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Whiskymag 137 July _Aug 2016

Willett Distillery and

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers Ltd

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers  - KBD began as the Willett Distilling Company has now restored the Willett distillery and are distilling again.


Willett Distilling History

The first Willett  distiller was John David Willett (1841-1914) at the Moore, Willett & Frenke Distillery, which he had co-founded with his brother-in-law Thomas S. Moore of Bardstown, and a Mr. Frenke of Louisville. In 1876, Willett fell ill and with failing eyesight sold his interest in the company to his partners. However because of his skill and knowledge he was much in demand he became master distiller for five distilleries  three in the Bardstown area and two in Louisville. Continuing in the industry for a further 38 years during this time he developed mash bills that were later used by the Willett Distilling Company in some of their whiskies.


His son Aloysius Lambert Willet (1883-1970) commonly known as Lambert, followed his fathers trade when at the age of 15 he started at Mattingly Moore Distillery for a five year stint. He  then worked for the Max Selliger & Co. Distillery for twenty years – eventually becoming one-third owner and superintendent of the plant.


During Prohibition, Lambert raised hog and cattle at his farm in Bardstown.  At the end of Prohibition, Lambert was the superintendent of the newly renovated Max Selliger & Co. Distillery (aka Bernheim Distillery). Lambert’s son (born in 1909) Aloysius Lambert "Thompson" Willett, , joined him at Max Selliger & Co. as assistant superintendent.


At some point they purchased a farm and, together with his sons Charlie, Johnny, Pau,l Robert and William and especially led by Thompson Willett, founded the Willett Distilling Company on the estate in the spring of 1935.Thompson and Lambert used John David Willett's bourbon recipes as the basis of the whiskey that they would distil there and brand as Old Bardstown  and the company produced its first batch of 300 bushels (about 30 barrels) on March 17, 1936.


Initially the Willetts ran a charged beer still which was in operation for  a decade before it was replaced with a column or cofey still. The newly barrelled whiskey was stored in the traditional metal-clad warehouses, capable of holding between 5,000 and 6,000 barrels. Built on some of the highest ground in the county, assuring a fresh breeze would aid in the maturation of the whiskey.


Five years later, Lambert Willett left Max Selliger & Co. to pursue the family business full-time. Lambert Willett and at least four of his sons held substantial positions of responsibility at the company. Lambert Willett died in 1970. A. L. "Thompson" Willett,  became president of the Willett Distilling Company.


Thompson Willett's daughter Martha Harriet Willett in 1972 she married Even G. Kulsveen of Hamar, Norway, who would later purchase the company. During the 1970s energy crisis, the company switched from distilling whiskey to production of ethanol for a gasohol fuel. This strategy  failed when fuel prices returned to lower levels, and the distilling facilities were completely shut down in the early 1980s.


Even Kulsveen purchased the company and the property on July 1, 1984, and renamed the company Kentucky Bourbon Distillers (KBD), Ltd and for some time, KBD continued to produce bourbon from the ageing barrel stocks that the Willett distillery had previously distilled.


As time moved on, KBD increasingly began to replenish its stocks from other distilleries in the area and operate as an independent bottling company developing the Kentucky Bourbon Distillers Ltd brand.  


Martha and Even Kulsveen continue to manage the company to this day, and the next generation of the family, including their son E. A. "Drew" Kuslveen, and his wife Janelle, their daughter  "Britt" Kuslveen Chavanne and her husband Hunter Chavanne, are also now involved in the company.


Drew Kulsveen manages production, his wife Janelle runs the gift shop and tasting room, and Britt Chavanne runs day-to-day operations, and Hunter Chavanne covers sales and marketing.


The Modern Distillery

For several years a lot of effort has gone into restoring the distillery, cistern room, ageing warehouses. So after all renovations and retrofitting, in the early morning hours of January 18, 2012, Drew, Paul, Terry and a few others started cooking a batch of corn, rye and malted barley.


Later that day around dawn they started the fermentation process, and on January 21st Drew fired up the copper pot still.  On  January 27th the spirit was ready and the first few barrels went into storage.  This date was significant as it would have been Thompson Willetts  103rd birthday and Mrs. Martha Willett Kulsveen thought that there was no better day to put those barrels into storage than on her father's birthday.  


The company is using the original mash bills that Thompson developed when he was President of the Willett Distilling Company.  In addition, Drew has implemented a few of his own mash bills.


After having dropped out of the Kentucky Distillers Association (KDA) for decades, the company rejoined in October, 2012. and is now part of the  Kentucky Bourbon Trail program to include a new "Craft Tour" of seven artisan distilleries.

Kentucky Bourbon Distillers

Award Winning Bourbon Whiskey


Willett Pot Still Reserve Bourbon

2009 SFWS Competition - Product Design Category-Double Gold Medal

2009 SFWS Competition - Bourbon Category-Gold Medal

F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal - Four Stars/Highly Recommended

Jim Murray's 2012 Whisky Bible - 95.5 Rating

Malt Advocate-90 Rating

Louisville Magazine's "Sexiest Bourbon"... No, seriously!


Johnny Drum Bourbon Black

2012 SFWS Competition-Silver Medal,


Johnny Drum Bourbon Green

2012 SFWS Competition - Silver Medal,

Jim Murray's 2012 Whisky Bible - 87.5 Rating,


Johnny Drum Private Stock

2010 SFWS Competition - Double Gold Medal,

F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal Three Stars/Recommended,

Jim Murray's 2012 Whisky Bible- 90.5 Rating,


Old Bardstown Gold label

2012 SFWS Competition Silver Medal,


Old Bardstown Estate Bottled

2012 SFWS Competition - Silver Medal,

F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal - Three Stars/Recommended

Jim Murray's 2012 Whisky Bible 86.5 Rating,

Jim Murray's 2007 Whisky Bible 95 Rating

Kentucky Vintage

2005 SFWS Competition - Double Gold Medal

2012 SFWS Competition ­ Silver Medal

F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal - Four Stars/Highly Recommended

Wine Enthusiast - Rated 89 Points


Noah's Mill

2005 SFWS Competition-Gold Medal

2012 SFWS Competition - Double Gold Medal

F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal Four Stars/Highly Recommended

Louisville Magazine's 1998-1999 "Eats" Issue

Robb Report's Best of the Best 2007: Spirits

Ranked #1 out of 13 Bourbons,

Jim Murray's 2012 Whisky Bible 93 Rating


Pure Kentucky XO

2005 SFWS Competition- Double Gold Medal

2012 SFWS Competition- Silver Medal

F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal - Four Stars/Highly Recommended

Wine Journal - 89 Rating


Rowan's Creek

2005 and 2012 SFWS Competition Gold Medal

F. Paul Pacult's Spirit Journal Four Stars/Highly Recommended

Louisville Magazine's 1998-1999 "Eats" Issue

Ranked #2 out of 13 Bourbons,

Wine Enthusiast 93 Rating


SFWC = San Francisco World Spirits