Willett Family Estate C4D 22 yr 67.5% – The Sugar Cauldron

A quick note: Sorry for the minor hiatus of posts recently.  We welcomed a new baby into the house in December, and I’m just now getting back to a place of normalcy.  But I have a backlog of reviews, this being the first of them!

The releases by Willett over the past year have been some of my favorite in recent memory. The ultra-aged monsters coming out of Bardstown are very sought after to say the least, and some have started to take on a near mythical status, and rightly so. (cough…cough…C12A Darkness…cough.)  Just the mention of a new release is enough to break the internet.  What’s awesome is, from barrel to barrel with rare exception, Willett is churning out consistently tasty bourbon.  All of the releases have their virtues, and it’s really hard to pick out one as being better than another, because they truly are individuals, with personalities and characteristics that must be fully appreciated separately from each other.  I wrote before about some of the standouts in my mind; the B49C, 50, C12B and 3709, as well as a few others.  But there is another to add to the lists labeled “Standout” and “Must Try”……

The C4D. Oh, sweet C4D.

My first exposure to the C4D came by way of a sample from a friend at the end of October, after I had heard through various trusted channels that this was certainly one to try.  While pouring the bourbon into my glencairn, I bobbled the Boston Round and spilled some on the bar top.  It was more than a drop, but not enough to worry about so I didn’t bother wiping it up.  I cozied up to the initial pour, and upon inhaling the goodness, a smile crossed my face.  We would be fast friends.  The nose drew me in hard enough that I broke from my own protocols and went straight for the sip.  Then another sip.  Then another sip until the glass was empty.  I had to have more.  I said out loud, “The bar top! YES!”, then went back to the bar to try and reclaim the spillage.  When that attempt failed, I literally slurped it off the surface like a farm animal.  My wife, standing behind me, slow clapped disgustedly.  I turned back quickly, looking like a fanged creature out of a Bram Stoker novel who’d been caught in the act of sucking blood from the neck of the unsuspecting Countess. My response?  “Don’t judge me.”


After that tasting I immediately reported to some pals that the C4D was a classic.  One response was C4D > ALL.

Most unfortunately that night, I focused more on enjoying the pour than I did on keeping detailed notes, which meant I would need to source my own bottle. I immediately set out to do so. As the fates would have it, after a little hunting, finagling and pulling favors with another friend, I was able to do just that, and thus bring you my detailed tasting notes.

Nose: My notes here were pretty damn extensive so I will try to pare them down a little bit, without doing a disservice to the bourbon. First and foremost, it’s sweet, sweet, sweet.  From the first hint of aroma out of the bottle to the last sip, this 22yr old exudes all the virtues of the interior of a European dessert kitchen. The upfront elements of the nose were of extreme caramel, vanilla and buttery, buttery candy.  Its really effervescent from the rim of the glass and while it’s proofy at 135, it’s also quite tame and pleasing.  I found the prime spot for inhalation by putting the glencairn closer to the tip of my nose.  The nose opens wide as it sits, and continues to expand.  The sweet, juicy tobacco really starts to shine through after a few minutes.  There is that distinct component of barrel char that reveals itself as primarily black walnuts.  An abundance of sweetness permeates.  It’s slightly woody, and maybe I even wanted a little more oak in the mix, but it was still just about right, because the component of wood it does have lends itself to the syrupy nature of the C4D.  Ugh, drizzly sugar.  Buttery drop cookies.  One of my notes said, “Drown me in this juice.”These are qualities I’ve come to love in the best of Willett’s offerings.  But for me what set the C4D apart from other releases was the manner in which the profile notes and flavors got heavier and more aggressive, rather than dying out or mellowing before the sip.  It’s just foot on the gas all the way to the finish line.

Flavor: It’s a brown sugar buzz saw.  The flavors rush in, more of that caramel. The wood is also more pronounced, but again it’s not overstated.  I imagined myself standing in the middle of some old town, maybe Fort Ritner, Indiana…around the late 1800’s.  There is saw mill nearby, and the old timers are pushing heavy oak logs down the line, ripping them in half with a 36” iron blade turning just enough RPM to get the dull teeth through the wood.  The friction of iron and wood, hot oak.  Now, on the other side of the dirt road there is a small roller-press being turned slowly by a mule.  The mule is attached to the press by a long pole, and it walks around in slow circles.  Corn stalks are being fed through the rollers, pressing and squeezing syrup that trickles out the bottom of the contraption into a large cast iron cauldron that sits atop an open flame.  It’s burning sugar, boiling, roiling and bubbling like a sweet crystalline lava flow, filling the air with the scent of caramelization.  The flame is fed by scraps of oak from the saw mill. In the palate, the pipe tobacco was only a minor player.  The flavor relied more heavily on nutty notes.  Creamy. Buttery.  Again, sweet.  It’s just so sweet and sugary.

Finish: Long. Very long.  Sustained heat, but with flavor that hangs over the heat.  The twinkling, breathing embers of the sugar cauldron fire burning out in the late evening as the sun is making its final descent.  The finish just goes on and one, right at the peak of the throat, with full flavor…..

Post nose: Oakey, buttery sugar.  And a new component that was very noticeable: tea. Very herbal, and pleasant.  Almost relaxing.

Man, I love the C4D.  Is it the greatest Willett ever?  I wouldn’t be comfortable saying that. I couldn’t say that.  There are just too many I haven’t tried, and everyone’s palate is different.  Is it my favorite that I have tried?  Possibly.  But again, it’s getting into subjective, categorical territory similar to comparing Peyton Manning to Derek Jeter. What I can say is I’m going to be really, really sorry when this one is gone.  But hey, the next great Willett release is right around the corner, right?  I better get in the car now…….