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Evan Williams is one of Heaven Hill’s many whiskey brands. It shares the same mash bill—with rye constituting the “small” grain—as Elijah Craig, JTS Brown, and Henry McKenna, to name a few. As with other brands, Evan Williams has a single barrel program. However, Evan Williams Single Barrel is also something of a “vintage” line: each year, Heaven Hill releases a new batch of single barrel bourbons distilled approximately nine years earlier.
The earliest releases were distilled beginning in 1986 and continued until a (thankfully) brief interruption in 1996, when Heaven Hill burned to the ground, along with nearly 8 million gallons of whiskey. After this, Evan Williams Single Barrel was produced for a spell at Beam (1997) and Brown-Forman (1998 and 1999) under Heaven Hill’s direction, until Heaven Hill resumed production at its new distillery, Bernheim, in 2000.
I have taken my sweet time with a bottle of 1998 Brown-Forman-made, Heaven Hill-specified Evan Williams Single Barrel. And it’s very good, indeed.
The nose is a touch closed at first, but eventually opens to baking spices, black cherry, marzipan, dark chocolate, and a hint of must. There are occasional notes of acetone. It is all quite dark and deep.
The palate dovetails remarkably well with the nose. Again, there is black cherry, marzipan, and dark chocolate, with subtler touches of vanilla and acetone. It is spicy, fairly smooth—though somehow still hotter going down than I’d prefer—and medium bodied.
Admittedly, I have yet to be converted to the Heaven Hill profile: their whiskies tend to be hotter and lighter in flavor than I typically enjoy. Nonetheless, this is certainly the finest Heaven Hill bourbon (yes, yes, made at Brown-Forman) I have had to-date, aside from the 2010 release of Parker’s Heritage Collection (a barrel-strength wheated bourbon). This whiskey is attractive, nuanced, and spectacularly balanced, and it is simply amazing how well the nose and palate complement one another.