Willett 8 Year Single Barrel Rye – “Lion’s Share 2020” Barrel #986

Oldest Willett Family Estate Rye Release

It’s not déjà vu! Two separate Willett reviews back to back to finish off 2021. The same friend who gave me a sample of the 4 year barrel also generously sent me this 8 year barrel to try against my Jack Rose “We’ve Woken the Hive” bottle. Lots of Willett tonight and a fitting nightcap.

Where the 4 year was lighter in color, this was exactly where I’d expect 8 year rye to sit. Mahogany in color with medium legs in the glass. Shake test though is really fooling the results with the medium sized bubbles quickly dissipating.

Willett. Rye. Funk. The nose is just full of that musty, yeasty flavor I really enjoy. It’s like a sourdough starter with active fermentation going on. Clove and cardamom spices. Orange citrus oils. Amazing herbal quality. Sweetness closer to an agave syrup or honey like scent. Honeycrisp apples. Honeysuckle. Orange blossom water. A more rich and rounded oak like old library shelves or an heirloom kitchen table. Black tea and anise.

The palate was full of those spices that I enjoy. Black pepper and toasted spices. Velvety mouthfeel. Every proof point is apparent here at 109.8. Grass and hay. Cocoa. Tobacco. Demerara sugar. Sweeter overall than the 4 year but very similar overall in profile.

A bitter finish initially with a dark chocolate orange like flavor. Very much in line with other Willett ryes I’ve had with much of that herbal minty flavor. This is more subtle and delicate however. You get the spice running throughout but that sweetness comes back and forth in waves.

Age harmonize the grain in this glass. Where the 4 year showed off the brash qualities of the rye and yeast, the 8 year really mellowed things out to be overall more palatable. Much more cask influence was found in the 8 year and that bitterness really holds well. Both have much of that Willett character but the proof brought slightly more umph to the palate.

I tasted this alongside another 8 year barrel and while neither are 10/10, I think for me they rank quite high in terms of rye flavor I want in the glass. The herbal grassy flavors. Those slight mint and chocolate notes. It’s why I prefer rye over bourbon generally. This was a great finale to 2021. Looking forward to 2022!