Willett Family Estate Rye – Single Barrel “Red Dragon” (Bourbon Pursuit Pick)

Today’s entry most likely needs zero introduction. The green-topped ornate bottle from Willett Family Estate is easy to spot on any bar, and the fact that it carries a 7 year age-statement and single barrel selection sticker is likely to garner the attention of any whiskey enthusiast, even at a quick glance. Let’s check it out!

Morbi vitae purus dictum, ultrices tellus in, gravida lectus.


John H.




August 18th, 2020

As our readers will likely recall from the Willett Family Estate single barrel bourbon review, that particular product is distinct in that it is only released as a single barrel offering; whereas the Willett Family Estate rye is offered as a small batch or as a single barrel selection. At the time of this post, Willett is not entertaining barrel selections, but this particular bottle today is a selection that was done by the Bourbon Pursuit Podcast and their community. Willett doesn’t mention much about the rye on their website, aside from from tasting notes on the small batch. You can view a fairly interesting timeline of the family and distillery, however, and learn about the release dates of their products. Find that information on the Willett website. I really enjoy providing a quote from the distiller when writing these reviews, but in this case, there’s very little to share:

The barrels that went into this small batch combined to make an amazing drinker.


Speaking a bit more on the small batch version of this rye, you can find how it scored in our Ten Willett Whiskeys – Reviewed post. While there is a very distinct maraschino note that I get in Willett products, it can manifest in different ways. Let’s see what’s going on in this rye, and just how good a selection it is.

Tasting Notes…

Nose – Fragrant and floral Willett note coming through in a big way for me. There’s a nice sweet undertone that could be fruit and honey mixed. The rye spice shows up and mixes with cherry and vanilla.

Taste – Medium mouthfeel and very rich on the palate. Doesn’t start out drinking like a rye. Floral and fruity coming through first, then moving on to a dark sweet caramel and vanilla that let’s you sort of think of this like a bourbon until the rye comes into the back palate with a good dash of pepper.

Finish – Long and warm. There’s a really good mix of sweet spicy goodness. It’s sort of a head-scratcher in that each time I feel like I want to describe the finish as being sweet, it’s balanced by rye spice and pepper. I dig it.

Bourbon Finder Grade: B+

Final thoughts…

As a rye fan I have to admit this one checks a serious amount of the boxes for me. While there’s undoubtedly more heat here than many (many) other rye offerings out there, it’s also a really unique pour. There’s a rich color, explosive bouquet on the nose, and an impressive finish. The presence of what I refer to as “the Willett note” is there, but not in an off-putting way. In fact, it works better here than in any other Willett product I have tasted to date. This certainly moves the bar higher than the small batch, and if you have the opportunity to experience one of the age-stated rye picks, I’d recommend it.

Our grading system: As mentioned in our About Us page, we’re excited to share bourbon with our friends, family, and readers. There are enough critics, cynics, and curmudgeons in the whiskey world as it is, so our goal is to foster the bourbon community in a positive way by bringing fun and entertaining content whenever possible–as such–we decided that applying precise scores to whiskey was simply too serious for us (and didn’t accurately showcase variability in taste from day to day). We use a simple grade school system to apply a grade to the whiskeys we review because we feel it is indicative of the whiskey’s grade for us on that particular day. A grade of a “B” today may very well be a “B+” or even a “B-” on another day, so rather than focusing on a precise score today that may not stand the test of time, we are just sharing our overall grade of that pour for that one tasting. Pour a bit and enjoy, friends, these are the good old days of whiskey!

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