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Wednesday, March 9, 2016

When Heaven Hill Bourbon Goes Wrong: Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond (2015)

Speaking of anal leakage: Evan Williams, everybody!

I'm just kidding.  :(  Evan Williams Black Label is probably the lone non-soul-corroding whisk(e)y under $10.  It's a solid C grade bourbon, and of better quality than a number of whiskies priced much higher.  In the family line there's also Evan Williams Green Label (even cheaper!), Evan Williams Bottled-In-Bond (with a white label), Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch (not distilled in 1783), Evan Williams Single Barrel (complete with vintage attached, getting younger each year), and a 23 year old (hella expensive).

Today I'm reviewing EW's Bottled-in-Bond (aka BIB).  And not just any old EW BIB, but my bottle of EW BIB.  I purchased it a month ago at a reputable retailer (in fact, the same one from whom I purchased my Elijah Craig 12), stored on a shelf away from light and heat.  I specify this because upon opening the bottle I found the whiskey to be F***ING AWFUL.  Like Scary Bad.  Possibly the worst bourbon I've ever had Bad.

Needless to say, I was disappointed.  I had a 95% full bottle of something that I'd expected to be at least okay.  Rather than crying into my bourbon (I save that for Mondays) I decided to leave the screw top off of the bottle to let the stuff air out for four hours and, with subsequent pours on other days, left the top screw top off for 15 minutes at a time.  I was hoping that would open up the bourbon to some degree.  Eventually I just took a big sample from the middle of the bottle and dumped the last third down the sink.  So this review is of the hopefully oxidized mid-bottle.

 Heaven Hill
Brand: Evan Williams
Type: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Bottle Code: see below
Age: minimum 4 years
Region: Louisville, Kentucky
Maturation: New American oak
Mashbill: 75% Corn, 13% Rye, 12% Malted Barley (I think)
Alcohol by Volume: 50%

Regarding the bottle code, I found F190 50640 on the bottle shoulder, but I don't think that references the bottling date.  Elijah Craig bottles have a second code printed on the bottom of the bottle with a 13-digit code that most likely tells its date.  This bottle of EW BIB had no such thing.  I searched but found nothing, which is kinda weird.  Like the whiskey itself.

Neat --
Varnish, dill, and sawdust in the nose.  That's followed by hazelnuts and paint VOC fumes.  Then cherry candy and pencils.  After 20+ minutes airing it out, the nose delivered a peat-like phenolic blast, a slight egg note, and a wall of clay.  It triggered a "What IS that?" response for almost an hour. (Sorry for the change in verb tense.  We shall now return to our regularly utilized indicative present.)

The very sweet palate grows woodier as it goes.  There's a distinct vegetal edge that never leaves (leaves ↔ vegetal, get it? Ha!).  There's the cherry candy, hazelnuts, sawdust, and clay from the nose.  But there's also a distinct metallic note crashing right into a sharp sourness, underneath which floats twigs and burnt grass.

The very very sweet finish is a combo of brown sugar, celery, peppercorns, and burnt plant matter.  It always turns acrid at the end.  In fact, screw the rest of this tasting sample.

As a Highball -- Ugly.  I recommend adding as much bitters as you can take.
As an Old Fashioned -- Actually, not terrible.  It's the best way to drink it.  Its strangeness translates into a vivid cocktail.  Almost sherry-ish.

Those were the notes for the heavily oxidized version of this whiskey.  The bottle's first pour smelled of metal, dirt, and pencil lead.  It tasted of metal, burnt bark, vinegar, and sugar.  The finish was worse.

I have no doubt that other batches of EW BIB don't taste or smell this way, but my bottle did.  Some of the problem might have been due to a corruption in transport or even within the batch itself.  But that doesn't account for all of the issues.  For instance, the only items in the nose that seemed to signal spoilage are the phenolics and the egg.  The rest are things that can appear in a bottom shelf young bourbon.  The metal and the acridity are the only concerning notes in the palate/finish.  Remove those notes and, honestly, we're left with something that still doesn't really beat Evan Williams Black Label, in my estimation.

Thus this bottle's (or batch's) ceiling was never going to be particularly high, even if it had been reached.  The potential and actual quality difference between my bottles of EC12 and EWBIB was striking considering I paid only $9 more for the former.  I know which one I'll be buying next time.

Availability - Much of the Southeastern and Western USA. Unavailable in many states.
Pricing - $12 to $19
Rating - 65  (up from the low-40s at the start of the bottle)


  1. Really strange! When EWBIB arrived here last spring I bought a 1.75 on sale for $20. It was delicious. So much so that I didn't bother with other bourbons last summer/fall (I don't drink a ton of bourbon). But like you I've only had the one bottle.

    1. Though it's possible some sort of oxidation, heat, or light issue messed with this bottle at some point, I'm leaning towards this being a batch problem. Even if one removes the weird spoilage notes, it still reads like a crummier version of their black label. I like Evan Williams, so it gives me no joy to crap on one of their whiskies like this.

  2. I had a similar experience years ago with a single bottle of the bonded and have wondered if it was an aberration. Others have really liked the white label - maybe I'll try another one. I really like the 1783 and the black label, so hopefully it's just inconsistency in the bottling. Although I've never detected any variation in their other offerings....

    1. Hey pdxcocktails! I haven't had the 1783 in a couple years, but I am going to try that one again next. I suppose there shouldn't be much variation between the BIB batches due to their size (500-600 barrels, I've been told). But thanks to this post I'm now hearing about more people who, like us, have had issues with the EWBIB. Truth be told, I was going to do a comparison of the whole EW range in one sitting, but this one cured me of that idea.