Rising from the ashes of Prohibition and into the midst of the Great Depression in Bardstown, KY, Heaven Hill Distillery has grown to be the largest independent family-owned and operated producers of distilled spirits products in the US, and the second-largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. The distillery was set up in 1935 after a small group approached the Shapira family seeking capital investment to set up a distillery using their technical expertise. Following personal financial difficulties among the other members of the founding group, their interests in the “Old Heavenhill Springs” distillery was bought out by the Shapira family making the distillery a fully family-owned enterprise. With renewed purpose the family kept on one of the original investors, James L. Beam as Master Distiller, and hired the best bourbon producing talent they could find in their local Bardstown. Four years later in 1939 they released their first product, a 4 year old Bottled in Bond bourbon under the Old Heaven Hill brand. The brand quickly became one of the top selling bourbons in the State and cemented the distillery’s position as one of the top bourbon producers in Kentucky at the time. The name of the distillery originates from the family name of William Heavenhill who was an early pioneer farmer and owned the original property on which the distillery sat. When originally registering the company a clerical mistake resulted in the name becoming Heaven Hill as opposed to Heavenhill.

On November 7th 1996 a fire that started in one of the barrel ageing warehouses spread by strong winds, destroying almost the entire distillery and numerous ageing warehouses. Overall 90,000 barrels of whisky were lost and for the next 3 years the company was dependent on production capacity in neighbouring distilleries. In 1999 Heaven Hill completed the purchase of the Old Bernheim Distillery from Diageo in Louisville and once the distillery was adapted, the production and distillation end moved to Louisville whilst ageing, bottling, and shipping still occur on the original Bardstown site.

Today the modern iteration of the company, Heaven Hill Brands, has become a diversified supplier of whiskeys, liqueurs, vodkas, rums and other spirits. They own 57 rickhouses in Central KY and distribute over 48 brands including 17 bourbon labels such as Henry McKenna, Elijah Craig, Evan William, Larceny, Old Fitzgerald, and Rittenhouse rye to name a few. The distillery also has the largest number of Bottled in Bond whiskies on the market and is the only heritage distiller that features every major category of American whiskey in their 5 distinct mashbills producing traditional bourbon, wheated bourbon, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, and wheat whiskey. Under 7th Master Distiller (and fellow countryman) Conor O’Driscoll the distillery was on course to fill almost 400,000 barrels last year and with continued investment production capacity is growing every year to meet rising demand.

First introduced in 1957, Evan Williams bourbon is Heaven Hill’s flagship bourbon whiskey and is one of the best-selling bourbons in the world. Named in honour of Evan Williams who was a Welsh settler, businessman, politician, and notable whiskey distiller, Heaven Hill accredit Kentucky’s first commercial distillery founded in 1783 to Williams. With the original Evan Williams 86 proof ‘Black Label’ bourbon replacing Old Heaven Hill Bottled-in-Bond as the distillery’s flagship bourbon, some argue that the brand was introduced to compete against Jack Daniel’s Black Label Tennessee whiskey which also comes in a square-shaped bottle and makes reference to being a sour mash whiskey that’s charcoal filtered. As already mentioned, the brand grew into its own and has been a tremendous success for Heaven Hill over the decades with several extensions. Today there are 5 distinct bourbons, and multiple seasonal and flavoured releases bottled under the Evan Williams brand including Evan Williams ‘Black Label’, Evan Williams 1783, Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond, Evan Williams Single Barrel, and the distillery exclusive Evan Williams 12 y.o.

Today I’ll be taking a look at the flagship Evan William’s ‘Black Label’ bourbon. Bottled at 86 proof, this bourbon is also filtered in the dump tank with activated charcoal before bottling, and carries no age statement.

Vital Stats:

Name: Evan Williams ‘Black Label’ Bourbon
Age: NAS
Proof: 86 Proof (43% ABV)
Type: Kentucky straight bourbon
Mashbill:
78% corn, 10% rye, 12% malted barley
Producer:
Heaven Hill Distillery, KY
Website: https://evanwilliams.com/ew-blacklabel
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens with caramel, white pepper rye, herbaceous charred oak, and honey roasted nuts.

Palate: The palate opens with deep caramel before notes of vanilla, roasted almonds, grassy rye spice, faint dried red fruit emerge. As you continue to chew the barrel influence comes through with charred oak riding that wave of rye spice.

Finish: The finish opens with short lingering spice before notes of vanilla, roasted nuts, and charred oak emerge and continue into the aftertaste.

Overall 

Drinking this it’s no surprise that it sells so well. This bourbon brings a lot to the table and ticks a lot of boxes for me in terms of flavour complexity, maturity, and overall drinking experience. Whereas other bourbons in the same price category tend to be very sweet, grain forward, and show their youth, across the board this carries an element of maturity that I wasn’t expecting and is probably either down to the addedageing claimed on the label or older stocks being included in the blend. Due to this it falls a stretch ahead of its competitors by offering a bourbon that is both price and flavour competitive. It’s also goes great in bourbon cocktails with the oak and rye influences coming through nicely and stopping it from becoming lost in all the other flavours of an Old Fashioned or Whiskey Sour. This is a great introduction to the Evan Williams family of bourbons for anyone new to the brand or new to bourbon .

Try or Buy?

If you happen to be somewhere that has this readily available such as the UK, US, or Mainland Europe then fill your boots! You would be hard pushed to find another budget bourbon that tastes better, in my opinion. I wish this was more readily available in Ireland but for now it seems your best bet to get a bottle without paying an arm and a leg is either from mainland Europe or the UK (expect a customs bill though!)- You’ve been warned…

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Before you go…

Before you go…

Before you go…

Like you I’m a whiskey enthusiast. I don’t earn any money from distilleries, their parent companies, or their subsidiaries for my reviews. If you like what you’ve read and want to support this page then why not buy me a dram?

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