Bourbon Street: “Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 1998”

Written by Bourbon Street, Consumerism, Product Tests

evanwilliamsWelcome to a new feature here on Popdose! Each month I’ll review a bourbon that, more often than not, is from a small batch and assign it a rating (between one and five stars). I wanted to co-write this feature with my fellow bourbon lover, Jeff Giles, but he lives in New Hampshire, where the state government runs all the liquor stores. In other words, there’s a paucity of choice when he goes bourbon shopping, so if he decides to write up a review, it will probably be on his current favorite: Knob Creek. But let’s not pillory Jeff for his poor choice of where he makes his home. Rather, let’s move forward with the topic at hand and delve into the first bourbon to be reviewed here.

Go into any bar, and what do you think the most popular drink is? If you said beer, you’d be right. But among variety of micro and macro-brews at local watering holes, you’re also going to find people order quite a few rum and Cokes, Mojitos, and Cosmopolitans being ordered on any given Friday night. I have nothing against those drinks, but you won’t find me ordering them. Nope. My drink of choice is bourbon. Yeah, that’s right, bourbon: straight with no chaser. But not just any bourbon, mind you. It has to be something that’s worth savoring; something to slowly enjoy over a long conversation or while watching an engaging movie. In other words, (and to use a more high-minded way of expressing myself): I loves me some sipping bourbon.

I know there are people out there who love to shoot bourbon, get really shitfaced, stumble around the dance floor and later puke their guts out on the sidewalk. That, my friends, is recreational bourbon. It’s the kind of bourbon you drink to forget your troubles, to work up enough courage to talk to someone you find attractive, or to show your friends that you can hold your liquor. That kind of booze has its time and place, but now that I’m older (or to some: old), I’ve grown weary of those kind of reindeer games played in bars, and have settled into a quiet snobbery where fetishizing certain kinds of alcohol has become a hobby akin to stamp collecting.

My current favorite bourbon is Woodford Reserve, but I’ll leave the glories of Woodford for another time. What I’d like to feature this month is a bourbon from Evan Williams. Now, most distilleries have their “good stuff,” and Evan Williams certainly has plenty of that. Last week, I went to my local BevMo and there in the locked cases was a bottle of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage from 1998. Now, I’m a pretty liberal guy when it comes to bourbon, in that I’ll try anything that looks boutique. And the Evan Williams had all the marking of a boutique bourbon: it came highly recommended with part of the following review affixed to the price tag:

1998 Vintage
2008 San Francisco World Spirits Competition – Silver Medal “The latest issue from the series of annual releases, still is one of the best whiskey bargains around. Aromas of brown bananas, clove, vanilla and glove leather pour from the tasting class. In the mouth it’s smooth and mellow, well-balance and assertive, with a lingering, clean and slightly lemony finish. It’s mouth-watering as a sipping whiskey, and it invites cocktail experimentation. This is a stylish and charming whiskey, another success from the father and son distilling team of Parker and Craig Beam.”

Well, I was sold. I don’t think I’ve ever had a bourbon that had a lemony finish and smelled like brown bananas, clove, vanilla and glove leather, but I was willing to try it. So, I plunked down my $40 and brought home my prize. The verdict? It was a very nice bourbon with pleasant flavors, but it was missing that certain something that is often referred to as “complexity.”

Some bourbons have a smooth finish, others are a little harsh, and some, as the review above stated, linger. But the flavors didn’t linger in the Evan Williams I bought. Instead, the harshness of the alcohol did – with none of lemony finished promised. I was sad, but not to the point of demanding my money back. No, I decided to let my pallet get used to it, and had a drink every night to see if my opinion of this bourbon would change. Alas, it didn’t. I tried to change it up by making Manhattans with the Evan Williams, but it didn’t rise above “pleasant.” Now perhaps my tastes are skewed away from the subtle notes in a bourbon like the Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage, and while I would recommend this bourbon for those who don’t like powerful flavors, I don’t think Evan Williams will be making an appearance in my liquor cabinet in the near future.

Final Rating: Three tumblers