Willett Single Barrel Straight Rye Whiskey 22 yrs Barrel #618 Cream Wax Doug Phillips “Green Ink”

WILLETT SINGLE BARREL STRAIGHT RYE WHISKEY 22 YRS BARREL #618 CREAM WAX DOUG PHILLIPS "GREEN INK"

SPIRIT: Whiskey

VOLUME: 750ml

ABV/PROOF: 68.35/136.7

AGE: 22 years

There are rare bottles, and then there are legends. In this entirely true tale, a California glassfitter and part-time bonsai instructor named Doug Phillips had taken up Scotch as a hobby, then in the mid-2000s found himself drawn into the world of American whiskey. He fell hard for bourbon, and for dusty bourbon in particular, at a time when bottles that fetch four- and even five-figure prices today were sitting untouched on shelves, at under $50. Phillips was among the first to recognize the enormous value in dusty whiskey, and at one pledged to visit every one of Califormia’s estimated 6,000 liquor stores.

Phillips moved to Kentucky before he could finish his tour, but the move put him closer to the source of his newfound love. At the 2006 Bardstown Bourbon Festival, he overheard a conversation between Drew Kulsveen, of the Willett Distillery, and LeNell Smothers – now LeNell Camacho Santa Ana – talking about Willett’s private-barrel program. Phillips loved big, bold whiskeys, the sort that was hard to find back then. Something about the conversation between those two struck him, and he asked Kulsveen if he might be able to buy a barrel.

The next morning Kulsveen took Phillips to the Willett warehouse and showed him a few barrels of well-aged rye from the old Bernheim Distillery. As soon as they opened the first, the spicy, room-filling aroma of cask-strength rye hit Phillips like a tractor. He shook Kulsveen’s hand on the spot, and soon was in possession of Barrel No. 618, the first rye whiskey bottled by Willett under its Family Estate label – and widely considered the best of its kind ever bottled.

Usually, Kulsveen’s sister wrote out the details on each bottle by hand in black ink, but that day she only had a green pen – hence the oddity that became the release’s nickname, Doug’s Green Ink. The barrel was filled in 1984 and, at 22 years old, produced just 263 bottles. Kulsveen happened to talk up the barrel while sitting in a Bardstown hotel pool with John Hansell, the editor of Malt Advocate (now Whisky Advocate). Hansell took home a sample, and the magazine awarded it an almost unheard of 96 points.

Phillips bought seven more casks from Willett, and all of them are highly coveted. But it’s the green ink that everyone wants – not only because of its exceptional character, but because of the story behind it. “Doug’s Green Ink” speaks to us from a time before barrel-picking clubs and social-media influencers, when the sale of truly astounding barrels of whiskey could be negotiated over a few drinks in Bardstown and a casual morning tour through a warehouse. 

Release: Willett Family Estate

Misc.: Distilled on April 10, 1984, most likely at the old Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky, and aged primarily at the Willett Distillery in Bardstown. 

Collectors’ tips: Today any bottle with Doug Phillips’s name on it is considered a unicorn, but the Green Ink is a step beyond – call it an alicorn, or a unicorn with wings. Make sure that the details are written in green ink; another barrel, selected soon after, has almost the same details written on the label, but in Willett’s standard black ink.

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