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In the world of bourbon bottles under $20, the pickings are pretty slim – especially in 2023. Prices are rising for everything and even the bottom shelfers aren’t safe anymore. But there is one bottle that stands out in this segment – Evan Williams Bottled in Bond or EWBiB for short.
Can a sub-$20 bottle really stand out though? It can if it offers one of the highest bottling proofs for the price. Benchmark Full Proof comes close, but that’s often found between $23-$25. Those aren’t the only two budget bottles that pack a lot of heat, but they’re the two that stick out in my mind for the price.
Describe Modern Day Bourbon in One Word: Expensive
If a bourbon is labeled bottled in bond, that means it’s going to be 100 proof. It’s also aged a minimum of four years. I’ve read enough reviews and articles and even heard that Bernie Lubbers have all claimed that EWBiB is at least five years old. That’s less than $4 per year aged – a great value no matter which bourbon we’re talking about.
Evan Williams is more than likely chill filtered before it’s bottled. That’s not a terribly big deal because a majority of Heaven Hill products are too. But it does make me curious what kinds of flavors might be lost because of it.
Speaking of Heaven Hill, all of their whiskies are distilled at Bernheim Distillery which is located in Louisville. From there, the whiskey is barreled up and matured on one of six different campus’s that Heaven Hill owns.
I am speculating here, but I think that Evan Williams barrels are probably aged at the brick warehouses located at Bernheim Distillery.
My reasoning behind this has to do with the Evan Williams Experience being located in downtown Louisville. So it would make sense to distill, age and bottle that whiskey nearby.
I also recently saw a picture of the 2023 bottling of Evan Williams Hero Edition where it wears a cardboard necktag that claims it came from barrels aged in warehouse 1E and 1J (see above). Those are two of the seven warehouses located on the Bernheim Distillery campus with the others being 1F, 1G, 1H, 1I, 1K.
This is something I’ve never mentioned on any previous Evan Williams bottling, but it makes a strong case that Evan Williams of all types might be aged at Bernheim.
Evan Williams Bottled in Bond doesn’t normally need all of that exposition behind it. It’s a bourbon that many of my bourbon drinking friends associate with an easy drinker for a great price.
The kind of bottle you bring out of your cabinet when you want something tasty, but don’t want to break into your more expensive bottles. I personally think it stands up really great in a cocktail since the extra proof ensures the flavor of the whiskey isn’t playing second fiddle to the rest of the ingredients. The bottom line is – it can be many things to many people.
This review has been a long time coming though. How exactly does Evan Williams BiB taste by itself? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Nose: I find the opening scents in my glass to be pretty standard bourbon fare. The bourbon itself smells sweet, like a melted Payday candy bar.
Those nutty caramel scents are the stars of the show. There’s also a nice bit of vanilla and baking spices (with cinnamon being the standout) for depth. Oak isn’t strong enough to have an impact on the other scents but instead just kind of lurks behind them.
The youthfulness shows through with some raw grain notes. Not enough to bring the experience down, but just enough to remind you this is a $20 bottle.
Palate: My initial impression is that this doesn’t taste a day over 5 years old. The graininess I find is pretty apparent. There is enough sweetness to make me not mind, but this isn’t going to blow away your expectations.
Traditional Heaven Hill notes like Peanut Brittle are found on the tongue as well as some corn/cornbread notes, vanilla and more baking spices. The proof punch lets your tongue know this isn’t some wimpy 80 proof or even the standard 90 proof bottle. It’s much more bold without being too aggressive. The one thing it’s missing is fruit flavors. I can’t find any.
Finish: Some of the graininess subside on the finish leaving behind more Payday candy bar notes. I can even taste some chocolate after a brief pause. The chocolate helps highlight some oak on the finish too. The finish is uncomplicated and just sweet enough to remember the last sip as an enjoyable affair.
I figured coming into this review that Evan Williams Bottled in Bond wasn’t going to catch me off guard with amazing levels of complexity or flavors. Sure enough, what I found was a no-nonsense bottle that delivered an amped-up experience from the regular Evan Williams Small Batch 1783 bottle.
There are some tradeoffs though. Small Batch is a bit sweeter and covers up the youthful grainy notes much better. That may be because it has older barrels dumped into it since it doesn’t have to follow the bottled in bond rules of being the product of one distillation season.
But it misses out on delivering the spice notes and extra vanilla like Bottled-in-Bond does. It just goes to show how different the same bourbon at different proofs can be.
Of course I’m going to recommend this bottle. There’s no situation where a bottle like this wouldn’t come in handy. You don’t even have to worry about the cork falling apart if you decide to store it for 10 or 20 years because it’s a screwcap.
Take that Wild Turkey 101! Oh, but speaking of WT101, for the price, EWBiB has an advantage over its competitors like that. Everything else is subjective between the two. Old Forester 100 proof could also come into the picture and reminds us that it’s around the same age and proof too.
All of the sudden, cheap bourbon is looking like something that maybe we shouldn’t underestimate. We all fell in love with it at some point and sometimes it’s good to get a taste that brings you back to our roots. After all, bourbon doesn’t have to be complicated to be enjoyed.
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