Evan Williams is a budget-friendly brand produced by Heaven Hill. They’re impossible to miss on shelves and, as a result of their price, availability, and place on shelves, undoubtedly see a fair share of upturned noses. After all, when the label and bottle design is strikingly similar to Jack Daniel’s while carrying a price point similar to Jim Beam White, what more can you expect? Well that’s the great thing about cheap whiskey: There’s always a chance for it to surprise you.
Interestingly, this isn’t the lowest Evan Williams offering. That honor goes to the green label. Yet if we check evanwilliams.com, the green label is nowhere to be found; the black label is simply called “Evan Williams Bourbon.” Do they plan to do away with the green label, or are they reluctant to stand by their own product? Perhaps their cheapest expression would be worth exploring in a future post. But for now, let’s focus on the black label.
Nose: Bright, sweet caramel and nut. Distinct corn crop note, almost like caramelized corn on the cob that’s then toasted. Digging deeper rewards a respectable amount of vanilla and fruit (big red cherry).
Palate: Sweetness from the nose carries over very consistently; vanilla, caramel, corn dessert (pudding perhaps). A touch of barely toasted wood creeps out with slow-building fruit. Quicker sips yield more of a mildly dry and toasty corn crop note.
Finish: Slightest bit of oak tannins and residual cherry essence. A bit of generic astringency pops up, throwing the surprising pleasantries off a bit.
This was a bit of a surprise. I won’t exaggerate and say is great or excellent (unless we’re talking value), but considering the price and competition, Evan Williams mostly comes out ahead. It’s a no-frills bourbon through and through, exhibiting a combination of nut, corn, and (to a lesser extent) fruit notes that remind me of the South. More specifically, a Southern state fair. Certain Jim Beam expressions take this associate to the next level with their overt nuttiness, but Evan Williams is more dialed back with a bit of bright sweetness to compensate. Whether that makes it better or worse is up to you and your palate.
As for me, I’ll remember this bourbon for times when money is especially tight. The sub-$15 price range is risky territory when it comes to whiskey, especially if you’re like me and neat is your preferred drinking style. Would I find myself interested and intrigued by this while chipping away at a full bottle? Probably not. But it’s a safe option, one that I think punches higher than Jim Beam White for about the same price. A modest accomplishment perhaps, but even a slight win is still a win.