If I did End of Year posts, then Willett 8-Year Wheated Bourbon would be a frontrunner for the most audacious release. The market for a product like this feels ripe for the taking, as wheated products have seen a slow-as-snails bump in selection. Willett isn’t known for dropping age-stated products outside of their Family Estate bottles, so to see them release a wheated bourbon with an 8-year age statement was nice…until we learned the price.
Hitting the scene with a $250 suggested retail price reeks of Whistlepig branding. The key differences here, however, are that Whistlepig remains mostly attainable and this Willett product hit secondary all the same. That last point could be attributed to the adjacency to Willett’s purple top bourbons, which some folks covet enough to spend blush-inducing amounts of money on. This is further compounded by the increased scarcity of Willett bottles made from a wheated mash bill (before Pot Still Reserve’s recipe was changed). Furthermore, Willett 8-Year Wheated Bourbon is almost certainly an indication that the people behind the brand and its identity know exactly what they’re doing.
My intent to find this bourbon (much less try it) was nonexistent. Yet I did come into a blind sample of it from someone who split the cost of a bottle, so my initial exposure was without regard for the marketing. Willett aren’t known for disclosing copious details about their whiskeys, and this continues the trend. What we do know is that it was distilled in early Spring 2013, bottled in Summer 2022 (wouldn’t that make it 9 years?), and entered #4 char barrels at 115 proof. One amusing detail is that Willett bottled this “without chill-filtration to preserve the most flavor possible,” but chose to proof it down to 108. What did I ultimately think?
Nose: A bit fruity and spicy. Has a fluffy quality to it, like pastries and confectionery sugar. Dark brown sugar beneath that with candied almonds and sweet cinnamon. Maybe a whisper of mint in there too. Nice, sweet oak presence delivers a discrete, complementary caramel and vanilla. Gets a bit savory after sipping.
Palate: The fluffy quality from the nose translates to the mouthfeel. Rather spicy oak profile. Tobacco, cinnamon spice, and dusty nut essence. A bit of fruitiness buried in there—leaning towards pomegranate. Has a subtle chocolate component too. Nicely balanced and developed overall.
Finish: Oak tannins and warmth show as this sits, complemented by a general, lingering spiciness. Some burnt caramel or toffee gets released over time, eventually followed by a brief hint of those pastry notes from the nose.
Before I knew what this was, I had a price in-mind for what I thought this punched at: $80 or so. I also figured this was a high-rye bourbon based on the spicy notes I consistently got. It makes for a great, slow-sipping experience with respectable depth and complexity. I saved half the sample for after the reveal, and when I found out this was not only Willett, but the recently released wheated bourbon, I did a double-take. Wheated products can sometimes take on herbal and even spicy characteristics, but the way this one came across did not scream “wheater” in any way, shape, or form.
Then I returned after learning its identity and found overlap with a recently reviewed whiskey: Driftless Glen Wheated Single Barrel. More specifically, these two bourbons have a fluffiness to their core profile that most other expressions simply lack. Naturally the Willett benefits from added aging and, depending on who you ask, its setting. Other than that, the Willett feels like its own beast. To get this kind of spice on a wheater while possessing the aforementioned pastry and confectionery essence is equally fun and intriguing. It’s my hope that they continue to explore this profile, hopefully to the benefit of their core lineup.
As things stand, however, Willett 8-Year Wheated Bourbon is so overpriced that it’s not only bombastic, but downright tragic. The quality of this bourbon is undeniable. I especially love how distinct it is, given the category and its producer’s usual output. Wheated bourbons rarely taste like this in my experience. Similarly, Willett products often taste below their age. This bucks the trend and yet it all feels for naught. Availability is laughable between Willett’s peculiar pedigree and the state of the market, further compounded by the introductory price. I want to recommend this bourbon. Would it be worth paying some level of premium for? Sure. Does that mean the set premium is justifiable? Not even remotely.