A Unique Rye: Willett XCF Review

I’ve been on a bit of a Willett Whiskey kick lately. I don’t like to call it an obsession, per se, but I have bought quite a few bottles in the past couple months. I first fell for Willett Rye last year when a good friend gave me a bottle of the 4-year rye. It was one of my favorite ryes from last year and the best one under 4 years old I’ve ever had. So when I had the opportunity to find a bottle of the new Willett XCF Exploratory Cask Finish in Montana (hello no tax), I jumped at the chance.

The Make

Willett (and parent company KBD) have been sourcing bourbon and rye since the early 1980s. This XCF is a rye that was purchased at MGP and aged for seven years at Willett’s warehouses in Bardstown. After the seven years, they finished it an additional 90 days in orange curacao casks sourced from France.

It’s the first whiskey released in a series they call their Exploratory Cask Finish Project. I haven’t heard what the next whiskey will be, but I’m already excited to try it. This is a limited release with only 6,912 bottles being produced. It’s 95% rye and 5% malted barley and 103.4 proof.

The Nose

Heavy on the orange (not surprising based off the orange curacao casks) and a little bit of that typical cocoa and spice found in Willett ryes. A little reminiscent of an orange spice tea, except sweeter.

The Palate

Sweetness from the curacao casks comes through first, and then it almost tastes like an old-fashioned without the sugar, something I’ve read from other reviewers as well. Those traditional Willett rye spices are still there as well as white pepper and a bit of oak, but the orange tames down most of the spice. I actually find the balance to be almost perfect.


I love this whiskey but I have a few thoughts. First, it’s expensive. The retail is around $150 which is a little high in my opinion; however, it seems this is becoming the norm these days with rare and limited whiskeys. I just wish it was a little lower so it was accessible to more people.

Second, Willett did a masterful job creating something new and unique. I think they pulled the whiskey out of the orange curacao casks at just the right time. It’s a good balance of rye and orange and unlike anything I’ve tried before.

Third, I love the label. I know that makes no difference on how the whiskey tastes, but this label and packaging are beautiful.

I’ve tasted quite a few whiskeys finished in previously used casks over the last three years. The Willett XCF and High West A Midwinter Night’s Dram are both excellent whiskeys and only overshadowed by the Parker’s Heritage Cognac Barrel Finished Bourbon from 2011.

There’s still some of these XCF bottles on the shelf in different parts of the country if you’re interested in trying a unique whiskey.

Rating: 92/100

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