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Evan Williams, the original Kentucky bourbon

I had the opportunity to visit Evan Williams in Louisville, Kentucky in July. Though I actually don't drink much, I love touring distilleries. I'm fascinated by the processes and flavors and I seem to learn something new every time I go.

Named after it's founder, Evan Williams is one of the oldest distilleries in the commonwealth. It was the first commercial distillery in 1783. Which is an important distinction, because there were many backyard distillers in operation using corn-based recipes, which they called "bourbon," to distinguish from rye-based liquor.

Evan Williams was born in Wales and immigrated to America in the 1780s and found his way to Louisville when it was still on the edge of the western frontier. Can you imagine! He quickly became a leader and built a strong reputation in stone masonry and construction. He must have been a steady, charismatic man of good judgment , character, and wisdom because the people elected him Town Trustee twice and also appointed him Wharfmaster. As Wharfmaster, he was the toll collector, traffic manager, and peacekeeper--an important and distinguished position he carried out while building his name as a master commercial distiller. He was certainly no stranger to hard work and perseverance!

Back in 1783, when Louisville had a population of only 200 people, bourbon was so highly in demand, it could be used to still nerves or relax, used as a medication, and, believe it or not was used as a form of payment in bartering for goods. A half pint of William's whiskey sold for $15--the equivalent of $300 in modern money!

We could probably say that Louisville is the city bourbon built. Williams not only owned and operated a popular distillery, but he also built the first courthouse and post office. In addition to this, the Ohio River port at Louisville became a premiere port for the export of bourbon down the Mississippi and through the rest of the nation and out to the rest of the world.

I won't go into the details of the bourbon-making process here, because I already have posts dedicated to that and the processes are much the same across all distilleries.

The thing I liked most about the Evan Williams tour was the amazing atmosphere. The entrance is clean and open and has a fun sculpture in the front. There's a fun interactive room where a film of Louisville 1783 is projected on the wall, inviting visitors to live for a moment in a different time. As a history nerd, I LOVED this interactive experience.

Then you move on to a room that has an electronic flowchart presentation that shows the steps involved in the distilling process. Then upstairs is another time-travel space where visitors are dropped into the late 1800s up through the 1950s or 1960s. It's an amazing amalgamation of time periods in one hallway.

After the tour, I was led into the tasting-room which looked like an old-time saloon from the late 1800s-early 1900s. We tasted the original Evan Williams recipe, the 1783 Small Batch, the Master Blend, and the 12 Year Evan Williams.

I will be the first to admit I don't have the most sensitive palate and I'm not a trained bourbon steward (though that is on my bucket list). Also, it's important to note that we all have different taste buds and where a rye might appeal to some, a wheat would appeal to others. I tend to favor sweeter bourbons.

Here are my notes:

  1. Evan Williams Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey: sweet, stark, oaky

  2. 1783 Small Batch: grassy, stronger, buttery like Werther's candy

  3. Master Blend: salty was the note I picked up on more than any, a blend of five different bourbons, complex. Not my favorite.

  4. Aged 12 Year Evan Williams: butterscotchy, similar in flavor to the white dog from Wilderness Trail (which I loved).

I also bought a sample pack of Evan Williams flavored bourbon whiskies which contained: apple, peach, cinnamon, honey, and cherry.

I like the apple. It tasted like apple pie. Very good. The peach also was really good. It would be great warmed up in a hot toddy (minus the lemon and honey). The cinnamon was similar to Fireball, but weaker. Honestly, I like Fireball better. I really liked the cherry. It tasted like a maraschino cherry. Pretty good. I did not like the honey at all. It tasted like a bad cough syrup. This might be best served up in a hot toddy where other flavors would dilute the honey flavor. So, my favorites in order: Peach, Apple, Cherry, Cinnamon, Honey.

So far, Evan Williams is among my favorite distilleries I've toured and if you're in the Louisville area, I highly recommend this tour. However, you'd better book about a month in advance, if you can. Tours fill up quickly.


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