A Trip To the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

A Trip To the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

So as I mentioned before, Jen and I had an amazing time at the second annual Bourbon Classic last year (for a recap of 2014, please read Part One and Part Two here), and decided to return to Downtown Louisville for the event again last week.  Tickets were purchased, hotel reservations were made, and last Friday, we made the drive down from Detroit.

We arrived midday and, since the Classic doesn’t begin until 7pm, looked to enjoy a little more bourbon culture prior to the main event.  We were staying at the 21c Museum Hotel close to the event, so we decided to stay close and check out the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience that opened in 2013 right on Main Street.

No, it's not real bourbon - the lobby of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience
No, it’s not real bourbon – the lobby of the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience

The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is part of the official “Kentucky Bourbon Trail,” but it is not a distillery.  Rather, it’s a sort of museum dedicated to the history of Evan Williams Bourbon – and whiskey in general – in Louisville.

A tour of the EWBE starts with a short film.  Wall sized projection video is a very big part of the EWBE, and it starts with a bit of background about the bourbon namesake, Evan Williams, himself.  Williams, as the legend goes, was the first commercial whiskey producer in Kentucky, settling in Louisville and starting there.  Like so many of the ‘facts’ around the history of bourbon, the details of William’s life are less than clear, and they are presented in a less than canonical way.

Rather, the show sets the stage for a walk through ‘Louisville past.”  The short film explaining the importance of Louisville as a port (and stopping point on the Ohio River) leads to a room showing what the small town of Louisville might have looked like in 1800, when the whiskey business was just starting in earnest.

This is the ‘experience” part alluded to in the title – Evan Williams Bourbon is actually made at Heaven Hill distillery nearby, before being bottled in Bardstown, KY.  It is not actually made at this location – the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is more of a beginner’s guide to bourbon.

That said they have created a very small micro distillery, that illustrates the wall-scale, step-by-step “How Bourbon is Made” multi media presentation.  Approximately one barrel of whiskey is created there a day, and tour participants are encouraged to sign  the guest book to be alerted when the whiskey of their visit day is matured.

The Heaven Hill Experience Micro-Distillery
The Heaven Hill Experience Micro-Distillery

Subsequent floors (exhibits) show the 1800’s distilling equipment and methods, which serve as a good intro primer to how bourbon is made.

The upper floors focus on Louisville, and Bourbon, through the eras.  A nineteenth century saloon is recreated.  The third floor showcases the “Bottled-In-Bond” Act and it’s importance at the time.  Some Prohibition-era bottles are displayed, along with some recreated era-appropriate storefronts.

Finally, the tour resolves in a tasting of different Heaven Hill products – we had Evan Williams, Evan Williams Single Barrel, and the wheated bourbon Larceny – in the recreation of a 1960’s bar where we learned about the history of Heaven Hill, and by proxy, the Evan Williams brand.  We exited through a gift shop, and our time at the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience was done.

All in all, it was a pleasant way to spend an hour – the cost wasn’t prohibitive, and it was fun.  It certainly wasn’t as in-depth as an actual distillery tour, but in fairness, it didn’t claim to be.  What it certainly did do was serve as the perfect primer for the main event – The Bourbon Classic!

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A text exchange between myself and friend/bourbon enthusiast Josh McAllister…

 

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year

Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year

…and now for the review!

Hopefully everyone had a very Merry Christmas – I certainly did.  Along with a good number of Bourbons and Whiskeys I will be reviewing here very soon, I received a spectacular surprise from my wife: we will be attending the second annual Bourbon Classic in Louisville, Kentucky at the end of January!  It is an awesome event, full of tastings, seminars, speakers, meet and greets and some inspired bourbon-themed and paired dishes by renowned chefs.  I could not be more excited, and am already looking forward to the sights and sounds (as well as the tastes!) and posting all about them here.

For Christmas Eve, before going to visit the family, we cracked open a bottle of the Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year.  I was able to procure two bottles of the Van Winkle family this year, and will be reviewing the other soon enough.  It was a delectable way to start a wondrous holiday indeed.

Dan's Bourbon of the Week: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year
Dan’s Bourbon of the Week: Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year

Now, while I pride myself on giving the ‘everyman’ review of some under-reviewed bourbons, I certainly have to admit that the ORVW 10, or any other Van Winkle, is not suffering from a lack of exposure or web-content about the product.  More words have been typed (or spoken, sometimes in hushed tones) about “Pappy” this year than all other bourbons combined, I would bet.  But that doesn’t mean I just turn a blind eye to a bottle I obviously respect enough to make it my holiday Bourbon-du-jour!

The bottle is one of my favorites from look alone.  I like the script, the picture, and the old-timeyness of it.  But one does not go to the ends of the earth…or at least the ends of the midwest…for bottle alone!

Savvy bourbonites know, but for recap, the ORVW 10 is a wheated bourbon, using wheat instead of rye.  This is one of the trademarks of many Van Winkle products, most notably the three Pappys.  Distilled and barreled at Buffalo Trace, it shares a mash bill close to or identical with W. L. Weller, another of my favorite bourbons.  And like the W. L. Weller Antique, ORVW 10 weighs in at 107 proof.  Not for the light of heart (but certainly not barrel strength either).  Many have taken to calling the Weller “poor man’s Pappy,” and there is some truth to it, even if the Weller’s flavor profile never quite hits Van Winkle standards.  The ORVW 10 is one of a kind, and certainly didn’t disappoint.  My take:

Nose: On first take, the rip of 107 proof hits strong.  To fully get the nose, I let it sit in the glass for a few minutes, then lifted again.  Sweetness filled my nostrils – Vanilla and toffee, and the rich smell of maple syrup.  There is also a fruitiness to it, like a mulled-cider of fruit and rum.  It certainly got me salivating.

The taste was very sweet too.   The taste of molasses and honey mixes with the aforementioned fruit to create a smooth drink.  Caramel pops up in between. The oak presents itself at the back end, not overwhelming, but ducking in among the other notes.

The finish was not what I expected – rather than the burn, it stayed smooth and short.  Wheat guarantees a lack of harshness.  I’ve read other reviews since that refer to touches of cinnamon and spices, but I have to admit, I did not get that at all.

Overall, ORVW 10 is no joke.  It’s a soft, smooth entry in the Van Winkle line.  While some would elevate it because of the honor of its name, and others punish it for the popularity of the same, I fall right in the middle.  Old Rip Van Winkle 10 Year is a good pour.  If you can get it, drink away!

Dan’s Scale (1-10): 8.5