Whisky Advocate

Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Best Buy Whisk(e)y of the Year”: Tie – Evan Williams & Very Old Barton 6 Year Old Bottled in Bond

February 16th, 2011

Best Buy is always a touchy category. It’s not cheap whisky, and it’s not barely endurable whisky — there are plenty of both, but we’re not interested — it’s about whisky that’s a great combination of flavor and price.

We went American, as we often have in the past. American whiskey is still an outstanding value, with many excellent bottlings under $30, and some still quite tasty under $20. We zeroed in on about five good ones, then tossed a few aside somewhat cavalierly because they were too expensive…over $15! That’s the kind of value you can find in this category.

That still left us with two bourbons: Heaven Hill’s Evan Williams and Buffalo Trace’s Very Old Barton 100 Proof. On value by the numbers, it was a toss-up. Evan Williams is a dollar or two less, but the VOB is higher proof, but the Evan is probably a bit older… Back and forth: no tie-breaker.

The tale in the glass was no different. Evan Williams is a sophisticated whiskey for its price: smooth, a great aroma, and neither gets lost in nor dominates a cocktail, a classic table bourbon. Very Old Barton is an equally impressive example of another category of bourbon, the pleasantly rough ride: a whiskey with vigor, robust corn character, and unabashed power that lets you know you’ve had a snort, while not so aggressive that it leaves you gasping.

We finally realized we didn’t have to choose one over the other, and neither do you. Both of these are excellent values; in fact, at these prices, you can happily buy both!

This is the first of the 17th Annual Malt Advocate Whisky Awards to be announced. One award will be announced each day through February 28, 2011. Tomorrow, the “Artisan Whisky of the Year” will be revealed.

59 Responses to “Malt Advocate Whisky Awards “Best Buy Whisk(e)y of the Year”: Tie – Evan Williams & Very Old Barton 6 Year Old Bottled in Bond”

  1. JWC says:

    Great selections John and two very deserving winners. Hope you had a nice vacation. I am looking forward to finding out who the other award winners are.

  2. Greg says:

    Nice choice on the VOB BIB. This is one that I’ve carried in the bunker for a number of years. At last purchase I bought 1/2 a case of the VOB for $12 a 750ml. At 6 years old and 100 proof, one of the best value bourbons on the market.

  3. Red_Arremer says:

    Nice selection. The standard Evan Williams doesn’t usually get much buzz. This award is a good opportunity to recognize stuff that’s been good so long that people take it for granted. I’m sure Old Barton is good, but I’ve never seen it on a store shelf.

  4. sam k says:

    I’m hoping that the new ownership at Barton leads to increased distribution of VOB. Probably can’t count on it coming to the People’s Republic of Pennsylvania, regardless. With any luck, we’ll be free of the clutches of the PLCB in the not so distant future, though!

  5. Lew Bryson says:

    Glad this one’s going over well so far. Commenters: sounds like your thoughts on this pretty much mirror ours. Cheers!

  6. Jason Pyle says:

    Great stuff John! I agree with Red, what an excellent way to recognize whiskey that wouldn’t otherwise make their way on an award list. There’s something fantastic about value pours. You don’t have to feel badly about tossing a cube of ice, making a bourbon ‘n branch, or cocktail. Not that I’ve ever felt that bad doing it, but I have a hard time using what I consider premium whiskey in cocktails and drinks. At the same time, they are great for sipping neat. No guilt with these!

    My experience with VOB BIB is limited to a few occasions. It’s not easy to find for me. I’ll go on a hunt and check it out more thoroughly. Evan Williams has always been one of my 3 favorite mixer whiskeys. At $11 a bottle in my area – tough to beat!

    Looking forward to the next awards.

  7. Rick Duff says:

    I respectfully request that you reconsider this award, and remove VOB from the entry completely.
    As a sworn VOB fan, Rule #1 is you don’t talk about VOB. Rule #2 is you don’t talk about VOB.
    Please don’t let them ruin the best value in bourbon. I see the prices being adjusted up as we read this.

  8. Vince says:


    Two fantastic selections!! I really love VOB BIB,its a well kept secret (so I am with Rick Duff) lets not bring too much attention to it!. EW is just a quality bourbon at a great price. Nice start to the awards John. Looking forward to the rest

  9. Earl says:

    As a new follower on Facebook, as well as a new subscriber to Malt Advocate, I look forward to the remaining winners. Keep up the good work.

  10. Lew:

    I agree!

    When the Washington Post rang me to ask what I thought was the best, low-price, widely available Bourbon, I chose Evan Williams Black. (VOB is not easy to find in DC.)



  11. Louis says:

    Hi John,

    Welcome back, and this award is a great way to get going again. I have both inhouse, and they truly allow for guilt free dramming.



  12. Adam says:

    I have yet to try Very Old Barton, but Evan Williams was always way too enjoyable for the price. Which if you go by the price you would expect it to be nearly unpalatable.

  13. lawschooldrunk says:

    I’d like to see which whiskies were voted off the island for this category.

    And, I know where to get bulleit bourbon for $13- could that make it win…?

    (I kid on the latter part but not the former part.)

  14. whiskymonique says:

    Great choices both John! First discovered the VOB over the IA border a couple of years ago, pretty hard to find around these parts.
    Rick Duff – Amen to that.

  15. Gary says:

    Love the EW and that is usually one of my every day pours. Can’t find the VOB anywhere in CT. But, I would love to give it a try.

  16. Nathan says:

    Maybe I just haven’t hopped aboard the Bourbon Train yet, but I’ve tried the EW and I didn’t like it much. While I thought it had a better flavor profile than similarly-priced bourbons like Jim Beam and Jack Daniels, I was just too underwhelmed by the cloyingly sweet corn notes… I just can’t get around the impression that I’m drinking pure high-fructose corn syrup.

    Anyone have any suggestions for a value bourbon that might make me come around? Or am I a lost cause? 🙂

    • John Hansell says:

      Yep, sounds like you need to hop on that train. A lot of scotch drinkers I know don’t like bourbon, and vice versa.

      • Truman Cox says:

        To dip your toe into American Whiskey might I suggest starting with Rye. It is the first suggestion I give to any Scotch drinkers. The corn in bourbon is going to overwelm the sweetnes centers like you indicate and this is usually to much of a switch to enjoy for most. Rye is a nice way to ease yourself into American whiskey styles and I have found more than a few converts as they step from Scotch to Rye and into the wonderful world of Bourbon. I will not be so crass as to suggest a brand, I am slightly biased, but check Malt Advocate for some great choices.

        • Pat says:

          Not sure if rye is way to “ease” into bourbon since most rye’s are heavily laden with a spice component that can put certain folks off. Alternate path for sure but perhaps not easier for some.

          Not sure if it’s crass to suggest a brand either. Especially for newcomers, getting specific recommendations from fellow imbibers is far superior than having to resort to the various producer’s marketing gobbledygook. Of course an expert’s review is sublime as well.

        • sam k says:

          A friend of mine who’s a scotch drinker doesn’t like bourbon at all, but when I shared a Wild Turkey rye with him, he was much more accepting, and actually liked it. I think you’re on to a good idea here, Truman.

    • Pat says:

      $15 is a rather limiting number even for value. You are not going to find much under $15 that doesn’t have a taste containing a high fructose corn-syrup base. For ~ $20 you can get a rye (wild turkey, beam) or wheated bourbon (makers mark) that reduces the corn-base component somewhat.

    • Vince says:

      Old Forester signature and to Pat’s point, Wild Turkey. I would give them a try

    • Guy says:

      I have a lot of friends who are single malt drinkers. Yet they love my Pappy Van Winkle’s Family Reserve, 15 years old. That would be a good place to start.

  17. Ron says:

    What about Benchmark 8 Bourbon? I believe its another product from BT and hands down one of the best economic bourbons that I have ever tasted.

  18. Karl says:

    These are great picks, but dollar for dollar I don’t think you can do better than Heaven Hill’s Bonded Gold Label.

  19. David says:


    You have perked my interest with the Evan Williams choice. I am a big fan of the Evan Williams Single Barrel so now I have to make a run to my favorite bourbon store and sample this award winner–darn!
    Will you be in Chicago for WhiskyFest on April 15? I am happy it’s back on a weekend this year so I can make the trek down from Grand Rapids, MI


  20. Murrell Kinkade says:

    John for mixing a drink, I agree whole heartedly. If you want to drink neat or on the rocks, then try Old Fitzgerald 1849 and still get a low price. Great taste cheap.

  21. mashbill says:

    “but the Evan is probably a bit older.”

    Out of curiosity, does the flavor profile lead you to this statement? When EW Black dropped the 7yr age statement years ago, I’m sure it was due to both increased production, and the current aged whiskey shortage. If it was older than the 6yr VOB BIB, don’t you think they would say so on the label? To me, EW Black tastes like it’s barely 5yrs.

  22. Joshie says:

    Excellent choices. And you nailed it with the comparison between the two. EW does taste older to me too. Not that there aren’t whiskeys under 4 y/o in it, but there seems to be a stronger component of old whiskey in the mix vs. VOB BiB. Part of that may have to do with ther fact that older whiskey CAN’T be mixed into a BiB by law. For that reason, sometimes I think I prefer the VOB 90. It seems to taste more mature.

    • Craig T says:

      With no age statement one can be certain that all the whiskey in it is at least four years old. If a bourbon is under four years old then that fact must be printed on the label, regardless of how much older juice is in the bottle.

  23. Texas says:

    I like Ezra Brooks Black Label at 90 proof and only $2 more better than EW Black, but EW is certainly smooth. Maybe too smooth. I think JB White has more character. Still though EW Black Label at $11-$12(cheaper then JBW) is a great deal!

    VOB? never heard of it until I started reading the forums, sounds like the distribution area is tiny.

    • sam k says:

      Heaven Hill is willing to give you Evan Williams at 86 proof, too, Tex. They could have easily gone the Jack Black (or Jim Beam) route and diluted it to the minimum, but they haven’t, and good for them. That counts for something.

      • Texas says:

        ..I certainly give them credit for that, but the Ezra is still 4 points higher. It’s a great deal, for sure, just not what I would buy. I can certainly see why it was selected.

  24. […] Finally, I’m curious about doing a cheap bourbon tasting. The Evan Williams was just named the best buy of the year from Malt Advocate, and people seem to speak highly of Cabin Still. We’ll […]

  25. JD says:

    IIRC they do sell an 80-proof Evan Williams, bottled with a green label. I’ve also seen a white label which is even stronger (100 proof?).

    • Texas says:

      Yeah the EW green is only $10 per liter..real popular with my bourbon and coke relatives. I never tried it. However with EW Black tasting as “old” as it does, the Green may be at least palatable neat.

      I will be working in New Mexico later this year and one can have whiskey shipped I will order some VOB BIB and see what the fuss is about.

  26. Texas says:

    ..another great bang/buck in the Luxco house (Heaven Hill distilled as well I suppose) is the Old Ezra 7 year 101 at $17 a bottle. Totally different than WT 101, but very, very good.

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  30. Doug says:

    Will there be a “best buy” award for 2012? Loved last year’s picks!

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