Willett's Exploratory Cask Finish

Author: Justin Thompson

The Willett Distilling Company released their first non-traditional whiskey via their XCF Exploratory Cask Finish Version 1.0 in late October of this year. Visitors at their Bardstown, KY distillery on Halloween Day were the ones to purchase this barrel manipulated Rye whiskey which is getting favorable reviews from most of the connoisseurs who are lucky enough to get their hands on a bottle.

This barrel finished whiskey starts its story in Indiana, the state where the Rye was produced. Some consumers new to American whiskey might find it odd that Willett would reveal that this spirit was not distilled by them and even more shocked that it was made outside of Kentucky.

But Willett should be commended for being upfront about where this whiskey originated, as its common practice for some spirit companies to try to confuse the consumer about where their juice really comes from or blatantly mislead them into believing they were the ones to actually distill it when it was sourced from another producer.

This Rye whiskey was aged inside the Willett warehouses in Bardstown for 7 years. The story gets a little more interesting and now drifts over to Europe. During a trip to France, Willett Master Distiller and Blender Drew Kulsveen had an opportunity to see how the orange liqueur known as Curacao was made.

The barrels that were used to age the citrus-flavored spirit were actually used Bourbon barrels, which was a factor for Drew believing they may produce a nice barrel finish for some of the Rye he had aging. So after bringing 25 of the Curacao casks from France back to Kentucky, Drew and his team needed 42 barrels of the 7 year-old Rye to fill them up (remember, after 7 years of aging those barrels were not full due to angel’s share/evaporation) and allowed the whiskey to age for another 90 days inside those barrels.

After three months the barrels were all dumped together and bottled as a small batch, sticking to Willett’s philosophy of bottling small batches at 20-25 barrels. This yielded 6,912 bottles, which might sound like a lot, but considering Willett is now in 35 states and 25 countries, this release is very highly allocated.

This release got its own packaging as well, which was also inspired by Drew. The label is one of a puppeteer that is pulling the strings on dangling barrels.

The image gives folks the idea of the Willett crew playing around with barrels, which is what the company is most known for since they’ve only been distilling on site for just over two years, but they’ve been mastering the art of whiskey maturation on their family’s property for over three decades. XCF comes in at 103.4 proof, and was slightly cut down from the 115 proof it was when originally dumped from the Curacao casks. Retail price is around $200.   Willett Exploratory Cask