Evan Williams Black Label Review [In Depth]

Evan Williams Black Label Bourbon

Alex author
Founder, writer
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Evan Williams Black Label Details

Distillery: Heaven Hill

Type & Region: Bourbon, Kentucky

Alcohol: 43%

Composition: 78% corn, 10% rye, 12% barley

Aged: At least 4 years

Color: 1.2/2.0 on the color scale (chestnut, oloroso sherry)

Price: $12-16 (750mL)

From the company website:

“Our Kentucky Straight Bourbon is full of character and simply done right. Named after Evan Williams, who opened Kentucky’s First Distillery along the banks of the Ohio River in 1783, it’s aged far longer than required by law. The result is a Bourbon that’s smooth, rich, and easy to enjoy.”

Evan Williams Black Label overview

Evan Williams is such a well known name in bourbon, and so widely sold, that you’ve probably wondered at one point whether you should buy a bottle. Because of its low price, you may have decided against it, worried that it was a waste of money. Of course, we’ll find out if that’s the case.
Just in case you aren’t as familiar (and that’s ok), the quick rundown is that Evan Williams is a Heaven Hill-made bourbon, just like Elijah Craig, Larceny, and Old Fitzgerald, that was first released in 1957 (per Heaven Hill’s website).
Evan Williams Black Label is just one of many bourbons in the Evan Williams lineup, ranging (in estimated order of price) from the least expensive Green Label, this Black Label, White Label Bottle in Bond, 1783 Small Batch, Single Barrel (now Kentucky-only…sad), 12 Year (distillery and Japan-only), to the ultra-premium 23 Year (distillery-only).
There are a lot of options, so with Evan Williams Black Label, you get one of Heaven Hill’s most affordable bourbons in the same ballpark as Benchmark Bourbon, Ancient Age, Jim Beam White, Henry McKenna (also Heaven Hill), Four Roses, and Old Grand Dad among many others.
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While I could go in many directions to talk about the bourbon’s history, I’m going to take an approach that most interests me and mention a few things about what the bourbon used to be. At least currently, Evan Williams Black Label is at least 4 years old, due to the straight bourbon classification with no additional age statement, but with no other clear indicator of age.
Because Evan Williams Single Barrel was 7-8 years old (RIP now that it’s Kentucky-only as of 2022), I’m guessing that Black Label is somewhere in the 4-7 year range, likely closer to 4.
As I did some research about older versions of Black Label, primarily because I also found a 7 Year Old version from 1990, I learned that this bourbon had various age statements and ABVs over the years.

Some of the versions I’ve seen include (with links to whiskyauctioneer)

That’s all interesting information to have, but not useful for you, so let’s get to the heart of this bourbon and find out if it might be a budget winner in this Evan Williams Black Label review.
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Evan Williams Black Label smell

Evan Williams Black Label starts off with grassy caramel, vanilla, dried cherry, earthy caraway seed, roasted oak, cinnamon, coffee grounds, dried orange, pineapple and apricot, licorice, and gentle burnt oak char. It’s roasty and grassy-forward with a surprisingly fruity and herbal supporting cast to liven-up the scents and keep it from being one-dimensional.

Evan Williams Black Labels actually smells pretty good off the bat, and I’m impressed with the first impression. I’m also surprised that it’s not nutty, mostly grassy, as Heaven Hill bourbons can sometimes be densely nutty (e.g., Henry McKenna 10 Year).

After swirling and rest, I smell grassy caramel, vanilla, roasted oak, cinnamon, caraway seed, dried apricot, sliced red apple, a little bit of youthful and earthy graininess (but nowhere close to overpowering), licorice, dried pineapple, and rosemary. The heat stings just a little more even after a few minutes of rest, so the youth perks up there, but mostly stays out of the way.
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For some reason Evan Williams Black Label isn’t quite as earthy-forward now. It’s better balanced between earthy, sweet, fruity, oaky, and spicy traits so it still smells generally balanced and pretty good. There’s no overly funky vanilla and grain to deal with either, the telltale signs of very underdeveloped bourbon. It is still a little bit grainy, but there are other scents to process so it’s not distracting.
The downside is that there’s not much in the way of low end roundness or depth anywhere, so it doesn’t smell that mature or complex. Those things just take more time to develop, which Heaven Hill saves for their more expensive bourbons. As-is though, I have a positive impression.

Evan Williams Black Label taste and aftertaste

Evan Williams Black Label starts with a mix of brighter honey and darker caramel, vanilla, roasted oak, caraway seed, cinnamon, dried apricot and cherry, orange peel, licorice, candied pineapple, pumpernickel, and rosemary.

It’s a little more oaky, earthy, and spicy forward, similar to the scents, but with still enough sweetness, fruitiness, and herbalness so it doesn’t feel so young, cheap, or “off” in an unpleasant way. The biggest plus is that it actually feels balanced across the various traits and it’s not all a flat and bland blob of nothingness.

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“Chewing” gives me caramel, caraway seed, dried apricot and cherry, vanilla, roasted oak, cinnamon, dark chocolate, dried pineapple, licorice, dry grass (but not actually nutty), toasted grains, ginger, and a little smoke.
Evan Williams Black Label becomes more balanced, so the vibrant fruit and herbal traits (apricot, licorice, pineapple) better mesh with the earthy and roasty flavors. Seriously, it’s shockingly well rounded. I keep harping on balance because younger and cheaper bourbon tends to not be like this. It tends to be much worse.
Honey, roasted oak, caraway seed, dried apricot and cherry, licorice, and cinnamon follow into the lightly bitter aftertaste. It’s not overly bitter and earthy like Benchmark Bourbon though.
It’s more or less the same after “chewing” with honey, roasted oak, cinnamon, smoke, dried cherry and apricot, licorice, coffee grounds, and mint. It’s not particularly bitter now, and that may be because my taste buds have adjusted since my first sip.
As a whole, Evan Williams Black Label is very drinkable and actually tastes pretty good. Nothing sticks out in any way that makes it unpleasant, and I honestly enjoy the flavors. Sure, it’s not particularly memorable and still a bit thin, which holds it back, but sometimes avoiding unpleasant things is also a victory.

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Evan Williams Black Label Rating

Mid Shelf
No kidding, Evan Williams Black Label is good, although it still has some shortcomings. As much as I went into this review expecting it to not be very good (but hoping for the best), this experience gives me new found respect for this bottle and Heaven Hill in general.
Here’s an obvious statement: it’s easy to make cheap bourbon (or really at any price) smell and taste bad / just ok (Jack Daniel’s Sinatra Select is one of the worst offenders), but it’s masterful to be able to make cheaper bourbon smell and taste good, or at least not unpleasant. Evan Williams Black Label outperforms its price, and has earned another fan.
I enjoy it because it provides a solid all-around experience that avoids any weirdness (overly funky vanilla, overpowering earthiness / graininess / bitterness) that young and/or cheap bourbons tend to have.
While it’s still quite earthy and oaky, likely because it’s youngish, it’s not overdone to be unpleasant. The bonus comes from the somewhat developed dried apricot, cherry, and pineapple that make Black Label smell and taste more complete.
Of course it’s not all heavenly. Black Label feels somewhat thin, reminding me of its youth and barrel selection. The scents don’t have a richer and denser low end that usually comes with more time, and the flavors could use more viscosity. Denser caramel would make a big difference.
That said, it would have been “Mid Shelf+” with a little more of those things it currently lacks. Then again, there’s the Bottled in Bond and Single Barrel versions for that improved experience.
Lately, I’ve been drinking a bunch of Buffalo Trace for various comparisons, and it feels shockingly similar. It sounds strange, but from memory, there are similar-ish fruity, herbal, and oaky traits. Buffalo Trace is a bit more earthy, just not in an enjoyable way for me. Seriously, I think Evan Williams Black is in the same ballpark as Buffalo Trace, and I will compare them to confirm how insane I might be.
So if you’re looking for something affordable, available, and good, Evan Williams Black Label is a great option, and worthy of being one of the best bourbons under $20 and $30. The key is to let it breathe in the glass for 10+ minutes to mellow out some of the possible harshness, and you’re set.
Alex author
Meet the Author: Alex

I have far too much fun writing about whiskey and singlehandedly running The Whiskey Shelf to bring you independent, honest, and useful reviews, comparisons, and more. I’m proudly Asian American and can speak Cantonese, Mandarin, and some Japanese.

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