In this blog, Rob and I sit down with two bottles of what would seem complete opposites, but they both make the favorite list for the same reason…Pure drinking enjoyment!
The first bottle we cracked open was Evan Williams black label Kentucky Bourbon. Starting with the exterior, the first thing that one will notice is the distinct similarities to everybody’s old friend Jack Daniels, although Mr. Williams has been tickling folks pallets for a staggering 92 years before JD, it is safe to safe to say he has earned his right to the black label . A straight to the point black wrap with bold white letters to let you know exactly what you are in store for, while leaving the gimmicks behind. Although bottled in Bardstown, the product is distilled along the beautiful Kentucky Bourbon Trail at Heaven Hill distillery in Louisville, which is responsible for a couple of whiskey’s that will be sampled on our show, including the coveted Elijah Craig Single Barrel.
Evan black label is an 86 proof, 5-7 year aged, medium amber bourbon with a nose that is advertised as “Light, with deep vanilla and mint”. While Rob was able to pick up on the mint after a couple of sniff tests, it is something that I never experienced. While I have had a longstanding relationship with Evan, the main pickups for me are a light “oakiness” backed up with an even lighter scent of vanilla. With most of our reviews, we try to test each whiskey 2 or 3 different ways, neat, rocks and when needed, add a mixer. My personal feeling is that the black label is not a sipping whiskey. I feel while it makes for an excellent Whiskey and Soda, it is a bit harsher than I prefer for a shot on the rocks. I understand that a lot of people may disagree with my assessment, but nonetheless, I still have a huge place in my heart for Evan Williams!
Rob and I decided to take a go at this Kentucky favorite with a Cherry Soda mixer. This flavored Coke was actually grabbed by mistake out the fridge, but fate was on our side that night as this turned out to be the perfect concoction! The light vanilla and deep hidden caramel notes were really accentuated by this fine mixer, leaving us with a sweet, cherry vanilla glass of goodness. Note: Your friends here at Whiskey on the Rails pour very generous drinks and don’t believe in skimping on the good stuff, so with that being said, the harshness that I spoke of earlier still poked its head through the mixer ever so slightly. By no means is this a bad thing when mixed with Cherry Coke, as it really enhances the flavor and is more of Evan’s little way of reminding you that he will not be buried!
Evan Williams is one of my all-time favorites and will continue to be for many reasons. The price ranges on a fifth of the black label across the US between $11.29(yes, you read that correctly) and $18.99. We were able to find this gem in the $12.00 price range, solidifying why it took the crown for “Best Buy Whiskey of the Year” in 2011 at the Annual Malt Advocate Whisky Awards. Don’t let the price fool you, fact is, Evan Williams a great mixing whiskey made by a great company, the price should just be more of a reason to make this a key piece of your at home bar puzzle. Having the boys over for poker on a Friday night is not going to affect your bankroll when you start mixing up Evans and Cherry!
Our next stop was another Kentucky Bourbon Trail product, Jim Beams “Pride of the Rack house” Single Barrel Bourbon. Being the Beam guys we are we couldn’t wait to review this 4-7 year aged, 95 proof bourbon. The exterior of this bottle screams class and pride from its sleek lines, to the sticker informing you on batch and barrel information, all the way to nicely wrapped cap which has been upgraded from twist off, to cork plug. With drool forming, we cracked open this beauty and dove in head first.
Upon the initial sniff test, we picked up strong oak and vanilla tones. The aroma this bourbon puts off should be captured and pumped into every DMV, grocery store and office cubicle; as the world would be a better place! My booze hound experience has taught me many lessons, and one of them is generally the higher proof a bottle is, usually results with me wincing and gasping for air after drinking it. This single barrel proved my life’s work entirely wrong. Like I mentioned before, JBSB comes in at a whopping 95 proof but feels like silk when consumed.
When this hit my lips, I heard angels singing and my mind was at ease. I have to admit the first sip was purely an oak taste and finish which was enjoyable, but the following drinks were all about the caramel background. This bourbon deserves the respect of you trying at least one shot neat and then moving to some rocks if needed. I am sure if I dig in the Kentucky law books I will find that mixing this sweet nectar with anything but good friends and a cigar will result in public shaming and jail time. Now along with the caramel you are going to pick up the signature Jim Beam corn flavor as well. The only thing lacking is the “throat hit”. If you have followed Whiskey on the Rails, you know that I like my whiskey to give me a little burn, not too much, just enough to let me know she cares. This bourbon is far too smooth and is missing that enjoyable part of whiskey drinking.
This bottle comes in around the $35.00 mark and to me is money well spent. I mean come on, my only complaint about this bottle was that it was “too smooth”….Who am I kidding, this stuff is amazing! I have heard other folks say that they don’t feel Jim Beam Single Barrel compares to the complexity and depths of other single barrels on the market, I totally disagree. Dollar for dollar Beam Single Barrel holds its own, making it the 2015 Gold Medal Winner by the Beverage Testing Institute. This is a special occasion bottle that is going to please any whiskey drinker. If you haven’t given this a shot (pun intended) please, make it a point to do so!