Tuesday, April 26, 2011

Whiskey Wednesday: Evan Williams Single Barrel

I recently finished an exhaustive survey of Evan Williams Single Barrel releases which was set up by the Bourbon Dork. As you may know, Evan Williams Single Barrel is an annual Heaven Hill release of single barrel versions of its popular Evan Williams Bourbon. These nine to ten year old bourbons regularly get high marks from reviewers and people scour shelves for older versions.

I tasted a series of twelve versions representing each distillation year from 1988 through 1999. This tasting was as exhausting as it was exhaustive, mostly because the majority of these bourbons were pretty middling. A few were quite bad, a few were above average, none was worth raving about. I was quite surprised that these widely heralded bourbons didn't perform better, and lest you think it was just because I'm quirky, I was pretty much within the consensus of the ten experienced tasters in the group. Indeed, I probably thought they were generally better than the tasting group.

I don't want to burden you with all of my notes (though you can find them all on the LA Whiskey Society site), so I thought I would give a quick summary.

My favorite was the 1995 which was one of the few that had some real wood on it. The runners up were the 1992, which also had a good wood/sweet balance, and the 1996 which had some nice citrus and spice notes.

The worst of these were the 1997, which was bitter, and 1998 which had a sort of dulled flavor. And the rest of them were pretty mediocre.

Now of course, these are single barrel bourbons which means there can be variance from barrel to barrel even within a given year. That being said, I was so unimpressed with this whole lineup that you won't see me dropping any cash for Evan Williams Single Barrel expressions in the future.


sam k said...

Damn, and I just bought a Binny's selection from this year's harvest. May have to let you know how it turns out once I decide to crack it.

Interesting overview, nonetheless.

Jason Pyle said...

I am one of those guys that loves this release each year and looks forward to it. The 1994-1996 I felt were all what I'd consider "excellent" bourbons. It would be ridiculous of me to give them any sort of rating considering I've not had them in some time, but the 1994 and 1995 I'd say would approach 9.0 territory on my scale.

However, few whiskeys in a consecutive 3 year chunks (94-96 vs 97-99) have been more different. We agree there. The 97 and 98 were really average whiskeys. I wouldn't call them bad, just very average.

I found the 2000 release probably the best sub $30 whiskey on the planet. A more balanced whiskey I have trouble recalling in the last year. I've picked up 2-3 bottles for safe keeping. The 2001 is excellent as well but in a totally different way: much bolder, stickier, richer, and spicier.

Obviously this underscores the subjective nature of tasting whiskey.

Reid said...

I have never found an EWSB that I felt was better than average bourbon with most being only fair to my palate. I find the EW BIB a far better whiskey for half the price.