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Walk the Line: Evan Williams

evan williams bourbon family

Evan Williams is, by design, a bargain bourbon brand operating under the umbrella of the Heaven Hill family of brands (whose brands also include Elijah Craig, Larceny, McKenna and many more). Ranging from $10 on the low end to $25 for top-of-the-line, Evan Williams’ bourbons have a spicy bite to them and a familiar flavor profile from the top to the bottom of the line. Here’s a comparison of their regular 5-bottle lineup:

Evan Williams Green Label. 80 proof, about $10. The “bargain priced” Evan is really a value bourbon like no other. Distilled by Heaven Hill, who is one of the only remaining family-owner bourbon distillers in the country, Green Label may not be considered as sophisticated as some of the higher end bourbons out there, it has a balanced yet spicy flavor profile. Because of the proof of Green Label, even though I usually like by bourbon with a lot of ice, I drink this one neat or in cocktails only.

Evan Williams Black Label. 86 proof, about $11. Black Label is our Simple Cocktails “well” bourbon. I always have a bottle on hand as I find it’s got the cinnamon-spice-zing that I love in whiskey. For $11 a bottle, it’s value is excellent, and it’s higher proof than Green Label, so I can ice it up when I sip it straight.

Evan Williams White Label Bottled-In-Bond. 100 proof, about $13. With the price and favor profile of White Label considered, I feel comfortable saying this is my favorite bourbon. I’ve not tried another in this price range that had the flavor profile I seek after (higher rye, higher spice) like this one. There’s a touch more burn with White Label as it’s higher proof than anything else Evan Williams produces. Like it’s little brothers, this bourbon serves a spice-forward balanced profile of cinnamon, caramel, clove and nutmeg.

Evan Williams 1783. 86 proof, about $15. As you can see, you can explore almost the entire line of Evan Williams bottles for less than $15 apiece. 1783 is a more specialized and, dare I say, delicate bourbon than the value line, though. While I’m not sure of the mashbill (the grains making up the bourbon), I suspect a little less rye and a little more wheat or barley in this one. It’s subtler and I found this is a better fit for drinking neat. I found the flavor set too delicate to pair with most cigars, too, which often pair better with a bolder whiskey.

Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage. 86 proof, about $25. This is the best-of-the-best in Evan’s world. It’s a bottle at a price that you can easily keep 2 or 3 around to serve to guests and it’s quality is definitely good enough to sip alone, but the price won’t prevent you from considering it in a cocktail either (Old Fashioned, anyone?). It’s flavor profile is more in line with the colored-label brethren above, so a bit more spice and sizzle than the cool sweetness of 1783.

Walk the Line: Knob Creek

knob creek walk the line

Knob Creek is a familiar name for whiskey drinkers and widely available. Here we’ll add another brand to our long-running Walk the Line series with Knob Creek, a Jim Beam brand (now owned by Suntory) and one of the best-selling “small batch” lines at Beam. Bourbon Curious, my bourbon reference bible, places Knob Creek’s line with the cinnamon-forward bourbons, like Wild Turkey, Bulleit and Four Roses, most of which are my favorite bourbons, so Knob Creek is in good company in my liquor cabinet.

Here are some notes on each, pictured from left to right above:

Knob Creek Bourbon. 100 proof, about $35. For a 100-proof bourbon, Knob Creek is surprisingly sweet and smooth. The mashbill isn’t released by the company, but I’m assuming it’s a pretty typical corn/rye/barley, maybe wheat. The blend is balanced and cool, with just a mild touch of rye spiciness to it. This is a 9 year old bourbon.

Knob Creek Single Barrel Reserve Bourbon. 120 proof, about $45. Similar in taste to the staple bourbon, S.B.R. is a touch spicier and has a more pronounced barrel flavor. It’s not uncommon to find a “high-end” high-proof bourbon these days, but for $45, this is a bargain as well.

Knob Creek Rye. 100 proof, about $40. I love the bite of a high-rye whiskey, and Knob Creek isn’t quite that. Hear me out, though: this is a rye that I really love to drink. Again, Knob Creek’s mashbills are secret, but many (including me) suspect it’s just a reversed version of the bourbon recipe. That is to say, this is not the 95% or 100% rye mashbill that some others brag on, but this whiskey is a balanced experience with the right amount of sweet and spice and ultimately, it’s a sipper with a little more character than the spice bombs out there. Knob Creek’s ryes don’t currently have an age statement, they just say “patiently aged.”

Walk the Line: Cockspur

cockspur rum

Cockspur is a rum you’ll see quite a bit of throughout the world (they have pretty wide distribution), but I hadn’t really run across it here in the U.S. until I started doing some homework for a recent rum+cigar pairing event I hosted.

Dating back to 1884 in Barbados, Cockspur has a pretty varied catalog of rums that will cover you for about any type of rum you may need, and because of this, I think they’ve earned a deserved place in our Walk the Line series.

Here’s a brief summary of each, pictured from left to right above:

Cockspur Overproof. So there’s really only 2 uses for overproof rum, which in this case clocks in at 65% ABV. Some tiki recipes use it as an ingredient, but mostly it’s the think you put in a volcano glass to light on fire in the middle. At $20 a bottle, Cockspur overproof is overwhelmingly butterscotch on both the nose and palate, but it’s not really meant to drink by itself.

Cockspur Fine. Let’s call this “regular” Cockspur. Aged a little bit, this rum has a cinnamon-and-sugar candy taste that has very little alcohol burn. It is a great fit for cocktails and is even good enough at $15-20 to sip on.

Cockspur Spiced. Spiced rums are my favorite choice for rum-and-Cokes, and Cockspur is one I haven’t tried before. The spice you’ll find here is really a Christmasy clove experience in the scent, but it’s surprisingly watery and sweet in the finish. In the $15 range, try this one if you love cloves.

Cockspur Old Gold. Now we’re getting into the truly aged Cockspurs. At 5 years old, this is a spicier rum than Fine, with some nutty banana flavors meeting the woody spice of the barrel. Definitely a sipping rum at $20-25 a bottle, this is a definite middle ground between the sweet Fine and the woody VSOR 12.

Cockspur VSOR 12. “Very Special Old Reserve” is a blend of rums up to 12 years old, and is spicier still than Old Gold. Almost apple-like in both flavor and nose, Cockspur VSOR 12 was the runaway favorite at our cigar pairing event and it’s only $30 a bottle. A great cigar pairer and a fun choice for a whiskey drinker who’s looking to experiment with aged rums, too.

 

Walk the Line: Bacardi

bacardi bottles product line

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Bacardi is the world’s top-selling rum and one of the top liquor brands in the world. Originally made over 100 years ago in Cuba, Bacardi is now distilled in Puerto Rico and it’s used in drinks like the Bacardi Cocktail or the Cuba Libre – a rum and Coke with lime that was originally mixed in 1900.

Bacardi Superior. Aged 1-2 years in oak and charcoal filtered twice, Superior is really the the standard for mixable white rums and the one to buy for Mojitos, Daiquiris, or Rum and Cokes. Maybe it’s the aging process, maybe it’s how it’s distilled, but Bacardi always tastes like Bacardi, it’s one of the most iconic flavors I’ve ever experienced. Tasters found it pleasant tasting with a strong burn and a smell that almost reminded them of nail polish remover. Superior will run you $13 a bottle, and this is the one to buy for Caribbean and South American Cocktails.

Bacardi Gold. Gold is an alternative to Superior that’s a bit more complex in flavor, a little richer, but is still simple enough that it makes great cocktails. Tasters said it has a little more buttery, there was a little less of the familiar Bacardi taste, and that it was heavier overall. Gold is a better choice for Tiki drinks and will also run you $13 a bottle.

Bacardi Oakheart. This is Bacardi’s entry into the spiced rum market, it’s name playing off the oak aging that all Bacardi rums enjoy. In its cool looking knobby bottle, Oakheat is sweet and smoother than it’s brethren, and I’d guess there is a touch of sugar within to smooth it out (it’s also slightly lower in alcohol). Tasters thought this one had a great flavor and discovered lots of vanilla and cinnamon, most said it’d be great in Coke. Oakheart will run you $14 a bottle.

Bacardi 8. Aged 8 years in oak, this brand of Bacardi is meant for sipping. Priced modestly at $25, this definitely tastes like a more mature Gold. A lot of Gold’s familiar flavors are there, though Bacardi 8 is mellower, cooler, and has a bitter raisin or maybe banana bread taste that’s not present in the younger Bacardis. There’s less alcohol burn, too, and it finishes clean and dry. I’ll probably use Bacardi 8 to make Daiquiris as I’ve started to love the was they taste with aged rum, and for the price, it’s a good aged rum for mixing in cocktails.

Walk the Line: Smirnoff

smirnoff vodka product line

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Smirnoff is not only the best-selling vodka in the world, but it’s the best-selling spirit brand in the world, too. While most of it’s varieties are just in different flavors, I stuck with what I consider to be the basics: two versions of Smirnoff and two classic vodka flavors. All in all, Smirnoff falls right in the middle: for the price, you could do much, much worse, but it’s not a perfect vodka.

Smirnoff. This is the standard red label Smirnoff vodka, also known as “Recipe No. 21.” Distilled from a corn, 80 proof, and selling for $10-15 a bottle, Smirnoff is a pretty safe buy. Tasters found it had a bit of an alcohol bite, particularly in the smell, but that it was a pretty smooth-tasting vodka overall.

Smirnoff Blue Label. Also known as “Recipe No. 57,” Blue Label is 100 proof and is slightly more expensive than the Red Label ($17). It really ignites your taste buds all around when you sip it and tasters found that the burn you get from it is a significant step up from Red Label. There are a few reasons to choose Blue Label over Red: to make infused vodkas, to make stronger cocktails, because you have the extra money to spend, or…let’s be honest here: because you want to get drunk faster.

Smirnoff Citrus. Citrus is one of the “original” vodka favors, from way back in the days when Fruit Loop vodka was unheard of. Citrus vodka is recommended when you make a Cosmopolitan. Smirnoff Citrus has a fresh, clean, and dry lemon flavor. Tasters said it was very smooth and one said they could easily sip it on the rocks. For $14, this is a great choice if you’re looking to incorporate some vodka flavors into your home bar without embarrassing yourself.

Smirnoff Vanilla. The Vanilla vairety is quite a bit sweeter than Citrus, but still fells like a classic vodka flavor. Tasters liked it in general, and said they could see this one used in a Chocolate Martini or give White Russians a nice flavor boost. The taste of Vanilla felt a little manufactured, particularly when compared to the Citrus, but like the other Smirnoffs, Vanilla is a decent buy at $14.

Walk the Line: Johnnie Walker

johnnie walker bottles product line

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Johnnie Walker joins the Walk the Line series to help prepare us for the return of Mad Men on Sunday. Christina Hendricks (who plays Joan in the show) is the brand ambassador for Johnnie, which is the top-selling brand of whisky in the world. Prices of some Johnnie Walker varieties sell for hundreds of dollars, and every type of Johnnie is a blended scotch, as opposed to single malt. This means Johnnie Walker is a blend of different scotch varieties from different distilleries, and it also means their taste is well-balanced and predictable.

Johnnie Walker Red Label. Originally blended in 1909, this is the most affordable Johnnie of the line at $23 a bottle. Red Label is the scotch of choice for mixed drinks, stuff like a Rusty Nail or a Scotch and Soda. Red Label is a blend of “young malts,” so it’s a bit less mellow than a more mature scotch. This blend is dry and clean and the flavor is light.

Johnnie Walker Black Label. A blend of whiskies that are at least 12 years old, Black Label will run you $34 a bottle. Outside of maybe ice or a splash of soda or water (your preference), this Johnnie is one to drink straight. As this is an older scotch, it’s more mellow and has a more wood and spice in the flavor. This blend was the preferred one for all the testers except for one who prefers a smokier scotch. For the price and taste, Black is a great buy.

Johnnie Walker Double Black. A limited-edition release for Johnnie in 2011, Double Black was permanently added into the line late last year. Double Black retails for $40 in a taller, smoked glass bottle that hints about what lies inside: a blend of smokier whiskies from smaller Scottish distilleries. Double Black is surprisingly less aromatic than the others, but makes up for it with rich, smoky, slightly mossy flavor. This label was preferred especially by drinkers who love bolder, smokier whisky. One taster said it was like “smoke in a bottle.”

Walk the Line: Tanqueray

tanqueray flavors all bottles

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Tanqueray. The flagship Tanqueray in the green barrel-shaped bottle. Tanqeray is a classic, iconic London Dry gin with juniper as the primary flavor and traces of spice, coriander, and licorice. Tasters felt like the flavor was “classic gin” and those who prefer the stronger juniper really loved it. A bottle will run you $20.

Tanqueray No. 10. In 2000, Tanqueray 10 was created in the tenth still at the Tanqueray distillery. Meant as a premium and modern martini gin, 10 retails for $30. Tanqueray 10 is made in smaller batches than the flagship, and there is more citrus in the overall flavor. Tasters found Tanqueray 10 to be very balanced, with lots of flavors but none of them standing out as particularly  dominant. 10 finishes in your mouth very dry and martini fans thought this may just be the best martini gin they’d tried, saying it would taste great stirred on ice and served straight up.

Tanqueray Rangpur. Tanqueray Rangpur is named for the citrusy hybrid fruit that it’s made with. Lemon-lime-citrus is the substantially predominant flavor in Rangpur, with a hint of ginger and almost no trace of juniper. As a straight pour into tonic water, Rangpur wouldn’t require the typical lime wedge garnish for a gin and tonic. Tasters felt like Rangpur would be a great accompaniment to Indian or Asian food. Bottled at a lower proof than the two Tanquerays above (82 proof instead of 94), Rangpur will run you $22 a bottle.

Tanqueray Malacca. Originally hitting the market about 15 years ago, Malacca was discontinued a short time later and has subsequently become the unicorn of the spirits world, selling for hundreds of dollars a bottle. Re-introduced in February 2013 in limited quantity (100,000 numbered bottles), Malacca is based on an 1839 Charles Tanqueray recipe and some say it’s one of the truest gins you can find to the recipes from centuries ago.  Malacca is a very mild, soft gin that finishes with a hint of sweetness. It’s lower proof than those above (80) and is a friendly sip of gin with virtually none of the sharpness you find in London Drys like the flagship Tanqueray. Adorned in a unique gold-stamped and emerald/gold labeling, it comes in a crystal-clear bottle which signifies its uniqueness in the Tanqueray line. If you can find it before it’s gone again, Malacca run you about $30 a bottle.


Thank you for following the first several posts of the Walk the Line series these past 2 weeks. Expect to see other occasional explorations of large brands in the future as we walk their product lines here at Simple Cocktails!

Walk the Line: Jim Beam

jim beam bourbons and whiskies

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Jim Beam. The flagship bourbon and one of the top-sellers in the world, aged 4 years. The fire from the toasted barrels comes out in Beam White and it has a “hot” finish as a result, the tasters said it felt higher proof than it actually is. Ms. Ubon told me her favorite southern cocktail is to mix Beam with Coke, which they fondly call Brown Wine. Jim Beam is $15 per bottle.

Jim Beam Black. Using the same recipe as the white label bourbon, Black is aged 8 years and bottled at a higher proof. An affordable bourbon with a long age, Black is smoother and cooler than Beam white, and it marks an affordable ($20) upgrade from the flagship bourbon.

Red Stag. A black cherry flavored bourbon, and while it’s not marketed as a liqueur, Red Stag is quite sweet, with almost a snow-cone quality to the flavor. It seems that it’s meant to be mixed into an Adult Cherry Coke. Red Stag is a very popular line for Beam and very affordable at $15 per bottle.

Devil’s Cut. A newer member of the Beam clan, Devil’s Cut is Jim Beam bourbon that includes whiskey that’s steam-extracted from the barrel wood. Whiskey that evaporates from the barrel is traditionally called the Angel’s Share, so what’s left inside is the Devil’s Cut, right? This Beam variation is certainly woody and spicier on the tongue. For our tasting panel, was a favorite of the Beam line. Devil’s Cut is $25.

Jacob’s Ghost. The newest Beam-family whiskey, just hitting stores now. It’s named for Jim’s great grandfather Jacob Beam (the first Beam to sell whiskey). This is a unique white whiskey because it’s actually aged for a year and the color is filtered back out of the liquor, leaving a ghostly pale colored whiskey. It is certainly more mellow than other unaged whiskeys I’ve tasted, which often have the pungent quality of tequila. Tasters thought this one was almost like sake with a fruity finish. Ghost retails for $23.

Walk the Line: Bombay

bombay gin product line

This is Walk the Line: a series where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


Bombay distills premium, modern gins using “vapor infusing,” which leads to a softer tasting gin overall.

Bombay London Dry. Bombay Dry was first introduced in 1959 and it has 8 botanicals that lead to a classic London Dry flavor with a touch of spice in the finish. Tasters who prefer classic London Drys liked the flavor of Bombay Dry, saying that it’s a good gin overall. Though not as widespread as the iconic Bombay Sapphire, Bombay London Dry can be found for $21 a bottle.

Bombay Sapphire. Bombay Sapphire arrived in 1987 in a distinctive square blue bottle with the botanicals etched into the sides. Sapphire takes the recipe of 8 from the original Bombay Dry and adds cubeb berries and grains of paradise for a total of 10 botanicals. Tasters found Sapphire to be an extremely balanced gin, with flavors of lemon and berries, a touch of spice, and a long, lingering taste on the tongue. Sapphire is a bit sweeter than other London Drys and gin’s typical piney flavor is more subdued. At about $23 a bottle, Bombay Sapphire is extremely popular, and has a mild, fruity, soft profile overall.

Bombay Sapphire East. In 2012, Sapphire East was introduced with 12 botanicals, adding lemongrass and black peppercorns to the existing Sapphire infusion. At $30 a bottle, Sapphire East is mostly peppery, and the flavor is less balanced than Sapphire as the two new ingredients are the primary flavors. Initially tasting like Bombay Sapphire, followed by a peppery licorice bite, Bombay Sapphire East finishes fast and cool with a faint trace of sweetness.

Walk the Line: Jack Daniel’s

jack daniel's whiskies

Welcome to a series at Simple Cocktails called Walk the Line, where I explore the entire product lines of the most popular liquor brands together with a panel of friends and tasters. I realized in a recent visit to the liquor store that there are some huge brands with different versions of their liquors, and I wasn’t really sure which was the best, or why, or how they differ from the flagship brand. I’m sure that there are others who feel the same, so let’s Walk the Lines of these brands together. Click here to view the entire Walk the Line series.


While it almost seems silly to begin with something as familiar and iconic as Jack Daniel’s whiskey, some people take this brand for granted in spite of its rich and fascinating history. We tasted the 3 primary expressions of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey. Here’s the breakdown:

Jack Daniel’s Old No. 7. The flagship black-label Jack Daniel’s has been distilled for over 100 years. Jack differentiates itself in the market by being a Tennessee Whiskey, filtered through 10 feet of sugar maple charcoal before it’s aged in barrels. It had been a while since most of our tasters had Jack on it’s own, and we admittedly expected to be tasting “cheap whiskey.” Old No. 7 pleasantly surprised the panel with it’s quality, though, especially for $20 a bottle. This flagship Jack has a familiar sweet corn flavor and a smooth, lingering finish.

Gentleman Jack. Introduced in 1988, Gentleman is the mid-range Jack. The recipe is the same as with Old No. 7, but this version is charcoal mellowed twice: once before and once after barrel aging. Gentleman Jack is sweeter and smoother than Old No. 7 because of the double mellowing, and the tasters really liked the flavor and price (about $30) of this one in particular.

Jack Daniel’s Single Barrel Select. This is the premium Jack Daniel’s product. While it’s life begins the same as the other Jacks, Single Barrel Select is chosen from the top barrels in the aging house at the distillery.  Those barrels experience the biggest temperature fluctuations, and as a result Single Barrel Select has a complexity that warrants the  higher-priced bottle (about $45). This whiskey has a rich color, and the tasters all smelled traces of maple syrup, though the flavor is not as sweet as it’s little brothers. Bottled at a higher alcohol content than the others, tasters felt Single Barrel Select is much more of a serious sip and should share the shelf with other high-quality American whiskeys.