Last weekend, it was my birthday and that was the primary reason why I didn’t write a new liquor review as I had been drinking it up with some friends at our local bar, The Roost. If you’re ever in the Silverlake/Atwater Village area, I highly recommend this dive bar, if you’re looking for a stiff drink. It’s a cash-only joint for the booze but you can pay on your credit card, if you buy their food, which, all things considered, is actually quite decent for a dive bar. Neat Fact: a good friend of mine, Cake Girl, personally bakes all the bread that they serve there at the bar for their burgers, sandwiches, and what have you. She specializes in all things vegan and gluten-free. So if you’re a vegan, she makes some really killer bakery goods, pastries, and other confectionery goodies. She’ll be opening up a brick-and-mortar store front soon so be sure to follow her on Facebook and her Instagram, Hello Cake Girl, for regular updates.
Now, let’s get back to Evan Williams (EW) Bourbon Whiskey. What can I say that hasn’t already been thoroughly said throughout the internet as the main bourbon whiskey of choice when you just want something cheap but still decent tasting for its category? Honestly, I kind of feel like all the raving reviews of this bourbon is overrated. I mean, for a sub-$10 bottle of bourbon, it’s hard to really complain much. Then again, you seriously have plenty of choices when it comes to under $10 booze nowadays. Case and point. A simple stroll through CVS and you’ll find yourself with at least a dozen of bottom shelf liquors that are just screaming at you, “Buy Me!” Maybe at one point in time, Evan Williams may have set the standard for value whiskeys but these days? I don’t know. The bourbon definitely does not live up to its name or its taste for that matter. A simple Google search using the keywords “Evan Williams Bourbon,” and you’ll find a slew of websites touting how great it is for a bottom shelf whiskey. And here, I’m sitting at my desk with my laptop in front of me, both hands on my keyboard thinking, “Are we still talking about the same Black Label Evan Williams Bourbon Whiskey here?” That is, the same EW Bourbon with no age statement on its label but that supposedly has all these “complex” flavors that is unique to Kentucky Straight Bourbons?
If I had to sum it up in one sentence, EW Bourbon is only just slightly better than Jim Beam Bourbon. Why do I say that? Because between the two, EW actually masks the harshness of the whiskey just enough that you won’t really notice it unless you’re really spraying it across your palette and noting its flavor profile. Now, maybe it’s just me, but all those descriptions of it supposedly having hints of leather, vanilla, butterscotch, and what have you? They mean nothing to me. Absolutely nothing. Maybe my Chinese palette is simply not fine tuned enough to pick up those notes of vanilla, or leather, or butterscotch but you can also look at it another way. From the perspective of a casual drinker, the flavor profile probably isn’t the first thing to come to mind so much as is it being drinkable, worth the money, and/or easy to find. I would wager that the latter three points matter more to the bottom shelf drinker than it does its taste because at that level, one can’t possibly expect much, you know what I mean? It’s like going to a Chinese restaurant, ordering something that they didn’t advertise or specialize in, and getting upset about the quality of the food when it inevitably falls short of expectations. You just don’t go to a Chinese restaurant, order a sandwich, and then get upset that the sandwich was sub-par. You go to a Chinese restaurant to order, you guessed it, Chinese food. In the same light, if you buy a bottom shelf whiskey, you don’t judge it based on a whiskey that was aged much longer. You’d be comparing apples and oranges right then and there and obviously, the whiskey that was aged longer will almost always taste better, have a much more complex flavor profile, and smoother as well as easier to drink overall, no chaser or mixer needed.
Getting back to Evan Williams Bourbon though, upon cracking open the bottle, there’s a strong whiff of something other than alcohol that comes shooting out of the bottle. I can’t quite put my finger on it other than it smelled faintly like leather of some sort but with a really strong artificial chemical-smelling aroma. It’s almost like they dipped a whole sleeve of dried leather in acetone or something. It is definitely not a pleasant smell. But thankfully, I didn’t taste neither leather nor acetone when I took my first sip. That first sip though? It had this weird body. I’m not entirely sure how to describe it but it’s kind of drinking black coffee. More specifically, it’s like drinking a French Roast straight up. It’s that thick-like texture that makes you think that it’s going to be bitter but it wasn’t. Then when the bourbon has gone down the gullet, I was expecting the harshness of the whiskey to become very apparent but nothing of the sort came in its wake. It also gave me a warm feeling once this liquor hit my intestines. Not a burning sensation like Smirnoff vodka. Just a warm feeling, which is pleasant, all things considered. On the label, it describes this bottle as being smooth. I suppose it’s smooth, relative to Jim Beam, but when compared to Jethro T Boots Straight Bourbon, I would say that the CVS store brand bourbon beats Evan Williams hands down in the smoothness department. But if you like that smoky flavor that a lot of bourbons tend to have (or usually have), you won’t be getting that with Jethro T Boots. And in that case, Evan Williams definitely beats both Jethro T Boots and Jim Beam. The last time I had a Jim Beam Bourbon neat, maybe it was just me, but I felt like perhaps Jim Beam has changed their formula yet again and it was missing that smoky flavor. You can smell it but the taste wasn’t there. Now, me personally? I don’t care much for the smoky flavor and especially so for the bottom shelf bourbons but if this was a mid-tier bourbon, I might say otherwise. Nevertheless, I would still choose Jethro T Boots over both Jim Beam and Evan Williams just because it’s a lot easier to sip on neat with almost none of the artificial smelling chemicals that was just so obvious here in this bottle of EW.
I’ve tried drinking EW with some water and I wouldn’t really recommend it. The water dispersed that chemical that masked the harshness when I sipped it neat. It was really, really harsh with a splash of water. Apparently, chilling this with some ice also had the same effect. That harshness was really apparent. However, if you buy a bottle of sparkling water with fruit flavors, surprisingly, it tastes pretty decent. For my review, I bought a bottle of sparkling water from CVS with tangerine and lime flavors. I’m not entirely sure if its the citrus flavors or the sugar substitute sweetener in the sparkling water that made this taste good but in either case, if you plan on drinking an Evan Williams, I would suggest that you go this route. Adding ice to this mix (as in sparkling wine and EW together), oddly enough, actually made it taste better. But so far as adding regular water and/or ice each by themselves with EW? I would suggest that you avoid doing either. Also, I would strongly suggest that you have some sort of chaser like a beer of your choice, if you plan on sipping this neat. At some point, that weird chemical flavor will get to you. It definitely got to me. Not like an IPA or anything fancy like that. Just a Coors or a PBR will suffice. Just a light flavored lager to help cleanse the palette of that weird chemical flavor. I haven’t tried it with plain club soda yet but I would imagine that, like adding a splash of water, the harshness will come to the forefront.
Some final notes worth mentioning: for whatever reason, this bourbon gave me one of the worst possible headaches after-the=fact. And that’s with eating some carbs (I had Domino’s pizza) to help me sober up after getting a good buzz. I really do think that there’s something in the Evan Williams new formula that gives you this terrible headache. I’ve never had this problem before with other bottom shelf liquors, even when I’ve drunk them with energy drinks, both the regular and sugar free versions, sparkling water, regular water, and soda’s. I think the only thing that rivals this kind of headache is if I had drank a whole 6 pack of regular Budweiser and didn’t eat anything or drink water after-the-fact. It’s that kind of throbbing, sledgehammer headache.