Thursday, June 20, 2013

Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Black Label Review:


As much of the exposure bourbon, and whiskey in general, has been garnering these days, I still come across many people who will make comments like, “you at least have to spend $25 for good bourbon.” While it is true that the quality of exceptional bourbon begins to climb around this range, there are so many great bourbons out there for under $20. Evan Williams Black label, aged 5-7 years with a price tag of around $11-$12, blows the competition out of the water.

About a year ago I reviewed the Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage and this time around, Black Label, as a bargain brand, still upholds Heaven Hill’s dedication for producing high quality products. The black label is produced using the same mash bill as that in Elijah Craig and the Single Barrel Vintage. That being said, Malt Advocate has given the Black Label the “Best Buy Whiskey of the Year” twice: in 2003 and 2011.

Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Black Label Review:

Price: Around $11-12 for a 750ml bottle.

Packaging/Labeling: Typical bourbon label for this price. I do wonder what they mean by “extra aging,” but one cannot be too picky at this point.

Alcoholic Content: 43% abv, 86 proof. Nice for such a low shelf product.

Nose: Inviting nose of cherry cola, spice, caramel, corn nuts, and oak.

Palate: Vanilla and cherry cola with a good amount of spice. All this is balanced out by the assertive oak palate. The mouthfeel is heavier on the front and tends to dissipate quite quickly, leaving a brief finish (This in turn makes me want to simply keep drinking). I am reminded of a younger cousin of Jim Beam Black.

Conclusion: While some have made complaints about the lack of complexity, I find that the “enjoyability” and the clear production value of this product leaves me with no other choice but to recommend this as a staple bourbon for your bar. John Hansell has stated that “Evan Williams is a sophisticated whiskey for its price: smooth, a great aroma, and neither gets lost in nor dominates a cocktail, a classic table bourbon.” Table bourbon indeed! If you have a long night of relaxation ahead of you (and you don’t want to worry about drinking away the all your expensive stuff), think about picking up a bottle of the Black Label.

18 comments:

  1. The "extra aging" means "over 4 years", which is the standard aging for straight bourbon whiskey. It was originally 7 years old and so-stated on the label. Seven years is (or at least was) the age of Old Weller Antique, Ancient Age, and (implied but not stated) Jack Daniel's (whose label Evan Williams blantly knocked off).

    86 proof is a watered-down version of the 90 proof it was originally, although JD went even further and reduced itself FIRST to 86, and then further to 80 proof. JD doubtlessly would be diluted even further except that it's currently illegal to do so. Since 37% is allowable in some foreign markets, don't be surprised to see that issue come up here soon -- and guess which giant whiskey marketer will be among those funding such legislation? :-)

    When I first began enjoying bourbon (just south of the last ice age) the choices were very slender where I lived. We had Jim Beam, Jack Daniel's, and Evan Williams. EW tasted better than Beam and cost less than JD -- it was a no-brainer. My understanding of American whiskey has changed greatly since then.

    Thanks for spotlighting this brand. It does tend to get "pooh-pooh"ed as being too common for our "sophisticated consideration", and I admit to being guilty of neglecting it, even on my "best of the cheap brands" lists. While I do prefer others at around that proof point (Beam Black, AAA, Old Forester), all are more expensive and none are any better in terms of quality. In fact, I'm not even that sure that I PREFER them; it's time to spend eleven bucks and re-new my acquaintance with this old friend.

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  2. just picked up a bottle today for 10 bux, thanks for the review. never had it before, but sounds like I picked a good one, for less.

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  3. My go to Bourbon. Better than Jack or Jim for the money. Maybe just better.

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    1. I definitely enjoy it more than the JB white label - and for the money it can't be beat.

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  4. I am a long time JD drinker, and a big fan of Jim Beam Green Label, and Jim Beam Rye. The store I stopped at was out of 750ml Jack, and didnt carry either of the Jim's. So, I bought a bottle of EW black label. Great bourbon, nice aroma, great notes of cherry cola, a bit of spice... great product for the money (I paid $12).... very impressed. This will have a spot on my bar for a long time....

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    1. Always glad to hear a success story like that. Much of the reason so many pass up EW is mainly due to the price. They equate the lower price with lower quality - yet it stand its ground so well. Cheers!

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  5. I've always been a fan of EW Black and some of their higher shelf offerings (EW Single Barrel, Elijah Craig, and Larceny is a great wheater). I always wanted to try the BIB offering but couldn't find it anywhere until yesterday. I got a handle for $23! I was very impressed with the flavor. It's not quite as sweet as EW Black, and it has a similar profile but I think it has a better and longer finish. Maybe just a bit more complex, especially with a few drops of water. I think I prefer it over EW Black, which is my go-to.

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    1. Matt, what is the "BIB" offering you are referring too?

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    2. BIB is 'bottled in bond'. If you see a bourbon bottle labeled as so the whiskey must be at least 4 yrs old, 51% corn mill, 100 proof, from a single vintage stored in federally bonded warehouses. Heaven hill makes a variety of these wiskeys including EW BIB.. If you see 'bonded' or 'bottled in bond' it is the strictest standard the ATF recognizes.

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    3. Thanks Matt. I'm assuming you are referring to the white label which is floating around - that's the only bottled in bond EW out there I believe. I've heard very good things for the price point. I would say however that bonded does not always mean better. That use to be so back in the day, when the law was put into place, when there were a need for such standards, but now not so much today. It does set a bar to a degree though.

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  6. I am not a big drinker, but Evan Williams black labels is my favorite bourbon for its taste and price. I find it slightly more smoother and longer than Jack Daniels, but they are similar at taste in overall [I know, they are different, but I find them kind of close]. I've been buying Evan Williams black labels for over 5 years in 375ml, 1L and 1.75L bottles, the later one I buy the most since its pretty unbeatable for $24.00 or so. Several month I bought Evan Williams single barrel and I did not enjoy it: very harsh/strong, so I gave almost full bottle to my grandpa. Here in Brooklyn NY, there is not much choice other than the national brands, high-end stuff and sometimes you can find budget brands as well. Most of the times [around 80% of the stores] Evan Williams black label is available in one form/size or another. I also use it for cooking/marinading [thats how I found out about Evan Williams, because I needed something cheap for the recipe, but the 375ml cost me around $11.00 for the first time [I needed some bourbon and the store around the block is tiny]].

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    1. Alex, Evan William is a great bourbon for mixing and using in recipes - I agree with that. I did know much about the availability of budget brands in Brooklyn. I was there last summer and went to quite a few shops, I thought there was a great selection, not just higher end stuff. But I wouldn't be surprised if New York drinkers are more inclined to the higher end stuff. Brooklyn is a great booze city no doubt.

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  7. I am not much of a drinker and have never liked bourbon much. I bought this on a lark. I poured myself a shot and down the hatch it went. Ok, I read much from brazen drunks about the complex tastes of exotic bourbons and I really could care less about that snooty stuff. I wanted something "drinkable". I found it in Evan Williams Black Label! I do get a strong caramel flavor and a sweet finish. This is something that I could see as an everyday drink in the evening. A working mans bourbon. The finish is short and for me that's OK. I only had one shot, and spent the rest of the evening wanting more. That's about as good as it gets. Very little burn. I think this is best right out of the bottle. Don't ruin it with a mixer. The Evan Williams boys got this one right. -

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  8. I have been drinking bourbons for quite some time, and I have to say, my appreciation for Black Label Evan Williams has been a long time coming. Jim Beam White Label used to be my "go to" bargain bourbon due to price and availability. However, after exploring the low end bourbons to find a decent mixing bourbon, I really have come around to Evan Williams Black Label. EW Single Barrel is an excellent for sipping, and JB Black is a notch above. I am always looking for a good deal. When I can get EW Black for $9.99 for 750ml and $16.99 for 1.75L, it is hard to beat.

    I say that while sitting here sipping my EW Black & Ginger Ale..............

    Only Cheaper Bourbon in the store (Vons) was Samuel Grant. That was $8.99 for the 750ml. However, for 1.75L, EW Black Label was cheaper ($17.99 for Samuel Grant). Samuel Grant is the Safeway/Vons house brand bourbon. I have no idea where Samuel Grant is make or what it is... Ok for mixing, however, EW Black is still better.

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  9. I'll be visiting with Mr. Williams shortly as the local State store has the half gallon (1.75l) on sale this month at only $20 and change. It's not great but certainly serviceable. And since I don't get to the liquor store more than once a month, the high priced bourbons like Bookers, Bakers, etc don't come in half gallons. Although with those ones you don't need much to relax and get the brain numb. Whereas EWB is more comfortable in your favorite mixer while the Booker's of the world should only be drunk neat or on the rocks. Each has their place in the world. Salute !

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    1. Certainly true. Bookers is much more of a treat - but EWB is almost always on my bar, and I almost always drink it neat. It can certainly hold up to some up it's more expensive brothers.

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  10. It's great to see Evan Williams Black Label getting the respect it deserves. It is such a solid bourbon: cheap, great flavor, and the extra 6 proof always makes me smile. I knew EWB and Elijah Craig were both made by Heaven Hill, but I did not know that the two shared the same mash bill. Interesting...

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