Evan Williams Single Barrel, the only vintage-dated, single-barrel whiskey from Heaven Hill, will now become a Kentucky-only label, the company has confirmed. Once current inventory sells through, this rye-recipe bourbon will be unavailable anywhere but the Bluegrass State. The move was prompted by the rapid growth of Evan Williams 1783, Evan Williams Bottled in Bond, and other products that draw from the same barrel inventory. That put pressure on Evan Williams Single Barrel, whose packaging—hand-bottled and wax-sealed—makes it significantly more expensive to bottle.
Brands and expressions come and go, so why does this one matter? Debuting in 1995, Evan Williams Single Barrel was a major player in the early years of bourbon’s renaissance. It was the first national extension of Heaven Hill’s flagship label. Originally, it was a 9 year old, but the age was lowered to 7 to 8 years a few years ago. This single barrel expression is bottled at an unusual, but very specific 86.6 proof (43.3% ABV).
Blanton’s was the first single-barrel bourbon, followed by several other single-barrel offerings. Heaven Hill took the concept one step further with this “vintage” label, which made the series unique. It wasn’t a limited release in the usual sense of a finite number of bottles. Each year, typically in January, Heaven Hill simply changed the year on the label and began to bottle a different batch.
Price was another difference. Blanton’s was about $40 a bottle in 1995. The other top-shelf bourbons at the time, Booker’s and Wild Turkey Kentucky Spirit, were about the same. Evan Williams Single Barrel sold for half as much.
From its beginning in the 1950s, Evan Williams was always the “more for your money” bourbon, advertised as delivering more age and higher proof for a lower price than category leaders Jim Beam and Jack Daniel’s. On that platform, it grew to become the No. 3 best-selling American whiskey, a position it holds today. Standard Evan Williams Black Label lost its 7 year age statement in 2005, also a victim of inventory pressure, but its market share was secure.
As the Evan Williams Single Barrel series went on, each vintage was a time capsule of the unique climatic conditions that occurred during that particular nine-year period. It recorded the company’s history too. Any bottle barreled before November of 1996 was distilled at DSP-KY-31, the Heaven Hill Distillery in Bardstown that was destroyed by fire that month. Most of the 1997 vintage was distilled at Jim Beam in Clermont. The 1998 and ‘99 were distilled at Brown-Forman in Shively. The 2000 vintage was the first distilled at Bernheim in Louisville, the company’s current distillery.
Evan Williams Single Barrel is available at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience and select Kentucky retailers. The suggested retail price is $27.