Evan Williams Single Barrel 2004 86.6 proof, 750 ml, ~$26
I talk to a lot of craft distillers, and I always ask them: When you’re not drinking your own stuff, what do you drink? And the answer, not invariably but to a surprising degree, is Evan Williams Single Barrel.
Yes, there are better bourbons. And yes, there are cheaper bourbons. But one of the great things about this beautiful country of ours is that you can walk into most any liquor store and buy a 750ml bottle of single-barrel, vintage-dated whiskey for less than the price of two movie tickets, plus popcorn. (For many of us, it would make for a more exciting date night, too.)
Heaven Hill releases EWSB once a year in late winter, though it took an annoyingly long time to arrive here in New York. I finally encountered it a few weeks ago at Noorman’s Kil, a well-stocked, understated whiskey bar in Williamsburg. I had a few glasses and found all the jammy, plummy, caramel roundness that I prize in a whiskey.
But after I picked up a few bottles later that week at Astor Wines and cracked one open, I found a very different whiskey. Now, this is a single barrel release, and obviously things will vary from barrel to barrel (my current bottle came from barrel No. 210; I forgot to write down the other). But I’ve found EWSB to be fairly consistent across barrels within a single release year. Then again, my sample size, in the grand scheme of Heaven Hill, is pretty tiny.
Here, the nose is weaker, but also much oakier, with vanilla, roasted nuts and, to me, some lemon zest and a touch of anise. The entry is light, with tons of bright candy, which quickly morphs into a dry spiciness that peters out into a grainy finish. There’s some leather, black pepper, and Indian spices. Gone are the jam and plum, alas.
It’s still a nice whiskey. And it’s still an amazing deal at $26. And I will still recommend it. But at least for this bottle, I’m not quite feeling it this year.
– Clay Risen