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.