I've never had a single Evan Williams product, though I do remember my grandfather drinking the black label (which to me always looked like a Jack Daniels rip off). From their website, the First Distiller in Kentucky has their standard bourbons in green, black, and white bottled at 80, 86, and 100 proof respectively. And the specialty offerings include a 1783 Small Batch Bourbon (named for the year Evan Williams started the first distillery in Kentucky), as well as the aforementioned Single Barrel Bourbon which is released with a new vintage of barrels each year.
The single barrel is hand selected by Heaven Hill "Master Distillers Parker and Craig Beam...to meet their exacting standards." What exactly does this mean? As some of you know, most whiskies are a combination of barrels of whiskey, that can even be different ages, that are used to create the desired flavor characteristics. Single barrels, eschew that practice, offering you a "true" whiskey just as it tastes straight from the barrel. Is this a good thing? It can be, but not always. That's a debate for another post. For now, here's an exerpt that explains the Heaven Hill philosophy on the single barrel phenomenon:
"What turns it into one of our premier Single Barrel Bourbons depends on a couple of things: where we put the barrel and how long we let it stay there. When it comes time to bottle the Bourbon, we concentrate on the barrels that have been stored in key rick house locations - generally those on the upper floors (referred to as the 'honey barrels'). We call that the 'penthouse.' That's where the temperatures rise and fall most widely during extremely hot Kentucky summers and bitter cold winters. As the contents of each barrel react to these extreme temperature changes, the whiskey actually moves through the char layer inside the barrel and builds color and character. Then, when the Bourbon has aged long enough, either my dad, Parker, or I taste a sample to determine if it has matured to the level required for Single Barrel status."
So, to Single Barrel or not to Single Barrel? That is the question.
Cost - $25 for 750ml bottle
Content - 43.3% ABV
Age - 10 years
Interesting Bottle Fact - You can find the barrel number, date it was barreled, and bottled on date on the back label.
-Nice, deep amber color
-Heavy mouth feel
-Sweet with some smoke to it
-Heat on the finish
-A little oak char too
Verdict: Skip It
I know a single barrel is not for everyone, but I have enjoyed others. Namely, the Knob Creek Single Barrel and also the Four Roses offering. This one however, I couldn't quite get behind. It's solid enough, but it's also a bit hot and unruly at points neat. I was expecting a little more polish, and that's where I think the blending of bourbon barrels would come in (which has me curious about their 1783 Small Batch Bourbon). The smokier elements were also not to my tastes, but I can see cigar fans and those who enjoy smoky whiskies really liking this one. When all is said and done however, I think this single barrel is proof that the blending process has been traditionally used for a reason - to smooth out the edges.
(Images from DP)