First Taste of Evan Williams 2002 Bourbon | Cigar Aficionado

Cigar Aficionado

First Taste of Evan Williams 2002 Bourbon

Bottling of the 17th annual version of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage has begun and the popular vintage-dated Bourbon is scheduled to reach shelves beginning in January.

Heaven Hill Distilleries, the producer, debuted this year’s Evan Williams Single Barrel at a tasting event on November 5 at its Bourbon Heritage Center in Bardstown, Kentucky. Cigar Aficionado received its sample soon after.

In each of the past 17 years, Heaven Hill’s master distiller Parker Beam has showcased a group of casks from the company’s vast collection of aging whiskey (now numbering about one million barrels). Beam’s son Craig has joined him as co-master distiller and is now also part of the annual barrel selection process. The single-barrel designation means that the casks of the whiskey are not married—as is done with most Bourbon—to achieve consistency. Therefore, while the barrels in each vintage release are aged in similar conditions, each bottle will not taste exactly the same.

The 800 casks that make up this years vintage come from a number of rickhouses, but all were pulled from floors numbering between four and seven and were chosen to match a specific taste profile. The barrel from which we tasted came from the Rickhouse “R,” where it slept at fifth-floor level on the south-facing side of that storage facility. It was proofed at 129.8 and bottled at 86.6 proof after reduction with water.

Portrait of master distiller Parker Beam with son Craig.
Craig Beam, left, has joined his father Parker as co-master distiller and is now also part of the annual barrel selection process.

Beam, a sixth generation distiller and a grandnephew to Jim Beam, has said, “Even though the mashbill—grain recipe—is the same from year to year, we try to achieve a particular flavor profile with each vintage.” Warehouse location has a great effect on Bourbon flavor as temperatures vary widely throughout the facilities.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage is an offshoot of the original Evan Williams, however, it is typically aged between nine and 10 years as opposed to five to seven in the case of the standard bottling. The Single Barrel Vintage was first released in 1994, when it carried such information as the day it went into the barrel and the number of the cask.

A few years into the program, Heaven Hill added the date at which the whiskey was barreled, thus allowing consumers to know the exact age of the Bourbon they were drinking.    

Selling for $25.99, this limited release represents an exceptional bargain considering its pedigree and quality.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2002 (86.6 proof, 43.3 alcohol by volume, $25.99)
Barrel No. 1, barreled on June 7, 2002, bottled on November 1, 2011

APPEARANCE: Amber color with a hint of copper green. Takes forever to give up its dewdrop legs.

NOSE:  Rich aroma of maple candy, vanilla, olive oil and some tangy orange peel.

PALATE: The maple candy from the nose makes the initial stand on the palate and soon gets reinforcement from a spice bombardment of licorice and tarragon. Then the flavor moves seamlessly into olive oil territory to be joined with saffron and cashews.

FINISH: The savory and nutty notes continue on the front of the long finish before turning into hard candy with lots of orange and some tangerine.