They say you see a white flash just before you die and enter Heaven. That's exactly what I saw walking into the Four Roses warehouse today: a white flash followed by images of eternal paradise. It was rows and rows of delicious Bourbon casks just waiting for us to pluck a few from their ranks. How much more can I really tell you about Four Roses that you don't already know? We've been here so many times and I've written so many posts. Today we snagged five new casks, two of which were incredibly fruity and sweet, and scattered their bottling dates so that we plan our inventory accordingly. You might see the first releases from this particular haul just before Christmas if all goes as planned.
While we've purchased single barrels from Barton distillery before (you know it in California as 1792 Ridgemont), we've never actually been on a tour of the facility. Built in the 1870s and located in Bardstown, the Barton distillery is a classic complex of a lost manufacturing era. It's a behemoth of 19th century industrial brick layering and it looks like something right out of a black and white photo. I'd always wanted to get inside and snoop around, so we made the necessary arrangements and stopped by on our way through town.
Most distilleries take the summer off in Kentucky because of the warm temperature. As Jimmy Russell explained to us yesterday, the water used to cool down the condensers is too warm to do its job in July, so the Bourbon ends up taking longer to distill. It's not only less efficient, it can also throw off the flavor. Wild Turkey was just getting things started back up when we visited and Barton was making similar preparations for the new season. We walked up to the third floor to get a look at the giant, multi-story fermentation tanks and, when I looked down inside through the hatch, I noticed a welder deep inside the tank making a few repairs.
While additions have been made to Barton distillery over the years, the giant boiler is still fueled by coal power—an extra dose of industrial era nostalgia. It's not unlike the massive relic we discovered in the abandoned Old Crow distillery yesterday (more on that later). We might have a few casks of 1792 lined up for the future, but in the meantime I ran over to CVS after lunch and snagged a 1.75 liter of Very Old Barton for twenty bucks. That's an annual Kentucky purchase for me.
See that? That's Noah's Mill. It's no longer just a romantic ideal sketched on to the front of a KBD Bourbon label; it's now a real place. The expansion that's taken place at Willett distillery over the last year is simply amazing. We caught up with owner and distiller Drew Kulsveen as we stopped by the estate to check out the progress. If you didn't hear, Kentucky recently passed a new law allowing distilleries to also pour alcohol. Much like Joe over at Copper & Kings who's added a rooftop bar and restaurant, Drew and the gang didn't waste anytime building a new hang out. They're adding a full-service bar, a bed and breakfast, as well as private cabins back in the more private reserves of the property. It's a fantastic addition to what is already in my opinion the most rustic distillery in Kentucky.
The great thing about Willett is that, while it didn't start distilling its own whiskey until a few years ago, there was indeed a previous Willett distillery back in the day. All the warehouses and office buildings you see on the campus are the originals from that era. Even when KBD was acting as solely as a blender and bottler, the whiskey was being aged on site in the Willett warehouses. Now that production is back in full swing, Willett has the look and feel of a distillery that's much older than four years. It's the only modern craft distillery I've visited that in no way, shape, or form feels like a craft distillery. The new whiskies don't taste like craft whiskies either. They're legitimate Kentucky players in every way; independent, self-owned, and with no intention whatsoever of selling out to the man.
Drew showed us the plans for the new additions then took us over to the gift shop for a taste of the new Willett Reserve Bourbon: four years old and 100% Willett-distilled. It's only available at the distillery right now, but—hey—that's what travel retail is all about, right? Something exciting needs to motivate you to get out there and see it for yourself. Plus, they're the only distillery with great merchandise. I don't really need an oversized, yellow and tan Four Roses hoody. But I'll definitely take a few retro, fitted Willett T-shirts to go.