I’m a big fan of Evan Williams. Their black label edition is a great standard no-frills bourbon that provides a good flavor without breaking the bank. Though I have to admit, I had been wondering what the resulting product might be if they put a little more care, attention, and age on their spirit — and, sure enough, their 1783 edition is here to answer that specific question.
While the bottle may proclaim that this whiskey is Kentucky’s 1st Distiller and pays homage to a 1783 distiller by the name of Evan Williams, in reality the current production of whiskey has no association (other than in name) with that individual and instead is produced by the Heaven Hill distilling company. In fact, the Filson Historical Society believes many of the claims about Williams to be untrue, including the fact that the first recorded distiller only came about in 1892, and that Williams only arrived in the area in 1794.
Founded in 1935, shortly after the end of prohibition, Old Heavenhill Springs Distillery was founded by a group of investors in Bardstown, Kentucky. They were gambling on the idea that alcohol production would be a booming business and invested heavily in being one of the first companies to stand up and service that market. One of those investors was well known distiller Joseph L. Beam, first cousin to Jim Beam, who would become the first master distiller of the facility.
As the years went on, the Shapira family bought out all of the other investors to become the sole owner of the business and changed the name to “Heaven Hill Distillery.” Despite being bought out, though, the descendants of Joseph Beam remain the master distillers of the facility to this day.
Their primary distilling facility burned down in 1996, burning down 90,000 barrels of whiskey and lighting the creek that feeds the distillery on fire for nearly two miles downstream. The business managed to survive, though, and in 1999 they purchased a new distillery in Bernheim from Diageo where production now takes place (but all aging still takes place at the original Bardstown facility).
The 1935 bet has paid off — big time. Heaven Hill Distillery is currently the biggest family owned distillery in the United States and the second largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. Their flagship brands include Deep Eddy vodka and Elijah Craig, and their facility hosts the annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival.
This bourbon starts as a fermented mash consisting of 75% corn, 13% rye, and 12% barley. From there, it is distilled at the Heaven Hill distillery and placed in charred new oak barrels to mature.
Once upon a time, the Evan Williams line bore an age statement of seven years — but in recent times, demand has been outstripping supply. As a result, they’ve dropped the age statement and are now aging their product for as little as five years prior to bottling.
For this 1783 edition, the whiskey is aged in 200 barrel batches and aged a little bit longer than the usual version (but still doesn’t disclose the actual age of the spirit). Those barrels are blended together to produce a specific flavor profile and bottled at 86 proof.
Unfortunately, this might be the most boring bottle design of the entire Evan Williams line.
Their normal editions come in faceted bottles with interesting geometry, but here it’s literally just a round bottle. I suppose it could be somehow more boring — at least there’s a more bulbous bottom and a longer neck than a wine bottle — but it lacks the pageantry that you get in their other products.
What I do appreciate is that the label is mostly clear, which means you can see the whiskey inside the bottle easier than with their other labels. The 1783 opaque portion does take up a good bit of space, but otherwise it only has enough information to let you know what’s inside.
The glass bottle is capped with a plastic scre-on top.
The aroma coming out of this glass seems to be just a bit richer than the standard Black Label edition of Evan Williams, but with all the same notes and tones. There’s the brown sugar and butter aspects coming through just fine, with an undertone of caramel and vanilla as well, but it all seems to have a depth and saturation that was missing before.
Sipping the whiskey, its smooth and delicious with a good bit of weight to the liquid. There’s no bitterness or bite to it at all, which is nice.
In the standard version, the flavors are more like licking the inside of a charred barrel, but in this case those flavors have mellowed out and it delivers almost exactly on the promise of the aroma. The brown sugar, the buttery aspects, and the undertone of vanilla all play a great role here. There might also be just a hint of apple somewhere in the background, too, giving it a little bit of a sweet note. And even that rye content makes a welcome appearance on the finish, adding just a hint of black pepper spice.
Not half bad as far as a sipping whiskey goes, for sure.
In the standard version of this whiskey, the addition of a bit of ice kills almost all of the flavors. It’s a massacre — but one that thankfully doesn’t seem to be repeated here.
It seems like the depth and saturation of those flavors have saved them from extinction, with the brown sugar, caramel, and vanilla notes taking center stage. That said, the addition of some ice has indeed weakened their saturation to the point where this is now very similar to a glass of straight Black Label whiskey. The flavors are still there… just not quite as delicious as before.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
As we just covered – with ice, the flavor profile goes from a well-saturated bourbon to something much lighter. A lot of the darker and deeper notes have taken a hike, never to be seen again. So of course when you start adding bitters to that, it’s no surprise that the old fashioned that pops out the other side is a lighter take on things as well.
As-is, this isn’t a terrible cocktail. It’s definitely drinkable, and something that will work well when you don’t want to break the bank. But there isn’t a whole lot of complexity or depth to the cocktail, making for a less interesting experience than I was hoping for.
Just like with the black label version, this makes for a pretty good mule. Not a fantastic mule, but a pretty good one.
In the main body of the flavor profile, there’s the caramel and vanilla notes balancing very well against the sometimes harsh ginger beer. Those warmer notes also bring some flavors to the drink that you wouldn’t see with just a vodka.
What disappoints me is the rye content, though. I was hoping that the little bit of spicy black pepper I had on the finish when drinking this neat would come back for the mule and add some complexity, but that hasn’t really happened. It might be there, but if it is, its buried too deep to make a difference.
This is a pretty good bourbon. There’s some good flavors in here, and the saturation is much better than in the black label version. And especially considering the nominal price increase between the two versions, it should be a no-brainer which one you pick.
|Evan Williams 1783 Small Batch|
Kentucky, United States
Classification: Straight Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 59.8% ABV
Price: $13.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A solid, no-frills bourbon at a great price.