The Willet family can trace their lineage all the way back to 1684, when Edward Willet was training in London to become a Pewterer.
Despite having a history in the silver trade, the Willets soon turned their craftsmanship to Whiskey.
John David Willet, great-grandson of Edward, opened and operated a distillery alongside two others. It was named the Moore, Willett and Frenke Distillery. He also helped operate four other distilleries in Kentucky.
After John David came Aloysius Lambert Willet, his son. Known as Lambert, he too was interested in distilling and worked in several distilleries around Kentucky.
His son, Aloysius Lambert Thompson Willet (known as Thompson) also followed in the family footsteps. He worked on various distilleries in his lifetime.
With prohibition, the family changed to working on farms. After this period, in 1936, they were able to open their own distillery, the Willet Distillery
The Opening of a New Distillery
The family worked hard on their distillery and were very popular when they were open, especially in the decades preceding prohibition.
They even branched out and made Johnny Drum. This was sold exclusively by a wholesaler in California.
Locally they were well respected, and in 1964 they were awarded a gold medal by the state governor at the Kentucky State Fair.
But as with many distilleries, they struggled in the 70s and 80s. This was when Bourbon lost its appeal and consumers turned to white spirits such as Vodka or Rum.
The distillery was eventually shut down as they could no longer sell enough to stay around. This was not uncommon and a lot of brands closed in this era, right across the world.
The family stayed in the Whiskey business, forming the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers, an independent bottling company. This company was sold from Thompson Willet to his daughter and son in law, Even and Martha Kulsveen.
The continued like this for many years and were very successful. Eventually the Kulsveen’s children, Drew and Britt, as well as Britt’s husband Hunter, joined the family business.
A New Willet Distillery
Inspired by what their grandfather had done in the 1930s, the family eventually reopened the distillery in 2012.
The buildings had been renovated in the preceding years and a visitor centre had been opened for tourists to view the historic building.
On January 27th, which would have been Thompson Willet’s 103rd birthday, the family placed the first barrels of their own Whiskey into their warehouse.
The distillery has thrived since then, launching lots of new bottlings and seeing the 25,000th barrel placed in their warehouse.
With such a long history in the trade it is easy to see the passion and enthusiasm that the family share for their product. They are an exciting brand with lots to offer and it will be interesting to see where they go next.