For whiskey aficionados, Bardstown Kentucky is a sacred and hallowed place. It's the location of Heaven Hill Distillery, the nation's largest independent, family-owned distiller and the second-largest holder of aging Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey. It recently celebrated the filling of bourbon barrel number six million, which coincidentally occurred 75 years to the day when Heaven Hill filled their first barrel of bourbon in 1935.
The distillery's exalted status can be attributed in part to its proximity to such vital natural resources like rye, corn, wheat, barley and limestone-filtered spring water. Heaven Hill needs a lot of white oak barrels, so it should come as no surprise that Kentucky is the home of the world's finest cooperages. All that notwithstanding, the owners of Heaven Hill would likely say their principal asset was the professional services of master distiller Parker Beam who, along with his son Craig, has for over 50 years produced and nurtured most of the distillery's six million barrels of Kentucky whiskey.
Were Heaven Hill to be judged by only one of its many brands and expressions, Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage Dated Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey would be an excellent choice. First, the bourbon is drawn from a single barrel and when that individual cask is emptied, that's it. A whiskey in a neighboring cask may be similar, but their taste profiles won't be an exact match. Second, the whiskey is vintage dated and each release has distinctive characteristics that make it somehow different from the previous vintage. In short, the whiskey is a slice of life never to be duplicated.
The Evan Williams Single Barrel 2000 vintage was taken off the still and placed in a charred white oak barrel—ours was drawn from barrel #647 on December 1, 2000. It remained in Heaven Hill's voluminous, red brick warehouses until June 3, 2010, when the whiskey was filtered for clarity and bottled at 86.6 proof. Each label is marked with the exact date the bourbon was placed in oak and when it was bottled.
The 2000 vintage offers whiskey enthusiasts a veritable extravaganza for the senses. It has a lustrous mahogany hue and a lush, sexy body with long glycerin legs. The bouquet presents the first evidence of its greatness, that is if you adore the wafting aromas of caramel, vanilla, cocoa, cinnamon and pipe tobacco—and who doesn't? The whiskey raises scant heat as it bathes the palate with mocha, black cherries, nutmeg and toasted oak. The finish is like an extended paid vacation—delightful to the last moment. Take a sip and you'll see why whiskey aficionados have snapped up the previous vintages.
Last and certainly not least, the 2000 vintage bourbon is an incredible value when compared to similarly amazing spirits. How is that possible? Heaven Hill's huge stock of aging whiskey makes attaching a modest price tag financially feasible.
Evan Williams was the state of Kentucky's first legal distiller. In 1783, he founded his distillery on the banks of the Ohio River at what is now 4th Street in historic downtown Louisville. The brand was established in 1934 and has now grown to 9 different expressions, including the Single Barrel Vintage Dated release described above.
The range is anchored by Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon, a Kentucky straight sour mash whiskey aged a minimum of 4 years and bottled at 86 proof. It too is a “must-have” for any self-respecting backbar. The amber colored whiskey has a vanilla and caramel nose and a generous palate of brown sugar and buttered corn with light wisps of toasted oak. It too is a value-laded whiskey.
New to the portfolio is Evan Williams Honey Reserve Kentucky Liqueur. It's a blend of pure honey and extra-aged Evan Williams Bourbon. The 70-proof liqueur is light bodied, balanced and loaded with the lingering flavors of vanilla, spice and toasted oak. The liqueur debuted in the fall of 2009.
Equally satisfying is Evan Williams Cherry Reserve Kentucky Liqueur, a new product that marries barrel-aged Evan Williams Bourbon with natural cherry flavor. Launched in September 2010, the 70-proof liqueur has a medium-weight body and a caramel, vanilla and zesty cherry bouquet; the flavors of which translate perfectly onto the palate. Both the Honey Reserve and Cherry Reserve are ideally suited for drink making.
Here's to Evan Williams and Parker Beam, two great Americans.