Willett Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey 23 yrs Barrel #11 Cream Wax “The Iron Fist”

WILLETT SINGLE BARREL STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY 23 YRS BARREL #11 CREAM WAX "THE IRON FIST"

SPIRIT: Rye

VOLUME: 750 ml

ABV/PROOF: 68/137

AGE:  23 years

Among the greatest moments in modern whiskey history came in 2006, when Drew Kulsveen of the Willett distillery created Willett Family Estate, a series of limited releases of single-barrel whiskeys drawing on his family’s vast stash of barrels. Kulsveen’s father, Even, 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, the Kulsveens were soon in possession of some of the best whiskey ever to be put in wood – and they knew it.

There was little rhyme or reason, at first, to the single-barrel releases. Many came with their own labels, whether they were one-offs, like a rye bottled for the Seelbach Hotel in Louisville, or a standing brand, like Black Maple Hill. The creation of the Willett Family Estate label brought some order to the chaos. The front labels are all the same, but the backs have spaces for handwritten notes about proof, age and customer, many of whom added nicknames for their picks.

Among the first clients to pick their own barrels under the WFE label was Bill Thomas, who owned a renowned pair of whiskey bars in Washington, D.C., called, appropriately, Bourbon (he later closed them to consolidate in a single location, Jack Rose). Thomas chose two nearly identical barrels of 23-year-old rye, which he called “The Iron Fist” and “The Velvet Glove.” They were distilled in 1984 at Louisville’s Old Bernheim distillery, owned at the time by Schenley, which also produced the whiskey inside other early, legendary Willett bottlings, like Red Hook rye and Bitter Truth. While most of the bottles (220 of The Velvet Glove, 221 of The Iron Fist) went to Thomas’s bars, a few made it into retail, and out into the collecting world.

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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