Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2005

EVAN WILLIAMS SINGLE BARREL VINTAGE
Barrel No. 230, Barreled on 2/14/05, Bottled on 1/20/15

MASH BILL – 78% corn, 10% rye, 12% barley

PROOF – 86.6

AGE – 9 years 11 months

DISTILLERY – Old Evan Williams Distillery (i.e. Heaven Hill)

PRICE – $22

WORTH BUYING? – So much yes.

For me, among the best “unicorn” finds are bottles like these older Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintages, which can still sometimes be spotted quietly anchoring the bottom shelves of random corner stores.

At just over $20 there is no beating them for the specs, even considering the low proof. Nearer the more common $30 price they’re still a solid buy. This 2015 release, barreled in 2005 and bottled 1 month shy of 10 years, was gathering dust on my local corner store’s bottom shelf behind two bottles of a 2016 release, itself a 9 year 6 month edition barreled in 2006. I’ve already gone through one of those 2006 vintages, and have now cracked this 2005.

Until around the 2007 vintages, these were regularly bottled somewhere between 9 and 10 years. Since then they’ve tended to hover near 8 years—still a decent age in these bourbon boomed times. But the more recent younger bottlings have indeed lost a discernible layer of taste magic compared with their ~2-year-older predecessors. In my experience, the pre-2007 vintages are typically creamier, taking the edge off the bitter tannins I too often get in vintages from 2007 onward. So whenever I come across a 2006 or older bottle, it’s a no-brainer buy.

To be clear, these older Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bottlings are not great because of some uncommonly amazing flavor profile. Maybe at a higher proof they’d come across with greater complexity in that regard. They’re great because of the price in combination with a perfectly tasty, perfectly satisfying bourbon, featuring a guaranteed rich oak foundation for those typical Heaven Hill nuts and orchard fruits.

So let’s get to it. These brief notes were taken about five weeks after uncorking and three pours into the bottle, tasted in both a traditional Glencairn and simple 5-ounce tumbler.

COLOR – pale but rich amber, with caramel waves revealed by angles and light

NOSE – fresh sawed oak, caramel, peanut, fresh cream, a dusting of baking spices, orchard fruits like apricot still in the orchard on the trees

TASTE – very true to the nose, with that fresh sawed oak floating on the bourbon’s creamy texture, the caramel and peanut notes just as light and bright, the apricot orchard a bit further off in the background.

FINISH – the oak, cream, and caramel linger most, with a light peppery prickle

OVERALL – a light but solid oaky bourbon

What else can I say? It’s a simple pour.

I can imagine one day picking up a more recent edition, out of curiosity, to compare side by side with one of these older vintages. At the same time, considering the straightforward nature of this bourbon, I can also imagine when given the choice I’ll rather spend my $30+ on something heftier, like an Elijah Craig store pick.

This experience is a reminder to be on the look out for other new offerings in this price range. With the bourbon boom continuing its seeming unending expansion, what will be the next bottom shelf steal of deal?

Or will such things even continue to exist? Most of the truly exciting new bourbons these days are coming out of craft distilleries. They tend to be smaller operations, their prices a bit higher on average than the mass producing big distilleries like Heaven Hill. Having made business choices like lowering the age of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage, or doubling the price on former bottom-shelfer Henry McKenna, will mainstream joints like Heaven Hill continue to make similarly quality bourbon priced between $20 and $30?

It’s a business and they’re maximizing profits, like businesses do. As the competition continues to grow, and consumer choice expands, I do wonder if the big distilleries will need to offer us some more generous specs, more often and at better prices, to distinguish themselves in terms of consumer considerations like integrity, authenticity, and other “cool” factors. You can’t take it with you, after all. So it seems to me if you’re a massive operation with a wide range of options, you can afford to offer your customers a few generous gifts among your profit-maximizing majority and those $$$ limited editions. It’s not unprecedented—Jim Beam Distiller’s Cut, for example.

Then again I’ve never been a very good capitalist. My thinking has always been more horizontal than vertical. The Heaven Hills of the world may actually not care a bit about such things. Their employees did go on strike this past year for better pay, healthcare, and retirements benefits, and it took six weeks for Heaven Hill to agree.

So, we shall see. Meanwhile, I’ll continue to enjoy this glass from the past.

Cheers!

2 thoughts on “Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2005

    1. Hey there! I wouldn’t be able to say. As I wrote I stumbled across this bottle in my local corner store. I’ve not found another 2005 since. I’d say just keep your eye out whenever you visit a small shop. Those are the places I’ve tended to find the older bottles gathering dust unnoticed. Good luck! Cheers!

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