Thursday, January 14, 2010

Evan Williams Single Barrel 2000 Vintage

Back in 1995 Heaven Hill Distillery released its first bottling of Evan Williams Single Barrel bourbon. Although not the first-ever vintage dated bourbon, it's the longest running of those currently on the market. Made from whiskey in barrels selected by master distiller Parker Beam, this nine year old bourbon quickly established a reputation as a top quality whiskey. The 1992, 1994 and 1995 vintages are held in particularly high esteem by the bourbon cognoscenti.

In 1996 disaster struck. The company's distillery, located in Bardstown, Kentucky, was destroyed by fire. Although the fire also destroyed some of the warehouses, most of the these (and their thousands of barrels of whiskey) survived, so HH had plenty of whiskey available for their numerous other brands and expressions. With EWSB being a vintage dated product, however, some way had to be found to produce some each year until the company again had an operating distillery.

Most of 1996 vintage was produced under contract at Jim Beam and the 1997, 1998 and 1999 by Brown-Forman at their Louisville distillery (where Old Forester and Early Times are produced). These were okay, but did not equal those that had been produced entirely within HH's own facilities.

In 1999 the company purchased the United Distillers plant in Louisville. This was a realtively new distillery (completed in 1992), equipped with two giant stainless steel stills and a high level of automation. In early 2000 Heaven Hill commenced producing and barreling whiskey destined to become EWSB. In late October of 2009, amid much fanfare, the first barrel was opened. One of those in attendence was John Hansell, publisher/editor of The Malt Advocate magazine, who gave it a highly favorable review.

I'd been keeping an eye out for it and when some appeared at the Washington Street liquor store in mid December I bought a bottle and took it home. I poured out a sample, along with a similar quantity of the 1994 for comparison.

Both whiskies showed a wonderfuly harmonious combination of caramel corn, spice, vanilla and oak. The aromas and flavors seemed a bit more assertive in the 2000 than the 1994, though that could be partly because the '94 has been open for a while.

For me, this is definitely the best one since the 1995, and I'll be buying more. It's also a relative bargain, at $27.45, especially compared to other vintage dated bourbons (Old Forester "Birthday Bourbon" goes for $38, and the five whiskies in the Buffalo Trace Antique Collection go for a budget-busting $77 each). In fact, you have to spend at least $36.95 on a bottle of Wild Turkey "Rare Breed" to get a bourbon of comparable quality.

I did notice an odd thing on the back label, however:

Barreled 10-7-09
Barrel 16
Bottled on 3-30-00

Which is likely an error, but it's fun to believe that a young lady named Bright was involved.

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