The Jack Rose Willett Release + Review

So, I'm biased on a lot of accounts here. A lot. One, I am a Willett Family Estate Bourbon sheep. Second, I frequent Jack Rose Dining Saloon more than my own apartment these days. But I could not - I repeat - could not pass up a chance to take in the sights, sounds and bourbon during the 2,015 in 2015 event at one of the finest whisk(e)y establishments in the world!

See above: I was among the first to get a taste. A fresh bottle was opened right in front of me.

See above: I was among the first to get a taste. A fresh bottle was opened right in front of me.

Literally. The world.

Jack Rose (now) boasts a total of 2,015+ bottles of whiskey (their Instagram account lists 2,200+) in its collection. The details aren't important. It's a lot. And I've tasted more bourbon, and subsequently spent more money, at this fine establishment than I care to admit. I'd also be hard pressed to name any other whiskey bar in the western hemisphere that can boast these numbers!

Nevertheless, when Jack Rose has an event (especially if Willett is involved) attendance is mandatory.

Note: Jack Rose also does "Pappy Hour!" And as you might guess, yes, it's tastings of Pappy Van Winkle during "happy hour" hours. I keep missing them, however, since they're rather unannounced. But one day!

At some point, Jack Rose (JR) might have been one of the better-kept secrets of D.C.'s Adams Morgan neighborhood. No longer. In fact, for the past year or so, this place has been the scene for nights out in "AdMo," including my own. Anytime we're in the area, JR is a must stop. If not for the whiskey, the food. If not for the food, the experience.

For any whiskey fan out there, JR is a spectacle. Bookshelves lining three walls, from floor to ceiling, packed full of the finest, rarest whiskies on the planet. Bartenders and whiskey advisors scale latters to reach the tippy-top of the top shelf whiskies. It truly is a "library of whiskey."

A Quick 2,015 in 2015 Recap: JR owner, Bill Thomas, must have some friends in pretty high places in the whiskey world. Hand-picked barrel's of Willett's Family Estate Bourbon can't come lightly, or cheap, outside of the distributors that usually source them. One of those friends, I presume, is Willett Distillery master distiller, Drew Kulsveen, who was supposed to make an appearance at the event. I didn't stick around long enough to find out. It was a "school night."

In any case, the event called for free tastings of the new exclusive Willett bottling, which almost certainly pulled the large crowd. And a crowd it was. Probably the most people I've seen packed into that place before 8pm on a Wednesday, or any evening for that matter. The tasting was to take place at the tail-end of the evening festivities. Again, knowingly, I decided to make it an early night and ponied up some bucks to be one of the first to taste the new offering. It was justified. 

Enough prelude. Let's dig.


As mentioned above, this particular bourbon was sourced by Bill Thomas, owner of Jack Rose Dining Saloon. The restauranteur / bourbon fanatic got his hands on a Willett Family Estate bourbon barrel and the fine folks at the Willett Distillery bottled it exclusively for his restaurant, Jack Rose. The barrel / bottles are aptly nicknamed, "Jack Rose." To celebrate, Jack Rose held a "2,015 in 2015" event to announce its exclusive bottles and gloat about having such an expansive collection after pulling this haul from Willett.

Willett and its acclaimed Family Estate bourbon is perhaps one of the fastest growing names among bourbon enthusiasts. Since Willett is a non-distilling producer (NDP) - I won't get into theories about where their juice comes from, we'll save that for later - this is the only background reference I can provide at this time.

(Un)Fortunately there aren't any other reviews to reference (that I've seen) since this is an exclusive release. So, you'll just have to take my word for it!

Name: Willett -  Family Estate Bottled Singel Barrel Bourbon "Jack Rose 2015"

Proof: 125.2

Age: 11 years

Year: 2014/15

Delivery: Neat. (Later, with water).

Color: Deep rouge, auburn.

Nose: Warm butter and brown sugar. Hints of peanut brittle and spice cake.

Impression: At first sip I got a blast of sugar and salt brine. In the middle you get a good amount of oak flavor, finished with vanilla, coriander and orange zest. I will say that the nose was much more pleasant than my first impression, which is a pretty rare occurrence in most regards.

Overview: With a fresh palate and at 125 proof, this bourbon packs a punch. I knew I wouldn't particularly like the high heat at first, but of course I had to sip it neat on the first two pops. The heat does't last long though, and the mouthfeel is actually nice, full and rich. However, the proof is simply too high, IMO. This offering would probably be fantastic if it were bottled at sub-120. 

Let's add a little water.

I added two drops of water to what I eye-balled was about 2/3 of the ounce left. Wow. What a difference this made. The bite at the front was dissipated significantly. The mid flavors lingered a little longer on the tongue, and the finish was softer, as expected.

I decided to test the resolve of this bourbon with one more drop of water at about 1/3 ounce to see if it would go flat. Surprisingly enough, it held up! I was still able to get the profile to come through with almost no heat on the top.

Recommendation: Just add water. If you like high spice, this probably won't bother you. But for those with milder tastes, this will pack too much on the front, and leaves too little on the back.

Grade: 3 - Very Good. I've tasted 15+ different Willett bourbons, and this lacked balance compared to the others I've had. Complexity was masked a bit, although underlying flavors are present, albeit not prominent. I would have given it 3.5-barrels if the proof had been slightly lower. At 115-120 proof this bourbon would be one of the finer 11YO whiskies floating around. It's a shame (or perhaps not?) there's only one place you can get it!