Evan Williams is my go-to low cost bourbon brand. I’ve found their products to be solidly mediocre at a rock bottom price point, something that everyone needs to keep on hand in their liquor cabinet for mixing cocktails or for those nights when you just can’t bring yourself to open the Lagavulin. Today we’re looking at their Green Label, a charcoal filtered bourbon in the style of a Tennessee whiskey like Jack Daniel’s.
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, specifically pointing out that the first recorded distiller only came about in 1892… well before Williams arrival 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, and 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, 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 survived 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 largest 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.
There’s not a whole lot of detail we know about this spirit, as it isn’t even listed on Evan William’s own website. But we can make some assumptions based on the standard bourbon they offer.
The standard Evan Williams 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.
At some point during this process, the whiskey is charcoal filtered to remove impurities — presumably prior to barreling (again, not a ton of information about this bottle). This is very similar to the charcoal filtration process used for Jack Daniel’s, but since this is Kentucky and not Tennessee, it doesn’t count as the famous Lincoln County process to be labeled as Tennessee Whiskey.
Once upon a time, the Evan Williams line bore an age statement of seven years but in recent times the demand has been outstripping supply. As a result, they’ve dropped the age statement and now age their product for as little as five years prior to bottling.
The bottle itself is fairly similar to what you get with the likes of Jack Daniels or Jim Beam. The glass bottle sports a square body with a pyramid-esque shoulder that extends into a long and slender neck. The bottle is topped off with a plastic cap.
Also like those other brands, the label covers nearly the entire face of the bottle except for the very top and bottom where the liquor can be seen. This is primarily done for bars, so that a patron won’t know that they are ordering from a mostly empty bottle (as full bottles are more appealing). It’s a shame, since that means the amber color of the spirit is covered up and hidden from view.
Overall, this smells like a standard bourbon… with a twist. There’s the caramel and vanilla notes, but almost immediately you can sense something in the background that’s fruity. Almost like a ripe banana. It’s a bit different from Evan Williams’ other offerings. Also missing is the harsh industrial alcohol note, which seems to have been mellowed out by the charcoal.
The spirit is very light, especially for a straight bourbon whiskey. More watery than expected, almost like the consistency of skim milk. If I didn’t know better, I’d say this was under 40% ABV just based on the mouth feel alone.
Despite those five years in the barrel, the flavor is about as thin as the plot in an adult film. But that ripe banana note makes a comeback here and adds some depth and complexity that you don’t see in the normal offering to make up for some of that lightness.
All that said, it’s not bad. The flavor is pleasant and smooth throughout without a hint of bitterness or a bite.
Everything except the caramel and the banana flavor has disappeared. There’s a touch of vanilla, but you really have to look for it. Almost like vanilla is hiding behind the curtains in the background with just its feet sticking out from underneath. That said I’m not mad — it’s like someone threw some banana chips into a glass of grain alcohol to add some flavor and I’m here for it.
With the normal version of Evan William’s bourbon, there’s a bit of an alcohol bite that the ice helps reduce. In this case, there’s no bite to reduce so all you’re doing is further diluting the already light whiskey.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
When something is as light as this, some added ice cubes usually means there’s little hope that a dash of bitters can make a good drink out of it. In this case, though, I think it might just work.
With the added ice, all you get is the sweetness and the fruity banana flavors so the orange bitters add a bit of balance back to the drink. It makes me think that this would be a really good base for a mixed drink, a bourbon that’s just good enough to be relevant in the cocktail but inexpensive and “standard” enough that you don’t feel bad using it that way.
It’s good. It’s not great, but it’s definitely good.
Usually, the bourbons I find do well in a Mule are those with more of a pronounced peppery finish, like those with a heavy rye content. In this case, the peppery finish is absent so all this spirit brings to the party is the ripe banana flavor, a bit of caramel, and the sweetness to counteract the bitter ginger beer.
I prefer more flavor in a mule, but this is an acceptable level of flavor. Especially for the price.
The best description I can come up with for this whiskey is “slightly watered down Jack Daniel’s.” It’s got a lot of the same flavor profiles and tools up its sleeves, but without the flavor saturation level that Jack achieves.
But it costs less than half as much as Jack Daniel’s.
It’s smooth and serviceable, either on its own or in a cocktail. And sometimes that’s all you need.
|Evan Williams Green Label
Kentucky, United States
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 40% ABV
Price: $8.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
For the price, this is a great thing to keep stocked in the liquor cabinet.