Family-owned and operated since its inception on St. Patrick’s Day, 1937, by Aloysius Lambert “Thompson” Willett, who produced 30 barrels on that first lucky run, Willett Distillery occupies a patch of prime Kentucky real estate (lush, verdant, and spring-fed) just outside of Bardstown.
Historic buildings with split-face limestone and wood exteriors house the main distillery and cistern rooms, as well as a visitors’ center—all updated in 2011. Concerned Willett descendants rescued the business in 1984 (it had turned to ethanol production during the energy crisis of the ’70s) and began bottling bourbon that had been distilled and racked by their ancestors.
In 2008, they began distilling again—using Thompson’s original mashbill—this time in a specially-designed copper pot still. The shape of the still also became the packaging inspiration for their signature award-winning craft bourbon, Willett Pot Still Reserve (recipient of double gold medals from the San Francisco World Spirits Competition for bourbon and packaging and a 95.5 rating in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible). The bulbous glass flasks (top) are hand blown in Europe, then shipped to Kentucky for filling. Willett bourbons have been so well received by critics and at competitions that the family has recently broken ground on two B&Bs and a restaurant, and has ambitious plans for expansion.
Tours : Mon–Sat 10 AM–4 pm (on the hour), Sun 12:30, 1:30, 2:30, 3:30 (March–Dec)
Cost: $7, $12 including commemorative tasting glass; free with military ID
Samples: Two (Choose from Old Bardstown, Johnny Drum, Pure Kentucky, Kentucky Vintage, Noah’s Mill, Rowan’s Creek, Willett Family Estate Rye, and Willett Pot Still Reserve)