Today it’s a tale of two whiskeys: Heaven Hill Distillery’s bottom-shelfer, Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon (you can find it for $10 a bottle) versus the much more acclaimed Evan Williams Single Barrel (2000 vintage). Both are Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. The question: Does barrel selection and an extra three years of age make $15-$20 worth of difference?
We’ve already smacked the Black Label with a “Mediocre”. Now let’s see how the Single-Barrel fares. It’s aged for closer to nine years, bottled from hand-selected barrels, and vintage-dated and hand-labelled. Who pioneered the practice of bottling special-edition whisk(e)y from single barrels to showcase the diversity and uniqueness of each cask of matured spirit, the Scots or the Americans? I have no idea. Probably the Scots. But either way, I think it’s a fantastic way to offer whisk(e)y fans an ever-changing taste of the nuances of barrel aging. My bottle is from Barrel #1033, and according to the label is exactly 9 years, 11 months, and 17 days old. I love knowing these kinds of details! On to the tasting.
Nose: Somewhat muted nose, without even much tickle. Candle wax (seems to be an Evan Williams signature?), pumpkin-spice, sweet corn. A dash of water wakes it up a little, yielding some caramel and hard candies.
Palate: Smooth and silky mouthfeel. Loads of coconut up front, with some yeasty sourdough bread, campfire ashes, toasted marshmallow and hazelnut. The water also brings out the sweeter notes without compromising body.
Finish: Medium-length and tame – coconut and vanilla, very slight oakiness with a fading hint of charred wood and roasted nuts.
Overall an extremely smooth, unchallenging dram. After a week drinking fiery young bourbons, I find that this one is miles ahead in sophistication. Although it doesn’t yield many exciting flavors or anything unexpected, it is eminently drinkable and very satisfying. While I would definitely drink this again (a good thing, since I have a whole bottle), it still doesn’t wind me up like an excellent Scotch. Still, at $25, it’s a much better value. Try it with a few drops of water.
To answer my original question, is the extra cost of the Evan Williams Single-Barrel justified? Yes! In fact, I would recommend skipping the Black Label entirely and always going with the Single-Barrel.