Wednesday, January 2, 2013

The New Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Is Here

In 2003, the Iraq War began, “Chicago” won Best Picture, Tampa won the Super Bowl, and the next release of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage (EWSBV) was distilled and barreled.

Advance release bottles of the 2003 vintage are making the rounds now and it will start to appear in stores any day. EWSBV rarely disappoints and 2003 is no exception. It’s similar to the 2002, a bit deeper and richer. Easily overlooked because it is so consistently excellent, there is no better way for a bourbon drinker to start the new year.

The EWSBV series began 17 years ago, a remarkable feat in its own right. It anticipated the bourbon renaissance and in a small way probably helped to bring it about. No other producer has done anything quite like it.

Even 17 years on, the concept is innovative and sophisticated. Each year, Heaven Hill bottles, in single barrel format, whiskey distilled nine years before. Although by law age statements just reflect a minimum age, EWSBV dump dates always reflect at least nine years but less than ten in wood, and they put each barrel’s exact fill and dump dates on the label, along with an identifying barrel number.

The idea is that there are slight differences from barrel to barrel within a vintage as well as between vintages, but there is always a family resemblance. As the series evolved it came to represent what Heaven Hill felt was the best of their bourbon output during a given year, a calling card of sorts, a sample of liquid from their vast inventory that possesses all the qualities they feel a first-rate bourbon should have, a benchmark.

Heaven Hill makes many different distilled spirits products for many different tastes, but they began in 1934 as a bourbon maker and have always been a bourbon maker most of all. Because the age of EWSBV is fixed at nine years it will never be their oldest bourbon. Instead it is the bourbon that says, “this is who we are, this is what we’re all about.”

One unique characteristic of Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage is that it is not a limited edition in the usual sense. Instead of making a finite number of bottles, they dump and bottle throughout the year based on how many orders they receive. They can run out theoretically but not practically, and scarcity is not the point as it is with a typical limited edition. This is reflected in, among other things, its modest price. Heaven Hill has always been about value so it makes sense that their signature bourbon is a good one. The suggested retail price is the same as last year, $25.99.

Now is the time to start looking for it at your local whiskey monger. They probably will still have some 2002 on the shelf too. The new vintage typically rolls out during the first two months of the year. Distributors and retailers tend to want the previous vintage to sell through before they release the new one, so if you don’t see the 2003 but see a lot of 2002, that’s probably why.

Since it’s always new without being newsy, the new EWSBV release doesn’t receive a lot of publicity, but it’s consistently one of the year’s most important bourbon releases.


Anonymous said...

Whoa, can be over 10 years old - I have 10 yr, 3 mo. old bottles in the 2002 release.

Chuck Cowdery said...

They're pretty rare, but I take the point.

Anonymous said...

Since you're on the subject and apparently have received an advanced sample, is each barrel tasted (quality control) before it's bottled as vintage single barrel? Just wondering ...

Chuck Cowdery said...

Good question. A sample from each barrel is nosed, but not tasted, before that barrel is dumped. A sample from each batch of candidate barrels is tasted before that batch is selected. A 'batch' is a group of barrels -- 50 or so -- distilled and barreled on the same day and stored together in the same location in the warehouse.

Anonymous said...

Got into Bourbon 4 or 5 years ago and over that time have acquired a nice collection for what I am guessing is less than $1000. That being said when I head down to the bar for a nice pour, more often than not I end up with EW SB '99. Why '99? Well I've got a bottle left and as I've learned on this site "Whiskey don't keep!"

Good to hear I can look forward to 2003.

Anonymous said...

Just picked up a bottle of 2003 that was barreled on February 23, 2003 and bottled on October 26, 2013 so 10 years and 8 months on this one. It's mighty good for the $25 I paid for it but I'd rather spend the same money on more Elmer T. Lee. Happy to have both, though.