Evan Williams is one of those bourbons that you could easily miss on the shelf due to its ho-hum label, or your eye could pass over it and assume it’s something else. With a $10-a-bottle Black Label and a much-acclaimed and then quickly-forgotten Single Barrel, Evan Williams has not exactly been screaming into the public consciousness. Still, much like many Beam products, there’s something to be said for cheap, reliable Heaven Hill distillate. I snagged a full liter bottle of the Bottled-in-Bond version (basically a four year-old Black Label with a little extra proof on it) for $19 at Costco recently. Now I wish I’d bought four more to keep me in Old Fashioneds through the Great Quarantine of 2020.
Heaven Hill is a storied Kentucky whiskey company that has been churning out reliable booze since 1935. Operations shifted to the current location at the Heaven Hill Bernheim distillery (DSP KY 1) in 1999 after a fire destroyed its main production facility in 1996. Aside from the eponymous Heaven Hill bourbon, the company also makes several old standbys, including Elijah Craig, Old Fitzgerald, and Rittenhouse rye. They also make some newer names like Henry McKenna (not actually new, just more widely distributed now) and Larceny.
Like Elijah Craig and Henry McKenna, Evan Williams has a mash bill of 75% Corn, 13% Rye, and 12% Barley. It’s also Kentucky straight bourbon, but because it’s labeled “bottled in bond” it’s aged for at least 4 years and bottled at 50% ABV (100 proof). It can be found in bottle sizes of 750ml, 1 liter, and 1.75 liter, all for very reasonable prices.
Nose: Sweet and soft, with initial notes of sweet corn, cherry syrup, and marshmallow. Mild nutty oak. Simple, straightforward, and pleasant. A rest in the glass adds a tutti-frutti or fruit punch note.
Palate: Thin body. Cherry throat lozenge and caramel frosting greet the tongue, followed by a moderate tongue burn that also introduces cinnamon, clove, and brown sugar. Once again, simple but effective with no off-notes.
Finish: Medium-long. Warming. Palate flavors continue, plus mild mouth-drying tannins (like nut skins), vanilla cake frosting, and the mildest of oak notes. Fades without evolving, but also without turning bitter. As with the aroma, a rest in the glass adds a fruit punch note.
With Water: Several drops of water initially mute the aroma, which struggles to wake back up even after a rest. The palate and finish seem oddly muddled, and the tongue burn is actually a little more piercing. Skip the water, here, if you’re drinking it neat.
Overall: Quintessential bourbon, with a potent flavor that is appropriate for 100 proof whiskey, but with a surprisingly mild tongue burn despite that proof. The flavors are all exactly what you expect from a rye-flavored bourbon, but you also don’t get any off-flavors or evidence of immature whiskey. For the price, this may be one of the best bourbons under $20, and is a slam dunk choice for home bourbon-based cocktails.