I can say this with certainty: Bourbon is my drink. I’ve gone through several phases throughout the years—vodka, tequila, scotch, rye, every type of beer—and nothing gives me the repeated satisfaction of a deep, hot, sip of this particular spirit. For me, there is literally no better way to finish off a day than sitting in a leather chair and holding a tumbler of bourbon. Oh, and watching Mad Men, preferably.
I really discovered this passion at a Kentucky bourbon tasting hosted at the Freakin’ Frog last year. Owner Adam Carmer assembled a great lineup of Willett products, including Johnny Drum, Pot Still Reserve, Pure Kentucky, Kentucky Vintage and several more. To call this experience sensory overload is understating the case considerably. There was so much so quickly that I didn't really get a chance to appreciate each individually.
Luckily, shortly after this event, Willett began distributing its products here. The first I was able to find was Willett Pot Still Reserve, which has one of the most distinctive bottles in the spirit world. It looks, literally, like the bottle in I Dream of Jeannie, although what it's really supposed to resemble is the original pot still used to make the first batch more than a hundred years ago. It's a very balanced, satisfying bourbon, high on the alcohol content (94 proof) but smooth on the flavor. Then I tried Rowan's Creek, Willett's current best-seller at 100.1 proof. Pretty good stuff. Then I bought Willett's rye, easily my favorite at the Freakin' Frog tasting. This is a relatively young rye at four years, but it packs a flavorful 110-proof wallop that only gets better with repeated visits.
Thing is, I just prefer bourbon more, and of all the Willett products I've spent time with, the Pot Still Reserve emerged as my all-time favorite.
Two weeks ago, I found a single bottle of Noah's Mill on the shelf at Lee's. It was not inexpensive—$60 bucks—but I went for it. Best decision I've ever made at Lee's.
For those unfamiliar with the Noah's Mill experience, it is simply unlike any other. For starters, its bottle looks like a wine bottle, something you'd expect for a chardonnay or sauvignon blanc. Adding to the under-the-radar feel with this bourbon is its label, which looks hand-written and carries no age for the bourbon (although I would estimate it's at least 15 years). It clocks in at a whopping 114.3 proof, so you know right off the bat this is going to be ... intense.
I've spent the last two weeks "researching" this spirit, and I'd like to take you through my process:
1. Don't water this down. It's meant to be consumed at its full strength.
2. Take a small sip to start, and let it sit on your tongue for a bit. You'll quickly taste a burning flavor combination that's almost too much to handle. So many aromas here—brown sugar, leather, caramel, earth ... This is like drinking fine cognac. It's that damn good.
3. When you swallow, sit back and just let it wash over you. To paraphrase Bill Murray, you will achieve total consciousness. Or maybe just a warm feeling all over. I'm not sure yet.
4. Don't rinse. Then, repeat. Often.
As I write this, I look at my rapidly depleted bottle of Noah's Mill and grow a bit sad, knowing it might be a while before I get my hands on another one. The Mill isn’t easy to find, but trust me, if you're an explorer in the spirit world, put this on your Holy Grail list.
As more Willett products become available in Nevada, I'll be snapping them up to let you know how they stack up. For now, right at the top is Noah's Mill.