Whisky Advocate

Review of two value bourbons: Old Crow Reserve and Evan Williams

March 1st, 2010

On Friday, I received a review bottle of the new Old Crow “Reserve” with a press release that states it is intended to compete with Evan Williams. So, I procured a bottle of Evan Williams (on sale for $8.99 right now here in Pennsylvania) and compared the two.

You wanted me to review value whiskeys. I’m delivering.

Old Crow Reserve, 4 year old, 43%, $12
A new “upgrade” from the standard Old Crow, which is only three years old. Soft aroma of sweet corn, candy corn, vanilla and light caramel. Similar follow through on the palate—predominently sweet, with more corn, vanilla, and light caramel. It finishes sweet (too sweet, actually), a bit grainy, and slightly hot. 

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 75

If this brand is meant to compete with Evan Williams, then this four year old should be the standard “Old Crow” and the Reserve expression should be more like five or six years old, because the standard Evan Williams bottling (with no age statement) reviewed  below is clearly superior to Old Crow Reserve. Old Crow Reserve is too sweet and lacks oak notes for balance and complexity. It’s acceptable enough as a mixing bourbon or perhaps on the rocks, but I wouldn’t drink this neat or with water.

——————–

And now, the Evan Williams Review:

Evan Williams, 43%, $12
Nice balance of honeyed vanilla, caramel, soft oak and a hint of summer fruits and creamy coconut on both the nose and palate. Soft, lightly dried spice notes emerge on a pleasant, albiet brief, finish. Economically priced to use as a mixer or on the rocks, but also high enough quality to enjoy neat or with a splash of water.  A highly versatile bourbon.

Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 81

Bottom line here: If you’re looking for a versatile,  inexpensive bourbon to have on hand, Evan Williams is a good choice.

P.S. I shared these two bourbons with a few very experienced bourbon drinkers over the weekend (some of them WDJK readers), and our feelings were unanimous.

41 Responses to “Review of two value bourbons: Old Crow Reserve and Evan Williams”

  1. Andy says:

    Thanks for this John. As a new bourbon drinker on a low-ish budget this was much appreciated. Any chance of a special post on value bourbons widely available in the UK?

  2. Joe M says:

    John,

    This is greatly appreciated!

    Would love to hear your thoughts (or provide a link since I know you’ve covered it in the past) on the full George Dickel line including the #8.

    Budget Ryes and even (gasp) American Blended Whiskey reviews would be well received.

    You are the man!!

  3. sam k says:

    John, I had the opportunity to taste them both, and you are spot on. The Old Crow seemed to have a high ratio of corn in the mix, adding a bubble gum component. The finish of the Evan Williams seems to seal the deal for me. More refined, showing more barrel influence. Since it was labeled as a seven year old until not too long ago, I wonder if it’s not around five or six years these days, which would account for the added finesse. You’re right about the finish being brief, too, but for nine bucks, who can complain?

    I also think Joe has a good idea about going back to the Dickel line now that it’s been fully re-established. Time for a Dickel refresher!

    • John Hansell says:

      Sam (and Joe): I will need to revisit the Dickel line. The last time I reviewed them (several years ago), I would imagine they are different in flavor profile than the are now, because of that gap in production.

      • sam k says:

        I was led to believe that prior to the shortage there was a lot of older whisky in Dickel because of the shutdown, which would make for a different profile than one would find today, if that information was correct.

  4. Red_Arremer says:

    That’s the way, John– tailoring your review specifically as an evaluation of the marketing objectives. Nice to see notes on the standard Evan too!

  5. bgulien says:

    That was a mighty dip in the cashbox… $8.99. Unbelievable.
    I think all whiskies should be at that price. I wouldn’t drink anything else at that price.
    Almost cheaper than water.

  6. Seth Nadel says:

    Yeah…that 75pt score didn’t surprise me. I tasted it with the Jim Beam rep at it was a little rough. Like I said, Evan Williams is a little better.

  7. It’s pretty amazing how well some low price bourbons do. Scotches in this price range usually are only useful as disinfectants.

    • booka says:

      I was also struck by this – for $23, I can drink a world-class bourbon (EW Single Barrel) and many excellent standards (Wild Turkey, Woodford Reserve). I don’t think scotch has anything comparable at that price point either. I wonder if it is because scotch is luxury priced, or something else, maybe one of the other commenters could explain

      • Seth Nadel says:

        There are a few very good Scotches for the money. Tamdhu 10yr comes to mind.

        • Texas says:

          The McClelland’s line isn’t bad at all. The Highlands is a young Glen Garioch, the Islay is a young Bowmore (even younger than Legend). Those two are nice values.

          • Seth Nadel says:

            There is also Auchentoshan Select and Famous Grouse 10yr. Both a good value. Of course, can you really compare the two? Between freight and taxes, Scotch will always be more expensive than a domestic whiskey.

      • Mark Davis says:

        one factor is temperature. it’s warmer in the whiskey producing parts of America than it is in Scotland and the aging process is happens faster. This means more infrastructure costs. also could protectionist import tariffs play a role?

  8. Seth Nadel says:

    I think it’s great that they are releasing more affordable whiskies, but is this the direction they really want to go in? It seems like once Jack Daniels Green was released into the market, it opened the door for all these other distilleries to release something in that price range or less. Unfortunately, it seems to me that they are trading quality for price and shelf placement. Maybe I’m wrong, but I would rather pay a few bucks more and get something that is good. It doesn’t have to be great. My favorite affordable whiskey is Heaven Hill.

  9. JWC says:

    Thanks John. Shoot for $9 (if that’s what I can get it for), I’d be tempted to purchase the Old Crow Reserve just so I can compare my views with yours – I’m also not adverse to sweetness (I’ve developed a sweet tooth in my old age whereas I didn’t have one when I was younger).

    As for price and quality that some of the others are commenting on – they are trying to give the consumers a range of options. With the Evan Williams, one could go regular bottle or for about double the price (but still an unbelievable value) go with the EWSB.

    I state it often and it’s been repeated by others in this thread and elsewhere – bourbon drinkers are infinitely better off and have less financial constraints (all our complaining aside) than scotch drinkers. I just hope that the bourbon distillers don’t follow the marketing and pricing strategies adopted by the scotch distilleries too closely (something which may be inevitable given that certain distilleries are owned by the same multinational that owns scotch distilleries). I’m just hoping marketing demographics keep bourbon world as is (relatively speaking).

    • sam k says:

      American distillers have been moving prices upward at a noticeably faster rate in the last 5-7 years or so than ever in the past, in part because of demand, but also because they see the increased profits overseas distillers have enjoyed as their offerings became more expensive. The difference is that our whiskey started out at lower overall price points. We continue to be less expensive, but have seen some noticeable increases over that time.

      Blanton’s was a $35 bottle just a few years back, a $50 bottle now. Eagle Rare 10 year was $18, now $26; Jim Beam Black was $16, now $22 (all PA prices). I thought I was nuts when I bought three bottles of the first Hirsch from Michter’s at $50 each! Wish I had one left. Hell, I wish I had all three!

      Though the average American price point remains relatively low, the percentages of those increases have been substantial. I think that’s why there is so much interest in the good “ordinary” whiskeys that usually get overlooked in favor of the limited releases and high-end offerings. I’m actually surprised by how many here have said they’re moving from scotch to bourbon due to cost factors.

      In that light, someone mentioned here recently that they expect prices to drop in 2010. I’m keeping an eye out for evidence of that, and wouldn’t be at all surprised if they were correct.

      Can you say “global recession?”

      • Seth Nadel says:

        You will defintely see price decreases on certain items in certain markets. It’s not going to be mainstream items, though. Most likely it will be smaller brands such as Four Roses, Bernheim and Elijah Craig. Wholesalers still have quotas to make and the only way they can do it is by lowering the price.

  10. Texas says:

    Thanks John. Very handy review.

  11. Texas says:

    John..if you ever get a chance, I’d like to see a review of Wild Turkey 101. Michael Jackson loved it, the LA whisk(e)y guys hate it. I love the stuff.

  12. Jefffrane says:

    How could someone hate Wild Turkey? I think I sniff reverse snobbery.

  13. Texas says:

    That’s why I would like to see John review it. I won’t change my opinion of it..but those two guys barely giving it a drinkable grade..makes me wonder if I am off a bit. I just love the stuff…uh, sometime I love it TOO much.

    • sam k says:

      Texas, I’m calibrated the same as you, and we’re not alone. In fact, I like Wild Turkey rye even better than the bourbon, at $2 a bottle less ($18 on sale) here in PA.

      • Texas says:

        I would not say I like it better..but WT 101 Rye is right up there.

        • sam k says:

          Heck, if we all liked the same thing, there’d only be one brand!!

          • Texas says:

            Yeah, true..but don’t get me wrong I LOVE WT Rye..just not quite as much as WT 101 bourbon, and a notch below Russell’s Reserve Rye.

  14. Neil Fusillo says:

    Thanks, John. I actually find myself on occasion cooking with the Evan Williams simply because it’s one of the cheaper bourbons I can find, and it does wonders to pork chops. A nice bourbon reduction and some cracked peppercorns as a sauce on a grilled pork chop. MMmm….

  15. H.Diaz says:

    Anyone know how old this standard Evan Williams is?

    • John Hansell says:

      DIdn’t it used to be a 7 year old, and then they took the age statement off? It tastes like 5-6 yrs old to me–more than the 4 yrs of Old Crow Reserve.

  16. Seth Nadel says:

    Will there be a review on the Dickel Cascade Hollow?

  17. Larry Kass says:

    On behalf of Parker and Craig Beam, the Shapiras and all of us at Heaven Hill, thanks to John and all the WDJK-ites for the kind comments about our Evan Williams Black Label, and Evan Williams Single Barel Vintage (and Heaven Hill!). The remarkable growth of Evan Williams, starting even before the economy went south, is we think tangible evidence of simple and time-tested formula– a good product at a good price will always be successful. And you are correct John, Evan Williams is 5, 6 and 7 year old whiskey. If you want to try it at 4 years old (albeit at 80 proof), that would be Evan Williams Green Label–which, it just so happens, is also growing at unbelievable rates!

    • sam k says:

      Thanks for stepping into this conversation, Larry! The side-by-side tasting with OCR made me appreciate Evan Williams even more. I have said before that your (and the Beams’ and Shapiras’) company does a better job of making good-quality, reasonably-priced whiskey for the fans than any other, and I hope you all take that to heart.

      In these days of economic unrest, the Heaven Hill brands serve the entire spectrum of whiskey lover, from the top to the bottom, better than any other distiller. Keep thinking of every drinker you serve, and every drinker you serve will keep thinking of you.

      • sam k says:

        P.S. Though the seven year old designation is gone, thank you for keeping Evan Black at 86 proof. That simple gesture reflects your respect for a quality pour, and emphasizes even further your competition’s lack of same. Eighty proof American whiskey has no place at the enthusiast’s table, even as a mixer.

        We appreciate the effort…trust me!

  18. TheMandarin says:

    Only 2 dollars more than Old Thompson’s (80% grain neutral spirits people) and probably much, much better.

    Am I crazy for having a soft spot for Thompson’s?

  19. Gary says:

    This was great. Count me in as an EW Black Label drinker from now on.

  20. ptsmith says:

    I have to totally disagree with everyone here.Ive drank quite a bit of the evan williams black and I have to say I find the old crow reserve supperior in every way.I would also like to add that I am tickled that beam has finally given this distinguished historical brand the attention it deserves!

    • John Hansell says:

      I’m glad they are giving it the attention too, but that’s all we can agree on. (And might I say that, whether it’s true or not, you come across as being biased in some way.)

  21. chris martin says:

    I bought a 1.75 liter bottle of Old Crow reserve for $13 tonight. I think the store either made a mistake or they have some outlandish promotion going with the distillery. I have liberally sampled it and therefore my thoughts may be as slanted as my gait. I have been a bottom shelf whiskey drinker for years, volume and value dictate my purchase. Until now, I have been a firm believer that it is never too late for Early Times but the Old Crow reserve has changed my mind. I don’t drink whisky neat, always one to add sparkling water and a twist of lemon to my beverage. The extra kick, (86 proof) and value price make it my new drink of choice.

  22. Lexo says:

    I must say that the more I taste Evan Williams Black Label the more I like it. It’s an incredibly dense, hard bourbon. Which means when I drink it with ice all I taste is the wood, and it’s a hard wood. A stomach punch. These days I pour it, add a splash or two of water, let it sit and then sip it. I’m amazed at how good it is. How complex and refined it tastes, and though I love Scotch I grow to resent it when I think about the way budget scotch feels to drink. There are cheap blends that taste great, like White Horse for example, but they are all (including white horse) oily and thin and kind of gross after a few sips. Hard to deal with that when I can sip a glass of EW Black label and really get into it all the while knowing how little it cost.

  23. Frosty says:

    I love all the Heaven Hill product and always will. The 8 year old Old Heaven Hill Very Rare is my daily, the BIB gold is good as well. For bottom shelf this sets the standard. I like EW black very much and just bought a EW single barrel so, Yes I like HH, need to go there sometime soon. Having said that, I’m sipping on a Old Crow reserve that I just bought yesterday, and I think it is nice for the bottom shelf as well. More expensive than my OHH 8 year old that is $16 in 1.75 Lt. the OCR will do and I’m not a fan of Beam products (compared to Heaven Hill products). Be safe my friends!
    Frosty

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