’s Grand Hotel” below. Only 211 bottles were produced, and most of them went to the hotel – but not all of them. Some made it into the retail wild, and today fetch tens of thousands of dollars on the secondary market. (A partner bourbon, called Speakeasy Select, appeared alongside it.)

Rathskeller comes from the same legendary set of rye barrels distilled at the Old Bernheim facility, in Louisville, in the early 1980s, though only Rathskeller and the early Red Hooks were distilled in 1983; the rest, including Doug’s Green Ink and the Iron Fist/Velvet Glove, were made in 1984.

Producer: Willett

Misc.: For an extensive listing of Willett bottlings and their details, click here.

Collectors’ tips: Early Willett Family Estate bottlings were sealed with wax tops; more contemporary bottlings use foil. 

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