Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey lives up to its designation with a bold flavor profile and a smoothness that belies its high proof. It might be a little sweet and even medicinal-tasting for bourbon superfans, but it’s still a reliable and affordable choice that’s especially great in cocktails.
Classification Kentucky straight bourbon
Company Heaven Hill
Distillery Heaven Hill Distillery (Louisville, Kentucky)
Cask new American oak
Still Type copper
Released 2012, ongoing
Proof 100 (50% ABV)
Aged four years
Awards Platinum, 2021 SIP Awards; Double Gold, 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition; Silver, 2021 International Spirits Challenge; Bronze, 2020 New York International Spirits Competition
Full of flavor and complexity
Great value for a higher-proof bourbon
Surprisingly smooth at 100 proof
Sweeter notes linger and may put off some experienced bourbon fans.
A slightly medicinal finish
Color: Deep brown/copper
Nose: Less overwhelming than one might expect for a 100-proof whiskey. The dominant notes are not alcohol and oak, but rather caramel and vanilla, with hints of brown sugar, cinnamon, apple, and honey.
Palate: It opens bright and fruity, with just a hint of the alcohol and oak involved. On the mid-palate, while it is chewy and fruit notes start to emerge, the overall effect is of a light- to medium-bodied whiskey with emerging vanilla, black pepper, and cinnamon. At the back of the throat, the alcohol and oak kick in, but with less impact than one might expect (This is still a 100-proof spirit: Drink in moderation). An almost-medicinal sweetness lingers at the back of the mouth.
Finish: A medium-to-short finish of oak, vanilla, black pepper, and menthol. As it continues to evolve, the remnants of the finish trend more towards a menthol, medicinal character, with a hint of brown sugar on the tongue.
Back in the 1800s, American whiskey was as much a Wild West enterprise as the Wild West itself. There was little government regulation, and consumers had few qualms about drinking whatever was available. Making whiskey is expensive, and many producers would cut corners by watering down their product to a lower proof, adding coloring and flavoring to make it appear older, and buying up the cheapest stock they could find to pour into their bottles.
Though many of the major brands we still know and love today were making great whiskey at the time, it was clear something had to be done to ensure both the quality of the spirit and the safety of the end consumer. Thus the legit brands and the U.S. government teamed up in 1897 to pass the Bottled-in-Bond Act, which ensured any whiskey labeled as such had been distilled at only one American distillery in the same season (January to June or July to December), aged at least four years under strict supervision, and bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV). Add in later regulations clarifying that “straight bourbon” has to be produced in America, include at least 51% corn in its mash bill, contain zero additives, and age for specified times in American oak, and you’ve got a near-ironclad recipe for a certain level of authenticity.
The rules governing bottled-in-bond whiskey add expenses (longer aging times, less water, more monitoring), but the results still tend to be cheaper than fancy aged sipping whiskeys you’re likely to see on the top shelf.
Also known as the “White Label” expression, Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond was released in 2012 as the modern bottled-in-bond trend was accelerating among bartenders and bourbon fans. While the name harkens back to the beginnings of American whiskey—Williams was a Welsh immigrant credited with making Kentucky whiskey perhaps as early as 1783—the modern Evan Williams company dates to 1957. Nevertheless this bottle represents a whole lotta Kentucky bourbon history.
On the nose, it is subtle and sweet despite the higher proof. You’ll find the requisite vanilla and caramel notes, but also hints of brown sugar, honey, cinnamon, and apple. On the palate it is surprisingly easygoing, with a light oak-alcohol tannic bite up front and hints of the same autumnal sweetness you find in the nose. On the mid-palate it’s medium-bodied but chewy, with an increasing spice and oak note. As it exits, the finish is not particularly long or satisfying, and there is a hint of a medicinal note that lingers, along with a sweetness. It’s here, especially, that fans of high-quality bourbons may balk. This is not an overly complex whiskey, and while tasty, the finish may be less than satisfying.
One place where the whiskey especially shines, though, is in cocktails. The higher proof, the full-bodied character, and the slightly brash “crunchiness” of the spirit stands up nicely to a wide variety of mixers.
According to the company, Evan Williams is the number-one selling bottled-in-bond product on the market.