Evan Williams Bourbon (Black Label)

I read somewhere that Evan Williams is second only to Jim Beam in global sales. Even with knowing this, I didn’t really pay too much attention to this bourbon because well… and I hate to say it… but I was being a snob. I didn’t really care about how popular it was, it was cheap, and “homey don’t play dat.” Which is utter bullshit because just a year ago I was drinking this $10.99 bottle of off-brand bourbon from Trader Joe’s – and liking it. 🙂

In any case, the wonderful thing about bourbon – and whiskey in general – is that despite there being various price-points, there’s quality to be had at any level. Evan Williams is no exception to this, and now that I’ve tried it, it doesn’t surprise me why it’s so popular throughout the world. And as to that off-brand from Trader Joe’s, by volume, Evan Williams is even cheaper, but in my mind, it’s much better.

To add a bit of a backstory to this, as I write this article, I’m actually a bit on the sick side, recovering from some respiratory bug that I got last week. This past Saturday, it hit me pretty hard; so much so that I decided to call the restaurant where I play a weekly solo acoustic gig and tell them I was too sick to perform. I’ve rarely had to do that in the 17 years I’ve been there. But I had no voice, and I was running a low-grade fever.

Near dinner time, I pulled out a bottle of wine from my cooler, and seeing me do this, my wife said, “Honey, you’re sick with a cold or whatever this is… Shouldn’t you be drinking whiskey of some sort? It’ll help you sweat out the toxins.” I just gotta love that woman! Besides, it reminded me of some advice I got from a Native American medicine man about 35 years ago. He said, “You want to get over a cold faster? Drink a shot or two of whiskey, and take a hot shower.”

But truth be told, the only bourbon I had left was Noah’s Mill. After that, I only had a few Irish Whiskeys and Scotch on the shelf. I wasn’t in the mood for either of those, and I didn’t want the high-proof punch of Noah’s Mill. Besides, I wanted a damn Old Fashioned! So stuffy head and all, I hopped in my car and headed down the street to my local RiteAid, which has a pretty nice selection of booze.

When I got to the whiskey aisle, the usual suspects were present, though they recently added Buffalo Trace and amazingly, Angel’s Envy. But in the back of my mind, I was thinking that I didn’t want to get a more expensive bourbon because frankly, in my state, I wouldn’t have been able to appreciate it. After all, my mission was to make an Old Fashioned and while an Old Fashioned is so much better with a great bourbon or rye, in this case, I wasn’t sure if my taste buds were at 100% – also, let’s face it: I wanted to get a buzz and take a hot shower so I could go to sleep! So I really wasn’t interested in relishing the subtle nuances of a fine bourbon. So I looked down to the next shelf…

…where a 1-liter bottle of Evan Williams was on sale for $15.99. I don’t know what got into me, but I just said to myself, “What the hell. If I don’t like it, I can always pour it for people I don’t like… or for my son’s friends who don’t know the difference” 🙂

But the hell of it is… I actually liked it. Granted, a bit of sugar and orange zest and bitters can transform a bourbon. BUT the way I make an Old Fashioned is meant to bring out the natural flavors of the bourbon. I never make it too sweet. So if the bourbon is shit, the Old Fashioned is not going to taste very good. But I was actually kind of blown away by this Evan Williams. It tasted pretty damn good.

Truth be told, I have not had it neat, so I won’t provide any in-depth tasting notes. But I will talk about some highlights that I’ve observed.

First off, this bourbon is smooth. It has a silky and pleasing mouthfeel that lasts all the way down the palate. It’s sweet, but not cloying, which would make me pour it out immediately and dismiss it as rot-gut. Nay, this bourbon drinks quite nicely.

At 86-proof, I wasn’t expecting any spice or heat, which is something I like, and which is why I tend to gravitate toward higher ABV bourbons. However, I don’t mark this as a negative against Evan Williams. It’s an easy-drinker that just works.

All in all, there’s nothing spectacular about this bourbon, but at the same time, it has enough to it that I’d drink it regularly. And at that price point, damn! I probably will keep a liter around for entertaining. No, it won’t be a “daily drinker” for me. But there’s no reason not to have an inexpensive bourbon around where you don’t feel bad that the level is going down. That’s what keeps me from drinking my finer whiskeys, like this gorgeous, custom Maker’s Mark I got from a friend over a year and a half ago. It’s just too precious.

Not so with something like Evan Williams. I could drink this anytime and not feel guilty that it’s going down. But also, this has a good enough flavor that if I was going to be entertaining and offering cocktails to my guests, I wouldn’t blink twice about serving it.

I’m not sure if I’d drink this neat. We’ll see after I get better. For sure, I will put this over rocks and definitely use it for an Old Fashioned.

And as much as I didn’t want to like this bourbon, I just can’t. I really do like it. #mindblown. 🙂