Just so we’re clear: I’m nobody.
There are a couple folks who are truly influential in the realm of bourbon, and I ain’t one of them. Nobody waits for my annual lists of the best this or that. I am not invited to judge spirits competitions, where being kingmaker can mean that my praise turns to your profits. When I review a whiskey favorably there is no noticeable change in retail inventories; bottles typically remain widely available.
So, please don’t key my car or threaten my children because I give a good review to a value bourbon.
I wish we lived in a world where this type of preamble was unnecessary, but I am disheartened to say that’s not the case. A certain prominent critic was the recipient of a wave of threatened violence and actual property damage this year when he awarded a prize to a bottled-in-bond expression that had been a go to for many value-minded shoppers.
I’m tired of recounting what happened next: bourbon freaks descended on stores like locusts, snatching up every available bottle off the shelf. Retailers opportunistically marked the price up; I’ve seen it for fully double the previously prevailing MSRP. Said critic’s Twitter was clogged with all manner of despicable vitriol. Oh yeah, and somebody slashed his tires.
I’ll admit that I was myself a little nervous when this same critic ranked the Wild Turkey Rare Breed (a newfound favorite of mine and one I have recommended to several friends) above this year’s set of releases from Buffalo Trace’s vaunted Antique Collection in a blind tasting. Did I fear a recurrence of the aforementioned bottle grab? Absolutely. Did I once think, even for a second, about doing or threatening harm to this man, his loved ones, or his property? Absolutely not.
We (meaning you, me, and everyone else in the whisky, whiskey, and bourbon “communities”) do a lot of yapping about the great things that whiskey brings into our lives: friendship, fun, a chance to sit down and have a contemplative moment with an evocative beverage. What we don’t discuss enough – in my opinion – is the flipside of this passion: bad behavior, negative emotions… even criminality.
Folks, we’re talking about distilled corn, rye, wheat, and barley here. It’s meant to be enjoyed. Collect it if you must. However, if you find yourself hoarding it, flipping it, stealing it, counterfeiting it, or attacking a stranger (physically or online) because of it, I’d suggest that you need to reevaluate your orientation toward whiskey specifically and reality more generally.
Speaking of reevaluated orientations: those of you who have read my reviews before will know that Evan Williams Black Label is my house bourbon. It’s not the greatest bourbon in the world, but it may be the greatest value bourbon in the world (for my tastes), providing pleasurable sipping with minimal damage to my much-abused wallet. It’s the price-quality benchmark that I refer to when I’m considering another bourbon in, say, the $30-and-below range.
Almost as soon as that review was published, readers were encouraging me to splurge the extra $4 for a bottle of Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond. As we’ve now passed the one-year anniversary of the Black Label piece, I’ve decided to treat myself to a return visit to Heaven Hill.
For those newcomers (welcome!) or those unfamiliar with America’s badly-written-and-seemingly-randomly-enforced liquor laws, a review of a bottled-in-bond whiskey requires a short explanation of this terminology. For a whiskey to be labeled “Bottled-in-Bond” it must be the product of a single six-month season’s distillation, by a single distiller, at a single distillery. The rules stipulate that it must age for a minimum of four years in a federally-bonded warehouse, before being bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV).
Thus, this is a four-year-old Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey, bottled (you guessed it) at 100 proof. I paid $17 for 750 ml here in Chicago. You can purchase this via the Whisky Exchange for £36.95, or via Amazon for £36.
(Programming note: shortly after I submitted this review, the aforementioned critic ranked this particular bourbon at the top of his “Best Everyday Bourbon” list in a blind tasting. Inventory in my area seems to be holding up; responses on social media have gone as far as “shut your mouth!” and no worse.)
Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond – Review
Color: Golden brown with tangerine glints.
On the nose: An interesting mélange of rich and sweetly fruity aromas, married with some more woodsy scents. There’s ripe mandarin orange and vanilla buttercream frosting, but also pine needles, as well as sugar cookie dough and freshly baked banana walnut bread.
In the mouth: This oscillates on every part of the tongue. A tart burst of citrus immediately becomes a softly sweet note of confectioner’s sugar. The midpalate starts with the salty nut flavor of cashews before this goes from clementine to cinnamon in a split second. This transitions to more sappy pine flavors, a nip of bittersweet chocolate, and a bit of yeasty dough on the finish, but then lingers with a ferric astringency (a Heaven Hill hallmark, in my experience) that persists at the top of the mouth, as well as a residual minerality back near the molars.
This is tough to get my head around, but in a good way. Just when I think I have a handle on this, it shifts into a different aroma or flavor entirely. There’s a breadth here that is beyond that of the Black Label, but also a tension that energizes this and makes it a great deal more fun to taste.
As I’m in the habit of docking a point for poor value, it seems only fair that I could add one back for very good value, wouldn’t you agree? That being the case, I’ll bump this up one notch above the Evan Williams Black Label. While the latter will likely remain my go-to (if only because it’s sold in convenient economy-sized bottles), this BiB delivers a lot for only a marginal increase in cost.
Apparently, it also needs to be said: these are plentiful and widely available on store shelves, so no need to act the fool now, you hear?
Photograph kindly provided by the Whisky Exchange and there are commission links above which never affect our judgement.
Is this critic the same guy who made people go crazy for the Henry Mckenna 10 BiB?
John, you guessed correctly. As I said, there’s only a couple people whose opinions move markets in bourbon, and he’s one of them.
I drink Evan William’s all the time, I even recommend it to friends, I usually pay $15 dollars, have been known to pay $12.95 for it. A great value bourbon
Paul, glad to see we’re in agreement. Cheers!
Evan Williams BIB is one of my favorites at any price. I, too, live in the Chicago area, and have been able to find 1.75L bottles pretty regularly at a couple places in NW Indiana. And since I work in NWI, this is very convenient for me! Some of the Binny’s may even have it in the larger bottle as well.
Rick, I’ve been waiting for the 1.75 L of EW BiB. Friends from other states have been texting me photos of it. Binny’s website doesn’t list it yet, but here’s hoping it comes soon!
Binny’s used to carry the 1.75 of EW bonded up until about 4-5 years ago. It was $29.99 at the time. I was terribly disappointed when they no longer could get it from their distributor. The Liquor Barn chain in the north suburbs also used to carry it but same issue.
Glad I’m not the only one who has a pretty substantial bias toward EW on the cost v. quality line. Ever since I was in college, I have been buying EW, always over Jim Beam or Ezra Brooks at similar price points. I just think it’s plain better. I’ve even been ridiculed for buying it instead of Jack (yes I know) when knowing that it’s just going to be mixed in with Coke.
The more exposure I have to various whiskey at all price ranges, the less I tend to judge a bottle on the price. You can enjoy Kobe beef and a burger in the same lifetime, it doesnt always have to be a direct comparison. People need to learn how to appreciate the full range of flavors instead of name dropping three digit bottle names and act offended if you offer them anything of lower perceived value.
Other Taylor: well put and I’ve naught to add but thanks for commenting. Cheers!
I do love EW’s single barrel, but have been apprehensive about trying the others. But, I may need to note. Thanks for the review.
Bill, happy to oblige. I’ve been meaning to delve into the Single Barrel, so watch this space for thoughts on that one at some point in the future. Cheers!
I don’t understand why even follow the critics who are the level of significantly driving masses to purchase. I maybe be a skeptic, but I question if there’s ulterior motivations of those critics. Or, even more practically, my taste buds might be drastically different than his/hers. I might love spicy foods, and he /she might not be able to handle anything over a bell pepper’s heat…we can have such varied tastes that why assume just because he/she likes it, I will too?
Which I like reading posts from you guys…not at the level of driving mass sales. ( I mean that in a good way).
PB, no offense taken 😉
To address your question: unfortunately, whiskey can be confusing, even for someone like myself who spends a lot of time reading and talking and writing about it. I think the average consumer looks at a shelf packed with bottles and feels overwhelmed. It’s comforting to have an “expert” say “this is the best” and know you can purchase a bottle with confidence.
To be more cynical: flippers know that these plaudits result in higher demand and prices. If a certain type of person can go snatch up a handful of bottles and double their money, they’ll do it. I certainly hope none of our readers would ever pay someone twice MSRP for a whiskey just because a big-name critic said something positive about it. As you rightly point out, it’s just one person’s opinion, and they may have a much different palate than you.
If readers take away something from my work on this site, I hope it’s a sense that they should taste widely, educate themselves, figure out what suits their preferences, and then trust their own palates. No need to rely on my opinion or anyone else’s!
As always, thanks and GO BLUE!
Very honest and entertaining review. I love the EW Single Barrel, so I may give this BiB a shot.
What’s to lose, 20 bucks…if that.
Wipe the dust off the bottle and find a treasure sometimes.
Don, glad you liked the review. I love your spirit of experimentation as well. I’m pretty sure you won’t be disappointed. Cheers!
I live in North Carolina where all spirit’s sales go through the state owned ABC system.
Black Label Evan runs about 17-18 bucks for a fifth.
The last time I bought the BIB it was only 13 and change. For a fifth.
I don’t understand the economics. Higher proof. Lower price.
Definitely a value winner.
There are better sippers in my under $50 price range. At 35-45 for a bottle.
No better value.
Scott, that’s some weird pricing y’all have down there. While I agree that there are better whiskeys in the sub-$50 range, I can’t think of another one at this level below $20. WT101 comes closest, but even that is $22 near me. Ultimately, whiskey is a luxury and most folks don’t have $450 to throw away on a bottle regularly. For the working men and women who are looking for a solid sipper at a fair price, it’s hard to top this one. Cheers!
Hey Taylor, I enjoyed your honest review and candid writing. I, too, am a reviewer of whiskey (IG – whiskeybythefire – blog to come) and a nobody as well, lol. I always enjoy reading others reviews because inevitably I find new whiskies to search out and discover. There are so many, as you know.
I’m sorry to say, I’ve never tried Evan Williams BiB, but after reading your review, I’m looking forward to finding this one and adding it to my repertoire. I tend to enjoy the higher proofs and the ones bursting with all different types of flavors. To me, that’s like hitting the whiskey jackpot!
Steve, thanks for your kind words. One of the fun things about doing this is the thrill of discovering whiskey such as this one. Happy hunting and best of luck!
I just picked up a bottle for $18! Can’t wait to try it.
I’ve recently seen some on Twitter saying that the BiB designation is antiquated, an interesting conversation for another day, but the fact that it’s responsible for the juice behind EW White Label makes me eternally grateful. Fantastic pricing, reliable availability, and first rate flavor?
There’s a reason influential critics and self-described nobodies all enjoy this bourbon.
Hoping to see an EW Single Barrel review soon! (preferably the 2011 which seems to be the only vintage on shelves in my neck of the woods)
Frank, indeed, BiB is a hot topic at the moment. I’m a fan; it forces at least some transparency on who made a whiskey and how long it aged for, as well as keeping ABV up. In terms of the Single Barrel: I’ve got a bit of a backlog at the moment but promise I’ll get to it in due time. Cheers!
Evan Williams BIB is the sleeper bourbon on the market. I enjoy many premiums, and this whiskey is a steal at the price. Very good with soda water and ice.
Great article. Don’t care much that you let the cat out of the bag on this one.
RK, what a wonderfully even-tempered reaction! I wish the rest of the bourbonverse could muster such stoicism. Cheers!
Taylor, thanks for the great review! I will add this to my shopping list. I have not historically been a bourbon drinker, but I tried the WT Rare Breed recently and really enjoyed it. Something tells me I will enjoy this one as well!
Hello again Beks! Great to hear from you. This isn’t quite on the level of Rare Breed, but at least it’s a small financial outlay. If you loathe it then you can dump it into Manhattans when guests come around. Cheers!
Perhaps it’s my bourbon snobbery, but I’ve never been a huge fan of Evan Williams. But, when I saw them selling a BiB variety for only $18, I figured I give Evan Williams another try. I’m glad I did because this is exceptional for the price — it drinks like a $40+ bourbon. It has now become my go-to, second pour bourbon (first pour = expensive whiskey, second pour = less expensive bourbon), replacing Wild Turkey 101.
I ended up on this site because I wanted to see what others were saying about this bourbon and Taylor’s review nailed it in every way. Great job! I’m off to read the rest of Taylor’s reviews now.
The one worry I have is this bourbon will go the way of Eagle Rare. I remember when that was extremely easy to find for $25 at a bottle at any well-stocked liquor store.
Andres, welcome to the site! I recall well the looks I would get when people asked about what kind of bourbon I drank and I replied “Evan Williams.” They weren’t surprised for long, though, having tried what is arguably the best value in bourbon. For my money, EW BiB is superior to Wild Turkey 101. I’m glad you liked the review; you might find the recent review of Evan Williams’ brother bourbon Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond of interest as well. Cheers!
I’ve been and EW drinker for many years, since before leaving Kentucky 30 years ago. I just bought my first bottle of EW White Label and am really enjoying it over ice with a splash of water. EW Black label is the best value bourbon, IMO, but the extra kick and smoothness of EW White justifies the extra couple of bucks for the bottle. Two excellent values.
William, I am very happy to concur with your assessment on both the black and white labels. Cheers!