Before I moved to the States my impression of American bourbons and whiskies was not a high one. I’m delighted to say that through the encouragement and generosity of some good friends that original impression has been significantly altered. It all started with Knob Creek… but that’s a story for another day. I claim no intimate knowledge of bourbon, and consider myself a fledgling enthusiast, but I’m thoroughly enjoying the ride small batch bourbons have to offer – not to mention the relatively cheap price tag when compared to our beloved scotch).
Evan Williams is no unfamiliar name to bourbon lovers, given that it is the second largest selling brand of Kentucky straight bourbon whiskey in the US. But those sales are largely on the back of their blended black label bourbon. But today we’re reviewing the Evan Williams Single Barrel 1999, their 14th vintage. The E.W. Vintage series claims the impressive distinction of being the only vintage dated bourbon. The fact that each bottle is drawn from a single barrel, rather than a blending of barrels, means that even within a vintage each bottle is likely to express a slight range of unique characteristics. Each vintage year also equates to a novel bourbon, with often significant characteristics marking one vintage from another. What doesn’t seem to vary is the success with which they are greeted year after year. They have a swag of medals and accolades against their name, perhaps most impressively the first ever Whiskey of the Year title awarded to a bourbon by The Spirit Journal. So, let’s try it and see what all the fuss is about.
Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 1999
Barrelled on 10.12.99
Bottled on 01.20.09
Barrel # 112
Appearance: Deep, slick amber
Nose: Waxy on first sniff. Then caramel popcorn and warm dark spices – nutmeg and cardamom. A hint of rose, and after adding a few drops of water, charred oak really comes out, as does a little spearmint.
Body: Mid to full, a little oily, very smooth.
Taste: Wonderfully smooth and sweet. The nutmeg is there, and dark, overly roasted butterscotch. A very mature bourbon.
Finish: Spice and toffee, then a mellow woodiness that credits the 9+ years in oak. As all fades away, the impression of raw, crushed almonds. Complex!
Overall Impressions: This is one smooth, complex, and sweet bourbon without being cloying. While this is no great claim, I have no hesitation in labelling this the best bourbon I’ve sampled to date. Well worth seeking out, and I look forward to buying a bottle of each new vintage.
Here is a clip from the unveiling event of the 1999 vintage. They were sampling cask strength (60-70%) from the first barrel. The clip is worth watching for the inimitable molasses drag of an accent of Parker Beam alone, their Master Distiller. (Parker is a seventh generation distiller and has worked at Evan Williams for over 50 years. His grandfather was the brother of a certain James Beam).