Review: Evan Williams Single Barrel 2003 Vintage

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage bourbons have a subtlety and balance that resonate with me. It seems that with each year, Heaven Hill manages to release an EWSB whiskey with flavors that are well integrated and harmonious. Nothing stands too far out in front. The last four vintages have been excellent, but will the 2003 measure up?

Evan Williams Single Barrel Bourbon, Vintage 2003, 43.3% abv (86.6Proof), $29/bottle
Barrel 78, aged 9 years 8 months
Color: Deep golden
Nose: Caramel apple, honey, vanilla taffy, with hints of cinnamon and nutmeg.
Palate: As with the 2000 and 2002 especially, this 2003 is a well balanced blend of sweetness, fruit, and oak. Honey and vanilla up front, burnt sugar, dried apricot, golden raisin, and a solid backbone of oak and wood spices (cinnamon, nutmeg).
Finish: Candy corn sweetness, oak, crushed rock, and warm wood spices.
Overall: Heaven Hill is in a groove with the distillery’s Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage dated bourbons. The 2003 is just a shade less exciting than the previous three years, but sill marked with the usual grace and easy drinking personality. This is whiskey you can buy at a great price and knock them back without sacrificing quality. I will say that Heaven Hill would have a stunner with a bit more stickiness and mouth feel at a higher proof. The distillery is releasing a barrel strength Elijah Craig 12 Year at around $40-45, so I hope they add a similar version of EWSB soon as well.
Sour Mash Manifesto Rating: 8.9 (Outstanding)

117 Comments

  1. Dave says:

    My friend and I just returned from our trip and Town Branch was our first stop. They have done a great job with their facility, but the whiskey needs some work. First, they served us pearse lyons malt whiskey. They cut it by 50% with water because they said that’s how pearse drinks it. It was awful. Then we tasted the Town Branch. Lots of corn, subtle sweetness and that’s about it. The finish was almost nonexistent. I really don’t understand why they are on the Bourbon trail instead of the Craft Whiskey Trail. It’s kind of out of the way and seem to lack a significant enough of a contribution.

    BTW… we also visited Willett for the first time and I’m sold! Excellent bourbons, cool facility and nice folks. I came home with a bottle of Pot Still Reserve and Rowan’s Creek. I tasted a Willett Family Estate that was amazing, but couldn’t get a hold of a bottle.

    Eight distilleries and one private tasting in three days!

  2. Jim says:

    Dave-

    Thank you for info regarding Alltech and Willett.

    Planning additional trip to Bardstown this Sunday with friends working to complete Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

    Personally appointed “Tour Guide” due to my recent visits to Barton 1792 Distillery, Heaven Hill, and Maker’s Mark.

    Believe we need to purchase bourbon for Jason to give him “Incentive” to do new review.

    Sour Mash Manifesto Followers Agree….?

  3. Chris says:

    Actually, I think Jason should invite us over to prove what side of this hoarding argument he’s really on. Then we’ll buy him some whisky.

  4. Jim says:

    Jason MIA due to misunderstanding with Fed’s regarding collecting / hoarding whiskey ?*!*!*?

    We might have to volunteer to serve as his Parole Officer(s) !*!*!

  5. Nick says:

    Ha! Thanks for the Town Branch review. Cut it w/ 50% water? Wow!

    Btw… I love how this review has become a place to banter back and forth. Hilarious.

    Jason is probably busy. It happens.

    Hey if you ever stumble across one of Willet’s 21 year, snatch it up immediately. Yes, it’s pricy, but it’s the best bourbons I’ve ever had. Better than BTAC and PVW. Yes, it’s that good. Old Stizel Weller juice. A little slice of heaven.

  6. Nick and all, definitely will have some reviews soon. It’s been a crazy(in a good way) couple of months with my company. In addition my oldest and middle daughters sports hitting full gear has occupied about 3 weekends out of each month. Lots of reviews in the queue and will get cranking really soon. Thanks all for being patient with me. Cheers!

  7. Sounds like some nice distillery visits Dave. Good stuff.

  8. Matt L. says:

    My brother and I went to Willett on Saturday and absolutely loved it. Of the 5 distilleries that I’ve been to it was my favorite. With Four Roses right behind it. Also, they have a Vintage Rye 23 ($225) and a Willett Family Estate 25 year old Rye ($250) at the gift shop. Yikes! I would have picked up one of them if they had been in the $100-$200 range. Anyone had either?

  9. Nick says:

    Great to hear from you Jason! Also, fantastic news on the business. No rush to post man. Take care of family and business first. As always, thanks for the site.

    I really can’t wait to get to Willet! Heard so many good things. I was there when it was Ky. Bourbon Distillers ltd., but it was a long time ago. Appointment only back then too.

  10. Brent says:

    Nick, I’ll agree as the 21 yr Willett is the best I’ve ever had.

  11. Jim says:

    Personally toured Willett Distillery yesterday.

    Great Tour at small historic distillery undergoing updates via “Next Generation” Willett Family Members.

  12. Matt L. says:

    I’ll second that Willett 21. Don’t know if its the best I’ve ever had but wow. It’s amazing. Tried and bought a bottle of barrel 3936, a Liquor Barn Holiday 2012 release. Pretty unbelievable. Cask strength at 105 proof. Like syrup. Got another bottle on the way, the other Liquor Barn release. That one is 98 proof. 21 year as well. Strange that the whiskey is barrel proof(supposed to be) and that low. I’ve seen it in single malt many times though. I did read that they sometimes add water to the barrel of bourbon so they can still call them barrel proof. Does anyone know if that’s true? Hope not.

  13. Nick says:

    Hey great question on the barrel proof Matt. I thought the same thing when drinking that bottle. The bottle I have is a later release bottled at less than 100. Still, either way, it is a complete stunner.

  14. Matt L. says:

    Yeah, love to know if that’s being done. Which bottle do you have Nick? The 98 proof 21 year from Liquor Barn’s Holiday Release?

  15. Nick says:

    Yep. That’s the one. Barrel 3283

  16. Matt L. says:

    Awesome, you said you love it? My dad just picked me up the last bottle at The Liquor Barn I called. Who told you it was Stitzel-Weller? I’d love to know if that’s true.

  17. Nick says:

    Hi Matt. It’s nothing short of legendary. Just google it. It’s well documented that its some of the very last of the Stizel-Weller barrels.

  18. Matt L. says:

    Yes I am we’ll aware of some Willett Family Estate 21 year old bottlings from last year that were said to be Stitzel-Weller stock. I know that K&L out here in CA did one. But since the Family Estate line is all single barrel and Willett has sourced their whiskey from many different distilleries in the past, just because one barrel of 21 year from them is Stitzel doesn’t mean they all are. Unless we can find out from somebody who had a hand in the selection of the barrel, someone at Liquor Barn or Willett, there’s no way to really know what distillery their older whiskey is from. I just had a short discussion with Steve Ulrey over at Sku’s Recent Eats about this and he said the very same thing. I’m going to see if I can find out more from someone in the know at Liquor Barn. I’ll let you know if I do.

  19. Matt says:

    Sorry that’s Steve Ury. Whoops.

  20. Nick says:

    Very interesting. Everything that I can find points to the juice being SW. The mash bill would tell the story I think. Hard telling what that is. The easy money is on SW since its an old wheater. I know folks at Liquor Barn, but the first place we may want to check is Willett. I’ll call and report results. You have stoked my interest here.

  21. Matt L. says:

    I don’t know that Willett will be very forthcoming, but if you know people at Liquor Barn, that is promising. I put in an email to the Hamburg store in Lexington. But I think I’m just going to call the Beaumont store and ask for the office.

  22. SCmayor says:

    Had an expert tell me the Jefferson PS 18 contained no Stitzel Weller juice…..funny this whole deal

  23. Steven Smyth says:

    Jason:
    just curious, have you had a chance to try the Brenne single malt whiskey from France. I know its not Bourbon, but you should check it out. Its so different than anything else I have tried in a while, almost creating its own niche. I know, you tend to do American whiskey’s but was just curious.
    Also, in regards to this juice (the Evan Williams) I agree that this could stand more…I dont know….legs. It’s good…and like you say REAL good for the price…but I think it lacks a bit of depth that a higher proof might add. i too look forward to the new Elijah which i find great for the price as well.

  24. Jim says:

    Comment #75……..

    Will Fed’s Let Jason Out On Probation SOON ?

    Sour Mash Manifesto Missin’ Fearless Leader !*!

  25. Nick says:

    Update on the Willett 21yr.

    “No definitive way to know” – Liquor Barn Mgr.

    “We wouldn’t tell the buyer where it was sourced even if it is the Liquor Barn”- Willett

    We could be just guessing no matter what Matt. Worth a call though, as they like talking about this stuff.

  26. sam k says:

    I LOVE how this thread has continued unabated as we wait more than a month and a half for the Tennessee groundhog to re-emerge from his burrow, to be greeted by the waiting faithful.

    I live an hour from Punxsutawney…sorry!

  27. Matt L. says:

    Wow, thanks for getting all that info so quickly Nick! Well done! Sorry that it didn’t turn out to definitively be Stitzel Weller though. If it was Stitzel, you’d think Willett would be chomping at the bit to market it as such, would’ve sold the bottles a lot faster if they would have. Although I guess in doing so they would essentially be saying,”no other Willett will be quite like this.” Which is not a way to get a new customer to continue to buy your whiskeys. But really the only thing that matters is you love it, right?

  28. Mark says:

    Gentlemen,

    I have passed on the liquor barn Willett 21 year just due to the cost and the lack of actual information out there on what’s in the bottle. It’s good to hear that it is enjoyable for those who have bought it. Not sure if this is the same stuff, but it seems to fit the time frame for bottling and the proof seems to be similar in that for a barrel proof bourbon, it too seems low just like the Willett described here. Happy hunting.

    http://www.longmanandeagle.com/blog/2013/02/willett-revealed/

  29. Dave says:

    Oh BTW… I COMPLETELY forgot to mention. Everyone i talked to in KY said that the Four Roses Limited Edition Small batch was completely sold out. We were disappointed because this was one of our target bottles. then, low and behold, we found it at Krogers in Bardstown, of all places! And they had like three cases! Unfortunately, my friend and I had both more than maxed out our bourbon budget for the trip, so we are splitting a bottle. we are getting together tomorrow for a nice dinner at his place, and guess whats for dessert… ;)

    Also, our tasting was with Dixon at Beaumont Inn and that’s where we tried the Willett Family Reserve. Great stuff. Dixon does a great job with these tastings and I HIGHLY recommend it! we got some good Bourbon conspiracy theory in the midst of the conversation as well. Funny stuff…

  30. Matt says:

    Thanks for the link Mark! Could very well be bourbon from one of those 6 barrels. I don’t know if Longman & Eagle sells bottles of the stuff, but I contacted them just in case. Btw, I understand your hesitation in purchasing one from Liquir Barn. I too passed at first, but the bourbon of course stayed on my mind enough to call a couple days later. The manager then informed me that you could taste a sample at the deli!! Well I went right over. And walked away with a bottle. They also have some other unbelievably rare stuff to sample there and for unbelievably low prices.

  31. Sam K – HA!!!! I’m paying attention. Close gentleman close. I’ve never been missed before so this is an unfamiliar feeling for me.

    I ask you all that have grown kids – how did you get it all done? At 11, 8, and 6 – with evening sports and weekend sports in high gear, I feel like I have no extra time.

    Working on my time management skills and will be back with a vengeance. Stay tuned!

  32. Matt L. says:

    Hey Jason! Hope you don’t mind that we sort hijacked your comments section with all this Willett talk!

  33. Matt L. not only do I not mind, you’ve given folks something to read while I’m on my litte temporary hiatus.

    I’ve also got requests straight from the horse’s mouth to get some answers on this. Just waiting to confirm before I chime in. Good discussion.

  34. Matt L. says:

    Oh great! Thanks Jason. Looking forward to seeing what you can find out.

  35. Jeff W. says:

    I was told by a whiskey buyer at a large chain roughly four years ago that the JPS17 was the last of the SW juice, then low and behold, out comes the JPS18 a couple years later. Could be a barrel or two did not get bottled, so ok. But now, another year or more later it continues to show up. Many on StraightBourbon.com have commented on the difference in quality of the early JPS18 bottles vs the later ones. So purely from anecdotal evidence, I think the first bottlings of the 18 may have still been SW, but anything you find now probably is not. I have had both the 17 and 18 and there was a considerable difference between the two: the 17 was 98% what my last Pappy20 was, the 18 not even in the same league.

  36. Matt says:

    Could that be down to the 17 being the more choice barrels and the 18 being not only the rejected ones but also a year older? So not only not the best tasting to begin with but also even more oaked, even more unbalanced? And playing devils advocate here- just because one person says that something is the last of something doesn’t mean it’s true. There are millions of barrels of whiskey aging in KY and I’m pretty sure “lost” barrels are still found. And really old barrels that are just sitting.

  37. Matt L. says:

    Forgot to put the L. for my last name. I’m the same Matt from above, just on a different device.

  38. Jeff W. says:

    Yes, Matt, a definite possibility. But it just seems less likely to me because the much older Pappys 20 and 23 are so clearly superior to the JPS18. We’ll probably never know.

  39. Matt L. says:

    I’ve always assumed those JPS barrels were the barrels that didn’t make Julian’s cut for Pappy’s. Anyone know if there’s any truth to that? Did Jefferson’s buy the barrels already aged or did they buy them 20 years ago, freshly filled? I assume they were purchased more recently from aging stocks at Stitzel Weller. Is it even known if it’s the same recipe as Pappy’s?

  40. Andrew says:

    @sam k — Punxsy??!! Talk about nowhere, man. Spent time not far from you in Luthersburg. With the weather we are having you need to take up a hunting party to track down that infamous weather rodent. ;)

  41. Bmac says:

    The JPS mystery has been discussed for over two years on StraightBourbon.com and it was decided that it IS SW stock, past it’s prime and was vatted. This why the 18yr kept coming.

    Yesterday I saw the latest JPS release, it’s a 21yr (rye based bourbon).

    So i think we won’t see anymore batches of JPS18 “aged in Stitzel-Weller barrels”.

  42. Joe says:

    Matt L. the Jefferson’s brand was started sometime in the late 90’s as a NDP and the first label I ever saw around that time was the 15 yr. which was a ryed bourbon (as are all of them unless stated otherwise). They buy their whiskey already aged and have KBD bottle it for them if I’m not mistaken.

  43. Nick says:

    What can’t be denied is the fact that Matt has uncovered a story that has legs. I say this from the standpoint of all of the sellers out there definitively stating that their old stores are from Stitzel-Weller, when in actuallity it ay be impossible to tell. If they do “know” where it comes from, how reliable is the source? Are they telling us what want want to hear? By the looks of it’s either SW or HH.

    One could look at this conversation and say, “who gives a s#%^, it’s great bourbon!”

    Unfortunately, as a obsessive bourbon dork, I’m not from this school…

  44. Matt L. says:

    I don’t think it’s impossible to tell as a rule. I think sometimes with older barrels maybe information is lost. But I would guess that of the sourced whiskeys and barrels out there, most of the owners/bottlers know exactly where the whiskey came from, but they are reluctant to spread the word. In the case of Jeffersons, the whiskey is purchased after its aged. In the case of Willett, as far I know anyway, they have had new barrels filled with their recipe new make spirit and then brought them over to their rickhouses and aged them on their property. Making Willett play much more of an active role than other companies who source their whiskey already aged. Someone correct me if I’m wrong. Which makes it totally understandable why Willett would not identify who distilled the whiskey, they believe its theirs, and I can understand why. Their recipe, I assume their char level, and aged in their rickhouses. Maybe only in the case of having Stitzel Weller distilled whiskey would they do it, which would explain why some people said they had Stitzel “Willett” 21 year. I’m making a lot of assumptions here. Maybe in some cases they’re just more forthright.

  45. Nick says:

    I think you’re nearly dead on here Matt. Where somebody does know where the juice is from, I’m just not sure they tell anyone. The individual I spoke to at Willett was probably pretty accurate in this assessment. When Willett was KBDL, their sourcing was a topic of great debate, and to my knowledge, has never truly been solved (whoever did it had a particular affinity for strong corn flavor – a running theme for them).

    My grammar isn’t usually this bad, the iPad typing is killing me!

    Mud horses for the derby:
    Mylute
    Orb
    Palace Malace
    Lines of Battle

    Sorry, off topic here, but it’s the only time of year I drink a mint julip!

  46. Matt L. says:

    Ditto the julep!! What’s your recipe and what bourbon will you use?

  47. Bmac says:

    I strongly suggest going through the StraightBourbon.com archives. A lot of information about Stitzel Weller, Willett, JPS can be found there.

    Off the top of my head, the company that supplied JPS with thier SW barrels, bought 300 barrels from the Van Winkles and sat on them. It is likely a 50% chance that these barrels were under 10yrs in age and thus were not ready for “pappy” inspection, or were rejected stock. It is known that the Van Winkles would continue to age a barrel that didn’t fit an earlier profile. For example, if the profile wasn’t good enough for the 12yr, then it would age to 15yr, so on and so forth. Since JPS is clearly batched and the 17yr was considered the best, they probably mixed the best of the barrels for the 17yr, and vatted the remainder the next year for the 18yr version that kept releasing for another two years.

    Just my two cents based on what i read over anyear ago. Again do the research and find the truth :)

  48. Matt L. says:

    Hey Bmac, will definitely research it on straight bourbon. Thanks!

  49. sam k says:

    Just making it an even 100 comments and hoping that Jason returns from his hiatus with some new reviews soon…maybe the Elijah Craig Single Barrel, huh, huh?

  50. Southron says:

    Enjoy your children. The “age” a lot quicker than good whiskey. Have yet to hear any old timers say they wished they had spent less time with their children.

    Tennessee groundhog! Ouch! I like it.

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