Willett brand logo in cursive white text on black.

Willett Distillery

  • USA, Kentucky
  • Old Bardstown Gold, Black, and Estate Bottled labels, Double gold medal (2005), silver medal (2012)
  • https://www.kentuckybourbonwhiskey.com/
Phone Number
  • +15025019699
  • 1869 Loretto Rd, Bardstown, KY 40004, United States

Rustic brewery building with stone and wood under blue sky.


History of Willett Distillery

Beginnings in London and Migration to America

  • 1674-1792: The Willett family’s story begins with Edward Willett moving to London in 1674 to apprentice in the pewter trade. By 1684, he was a recognized pewterer. His descendants, including William Willett Jr., would eventually migrate to Nelson County, Kentucky, by 1792, coinciding with Kentucky’s statehood.

The Bourbon Legacy Begins

  • 1841-1936: John David Willett, born in 1841 in Nelson County, Kentucky, was a key figure in the family’s bourbon legacy. He was a master distiller and part-owner at Moore, Willett & Frenke Distillery, among others. His lineage, including his son Aloysius Lambert Willett, continued in the bourbon business.

Founding of Willett Distillery

  • 1936: Thompson Willett, son of Aloysius Lambert Willett, founded Willett Distillery in 1936. The distillery was established on the family’s farm, three years after the repeal of Prohibition. The first barrel was stored on March 17, 1937.

Expanding Bourbon Offerings

  • 1940s-1960s: The distillery introduced Old Bardstown Kentucky Straight Bourbon in the 1940s and developed Johnny Drum Bourbon in the 1960s. In 1964, Old Bardstown won a gold medal, coinciding with bourbon being named America’s Native Spirit.

New Generations and Expansions

  • 1984-Present: Leadership passed to Even and Martha Kulsveen in 1984. The 1990s saw the release of the Small Batch Boutique Bourbon Collection. The family continued to expand, with Drew Kulsveen joining in 2003, followed by Britt Kulsveen Chavanne and Hunter Chavanne in 2005.

Innovations and Celebrations

  • 2008-2017: The introduction of Willett Family Estate Bottled Bourbon and Rye, as well as the distinctive Willett Pot Still Reserve, marked new milestones. The distillery reopened in 2012 after renovations, and in 2017, the Willett family celebrated the 80th anniversary of their first barrel storage.

Legacy and Future

  • The Willett Distillery, through generations, has maintained a commitment to quality bourbon making. It continues to innovate while honoring its rich history, attracting bourbon enthusiasts worldwide and contributing significantly to Kentucky’s bourbon heritage.

Awards Won by Willett Distillery

Willett Pot Still Reserve: Gold medal and double gold medal for packaging (2009).

Old Bardstown Gold, Black, and Estate Bottled labels: Each received a silver medal (2012).

Johnny Drum Private Stock: Double gold medal (2010).

Johnny Drum Green and Black labels: Each received a silver medal (2012).

Kentucky Vintage: Double gold medal (2005), silver medal (2012).

Noah’s Mill: Gold medal (2005), double gold medal (2011).

Pure Kentucky XO: Double gold medal (2005), silver medal (2012).

Rowan’s Creek: Gold medal (2005, 2011).

Willett Distillery Tour Information and Experience

Overview of Willett Distillery Tour

Location and Hours of Operation

  • Address: 1869 Loretto Road, Bardstown, KY 40004.
  • Visitor Center Hours: Monday to Saturday, 10 am to 5:30 pm.
  • Note: Self-guided tours are not allowed. Only one tour per day is permitted due to state law.

Unique Features of the Distillery

  • Restoration: The distillery grounds have been extensively restored, including the main building, cistern room, and aging warehouses.
  • Natural and Architectural Beauty: Features include underground spring-fed lakes and Kentucky split-face limestone exteriors.
  • Historic Machinery: The distillery and visitor center use old belt and pulley fan systems from the turn of the century.

The Tour Experience

  • Focus: Emphasis on the Willett family history and whiskey-making process.
  • Tasting: Guests receive a keepsake glass and can sample different Willett whiskies throughout the tour.
  • Duration: Approximately 1 hour and 15 minutes, entirely on foot.
  • Preparation: Visitors should be prepared for all weather conditions.

Safety and Regulations

  • Supervision of Minors: Minors must be accompanied and supervised at all times.
  • Safety Protocols: Guests must follow safety instructions and remain on designated paths.

Additional Attractions

  • The Bar at Willett: Recommended for lunch and drinks post-tour, with options for various dietary needs, including gluten-free.

Visitor Tips and Recommendations

  • Reservation: It’s recommended to book the tour in advance.
  • Arrival: Guests are advised to arrive 15 minutes before the tour for check-in.
  • Identification: A government-issued photo ID is required for the tour.

Reviews and Feedback

  • Personal Experience: Reviewers often highlight the personal and intimate nature of the tour.
  • Food and Beverage: The Bar at Willett is praised for its great food and drink options.

Closing Note

  • Safety Notice: The distillery emphasizes the importance of visitor safety and compliance with guidelines.

Flask & Barrel Review of Willett Distillery

As a seasoned whiskey collector who has toured numerous distilleries, my experience at Willett Distillery stands out. I’d rate it a solid 4.7 out of 5. The tour was immersive, blending rich family history with an in-depth look at their whiskey-making process.

What struck me was the balance between tradition and innovation, a testament to their dedication to craft. The tasting session was a highlight – each whiskey had its unique character and complexity.

The staff’s passion and knowledge were evident, adding to the overall experience. While not the largest or most flamboyant distillery, Willett’s charm lies in its authenticity and attention to detail. This tour is a must for any whiskey enthusiast.

What To Do Nearby Willett Distillery

Civil War Museum (0.5 miles from Willett Distillery): This museum provides a comprehensive view of the Civil War’s Western Theater. It’s an insightful and educational visit for history enthusiasts​​​​.

Old Bardstown Village (0.5 miles): Experience historical Bardstown by visiting this collection of original 18th and 19th-century log buildings. It’s a peaceful spot to learn about the town’s past​​​​.

Oscar Getz Museum of Whiskey History (1 mile): Located in Spalding Hall, this museum chronicles the history of whiskey in America from Colonial times to the present day, featuring unique artifacts like authentic moonshine stills and Prohibition-era items​​.

Wickland, Home of Three Governors (1.5 miles): Visit this Georgian mansion to explore its rich history and architecture. It has been the home to three governors and offers tours​​​​.

Heaven Hill Bourbon Experience (1 mile): Learn about one of America’s largest independent, family-owned distilled spirits companies and enjoy various whiskey tastings​​.

The Stephen Foster Story at My Old Kentucky Home State Park (1.3 miles): Enjoy a musical about the life of Stephen Foster, performed at the J. Dan Talbott Amphitheatre during the summer​​.

Lux Row Distillers (3.4 miles): Continue your bourbon journey with a tour and tasting at Lux Row, one of the newest additions to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail​​.

Bardstown Art Gallery (1 mile): Explore the state’s oldest private art gallery, featuring works by Jim Cantrell, a well-known artist. The gallery showcases a diverse range of artworks including oil paintings, watercolors, and more​​.

The Blind Pig Bourbon Market (1 mile): A must-visit for bourbon enthusiasts, this market offers a wide selection of bourbon-related items, from clothing to furniture and glassware​​.

My Old Kentucky Dinner Train (1.3 miles): For a unique dining experience, enjoy a two-hour journey across the Kentucky countryside with delicious meals served on board​​.

Frequently Asked Questions

What restaurants are near Willett Distillery?

Mammy’s Kitchen & Bar: It has a rating of 4.5 stars on Google Maps. You can contact them on their phone at (502) 350-1097 for reservations. Their address is 116 W Stephen Foster Ave, Bardstown, KY 40004.

Pat’s Place: It has a rating of 4.4 stars on Google Maps. For reservations, you can contact them at (502) 348-0010. Their address is 123 N 3rd St, Bardstown, KY 40004.

Cracker Barrel Old Country Store: This restaurant has a rating of 4.1 stars on Google Maps. Contact them at (502) 350-1333 for more information. Their address is 10 Old Filiatreau Ln, Bardstown, KY 40004.

What hotels are near Willett Distillery?

SureStay By Best Western Bardstown General Nelson: It has a rating of 4.2 stars on Google Maps. For reservations, you can contact them on their phone at (502) 348-3977. Their address is 411 W Stephen Foster Ave, Bardstown, KY 40004.

Hampton Inn Bardstown: This hotel has a rating of 4.1 stars on Google Maps. For reservations, contact them at (502) 349-0100. Their address is 985 Chambers Blvd, Bardstown, KY 40004.

Fairfield Inn & Suites by Marriott Bardstown: It has a rating of 4.5 stars on Google Maps. For reservations, you can contact them at (502) 350-6720. Their address is 1070 Morton Ave, Bardstown, KY 40004.