Sour Mash Manifesto

Bourbon and American Whiskey

Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon (2002 Vintage)

If you are a repeat visitor to this website you may already know that I’m a big fan of the Evan Williams Single Barrel (EWSB) vintage releases. Heaven Hill was the first to really embrace this type of vintage dating program similar to the wine industry. At their best they are at once complex yet approachable, with a range of balanced and classic bourbon flavors. That’s not to say the releases are without some hiccups.

In 1996 Heaven Hill’s Bardstown, KY distillery burned to the ground. In response Heaven Hill had to source whiskey (from Beam & Brown-Forman) for a few years, which in my opinion (and many others) saw the product suffer a bit. In 1999, Heaven Hill purchased the Bernheim distillery, and since then, the EWSB vintage releases have hailed from that distillery. Since then, the releases have also been excellent. One of my favorites has been the 2000 release – an elegant, honeyed masterpiece that was super easy drinking.

Two years ago I had the opportunity to speak with Heaven Hill Master Distiller Craig Beam. I asked him a simple question, “which of the products that you produce is your favorite?” Without hesitation he said the EWSB vintage – citing the more aggressive aging process as well as (in his opinion) an optimal age for bourbon. It’s important to note that the EWSB vintage bourbon is aged in the upper levels of the warehouse, which can typically create a lot more interaction between the barrel and the spirit. That does not however always mean an overly aggressive bourbon. Please keep in mind – single barrel whiskeys can vary greatly even within the same year range. I’ve tasted EWSB’s from the same vintage that had quite different levels of oak and wood influence.

So with that said, let’s dive into some Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2002.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, Vintage 2002, 43.3% abv (86.6Proof), $29/bottle
Barrel Info: Barrel 91, aged 9 years 10 months
Color: Deep gold/honey
Nose: Candy corn, vanilla taffy, candied orange rind, dates, hints of clove and nutmeg.
Palate: Caramel and vanilla with a candied fruit heart (golden raisin, orange and grapefruit rind). The oak influence is quite minimal compared to 2001. The personality is harmonious and composed from entry to the finish.
Finish: Subtle sweetness and ever increasing warmth. The finish adds a little pop.
Overall: While this barrel of EWSB Vintage 2002 was not quite as complex as the 2000, nor quite as bold as the 2001, it finds a middle ground between the two. Much of the base aromas, flavors, as well as the personality takes me to the 2011 Parker’s Heritage Collection (PHC) finished in cognac barrels, which I rated at 9.6. It wouldn’t surprise me if the same warehouse levels were used for the 2002 and the 2011 PHC. About the only suggestion I can make is I’d like to see the proof increased to 90-92. I think they could do that without sacrificing drinkability. But when a whiskey is this good, why bother screwing with it?
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 9.2 (Outstanding)


  1. Just this weekend my wife and I did a blind taste test between this whiskey, the Elmer T Lee, and the Cognac finished PHC. We also noted the similarities of the two Heaven Hill whiskies. All three are great whiskies.

  2. Jason, I’m wondering what the effect of air (or other storage factors) has on the product. I picked up the 2002 after seeing your great reviews of the 2000 and 2001, and my first pour from the bottle was thoroughly disappointing: it was bland and had absolutely no pop. I continued to nurse from the bottle occasionally, but in the last few weeks it’s become a very different bourbon: rich, deep layers of flavors, a nice long gentle burn finish. I am crazy?

  3. Nice review Jason. I really like this bourbon too. EWSB has become a staple in my bourbon cabinet. I love the way it does change from year to year and of course barrel to barrel. Keeps you on top of your game so to speak, but is consistantly good stuff.

  4. I really liked the 2002 somewhat better than the 2001.The caramel,vanilla&spices jumped out a little more for me.I took your advice,a store near me had a couple of bottles of the 2000 left & snagged them.

  5. Just picked up an ’02 and found a ’99 at a random liquor store.

    Has anyone had the ’99?

  6. Roger it absolutely matters. With air time a whiskey will change. It will bloom a bit, open up, etc. Some get too fat and flabby, some improve. It just depends. I concur with you on this one for sure – it’s only gotten much better.

  7. I just never have gotten much out of the EWSB offerings. I much prefer Old Ezra 7/101 (juice is made by HH). Maybe if they bottled EWSB at 100 proof I might feel differently.

  8. Agree. Considering that I don’t own another EWSB version other than the 2002, I can tell that is a little bit smoother than the E.G 12 yrs. I don’t know if it is wise to get a 2001 EWSB just to compare it against it. Will see.

  9. Texas you are not alone with that comment. Many have been critical of the EWSB. If they offered them at higher proof I can almost guarantee people would be falling all over themselves for it. There is greatness in these EWSB. At this proof point it’s about drinkability. I’d love to see them ratchet them up a bit.

  10. Yeah, you can tell there is quality there, but at 86 proof it is just too watered down for my money.

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  12. I’m a relative newbie-about 9 months old and I like both bourbon and scotch. I can’t really distinguish individual flavors yet but I know what I like and I like the higher proof bourbons. You get more flavor and it gives you room to “play” with it by adding water if it’s too much. Love the Booker’s if it’s a batch that suits me: C03-I-16 very good but a tad too much wood-C04-J-19 perfect balance of wood and sweetness-C05-A-12 way too much wood, I discovered that a 50 50 mix with r1 rye did the trick with the flavor coming out similar and the spice seeming to make up for the loss of proof and the wood really toned down. It got me through the bottle, anyway. I have to agree with you on air time-it can make a big difference. I always open a new bottle and let it set 10 or 15 minutes before the first pour. My first whiskey was standard Jack Daniels and it had a weird taste when I swallowed. Even as my first taste of whiskey, I new something was wrong with it. A few days later, I tried it again and all was fine. Learned a big lesson there. Same with Scotch, only it seems more that a nice flavor might be the one that dissappears after a few days. Anyway, a quick question-would a low number barrel/batch be more likely to be better than a later barrel/batch? My theory is that maybe the distillers would barrel the best of the best first. Love your site and I depend on it. I’ve learned a lot from you and still learning! Thanks!

  13. Ron, if you have not already, check the always entetaining Ralfy for Scotch reviews. He is on YouTube. Jason will vouch for him, I’m sure of that. Cheers!

  14. I am slightly on the fence with Texas on EWSB. It’s messy when it’s first opened and almost turned me off to it. Coming back to it from time to time it’s getting better, but why should we have to wait that long? However, I did notice one thing. All the EWSB you review are low barrel numbers. I am wondering if the first barrels are better than later barrels. By the time this whiskey hits Texas, we’re seeing barrel numbers in the 800+ range. Being that you are closer to the source, I might wonder if the quality of bourbon there has a slight edge over farther away states?

  15. For those wanting EWSB at 100 proof, HH’s Henry McKenna Single Barrel is where they should look. 10 years old, single barrel and 100 proof BIB. Really great stuff!

  16. Steve, that sounds great, but sadly that is not available in Texas..

  17. Ford, thanks a lot for the heads up on Ralfy. I’ve been enjoying him for several months and have learned to respect his “opinions” a lot. Learned a ton from him on Scotch and his solid perspective on life and other things. I still have much to read on his site. I hope he is a grandpa to some very lucky kids. Can you imagine growing up under the guidance of Grandpa Ralfy? I just read an older review about his whisky collection the other day where he mentioned that he is an undertaker by trade. I was surprised, but it does show me where he gets that unique perspective. Love his humor/sillyness! Cheers to you, Ford

  18. Texas, I forgot that Henry McKenna has limited distribution. Well, one good reason to visit the Bluegrass State, I suppose!

  19. Next to Four Roses Single Barrel, I love to try the annual Evan Williams Single Barrel releases. One of my favorites!! I thought this year’s release was exceptionally good. Jason your review is right on as usual. I thought this year’s release was toying with the sweetness factor a bit over last year. I like a woody bourbon, so bring on 2013!

  20. Happened to find a bottle of EWSB 2000 at a local liquor and almost shit a brick. I’ve been keeping an eye out for one for months! Haven’t opened it… yet 🙂 They also had three bottles of the 2001… is that one worth going back to pick up?

  21. Erik – I’d say maybe grab one if you are an EWSB fan.

  22. Finally opened my EWSB2002 for my anniversary–really nice. Easily the best $25 bottle I’ve ever had. Nice warmth, delicate butterscotch, leather, and cinnamon, silky mouth feel. Thanks, Jason, once again, for steering me towards a great whiskey I wouldn’t have tried otherwise.

  23. No doubt EWSB is one of the truly great values in the increasingly hot bourbon market (folks are catching on to bourbon as an American original like jazz and the blues….) I visited Heaven Hill last spring while working in Louisville; they have it down– museum quality exhibit with the history of Evan Williams and Elijah Craig and of course, lots of great samples of the product. Was hoping to snag a bottle of 18 yr old Elijah Craig but it was all gone. I was told there might be the stray, unbought bottle in some remote retail outlet and sure enough, back home in Vermont I found two dusty bottles of the 18 yr old on the back of the shelf!

  24. Jason, I’m shocked. The pricing and the simplicity of this whiskey baffles me. This is indistinguishable from Evan Williams Black Label, with a ten dollar bill stuck to its cap. I would offer this to be either price gouging or a recomendation that you taste more samples. Our bottle is an inoffensive and sound and simple Bourbon, with no finish at all, and easily forgettable for the money. I much prefer Elijah Craig 12 for the same money and far prefer Evan Williams White Label for 2/3 the price. Very disappointing. It’s easily the first whiskey our house has found to be completely different from what’s described in your review. We think buyers should be aware that some of these single barrel lines are produced from barrels of wildly varying attributes, character, quality.

  25. Dawn, I’m sorry this one didn’t agree with you. EWSB is definitely a subtle whiskey. And for that reason it loses some folks. In reading your comments you seem to prefer the more forward flavored whiskeys and so from that perspective it makes sense. Is it possible this was an off barrel? Yes, but they do a very good job with consistency so I think it’s more likely this vintage just didn’t agree with you.

    I will say this, and I’ve said it a number of times on this site – at 100 proof this whiskey becomes a stunner. I would really like to see Heaven Hill do something about that. I don’t think they will, but it would turn more heads for sure.

  26. Jason,

    Any chance of a review on Evan Williams 1783?

  27. Jason, You may have pegged something about my preferring a forward flavored style of Bourbon more than an elegant one. I didn’t realize it I guess. I guess that subtle Bourbon meant low strength, low intensity, low burn, little complexity, and for me, that was always available in cheap Bourbon. We have the remainders of the 2002, 2001 and now the 2003 versions of this brand. Time lay ahead to investigate further the rewards of “complexity within subtlety”. My Bourbon journey continues. Thank you and cheers !

  28. Just found a couple of bottles of this for $28 – Barrel #862, barreled on April 17, 2002 and bottled on September 18, 2012 – so 10 years and 5 months of aging.

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