Evan Williams is a familiar name for anyone who drinks American whiskey. As the flagship spirit of Heaven Hill Distillery, the Kentucky bourbon is a national icon. It’s also one of the top best-selling whiskey brands in the country, and the second best-selling bourbon in the world.
But the story of Evan Williams, the man, the brand, and the legend, starts far from the Bardstown distillery where it’s produced and packaged today.
Enjoy a dram, and indulge in this collection of 10 things you should know about Evan Williams.
Evan Williams was a Welsh immigrant.
Evan Williams may be considered one of the founding fathers of Kentucky bourbon, but he was actually born in Wales in 1755. Williams didn’t emigrate to the United States until 1780, when he settled in Louisville. Legend has it that Williams headed the first commercial whisky production in Wales — leaving for America when the endeavor wasn’t successful.
1783 was a vital year for Evan Williams.
Three years after emigrating to Louisville, in 1783, Evan Williams built Kentucky’s first commercial distillery. He commemorated the momentous occasion with Evan Williams 1783, an aged expression still produced today. No more than 200 barrels are hand-selected to create this special small-batch blend.
Evan Williams makes more than bourbon.
Evan Williams Bourbon Whiskey is one of the leading bourbon brands in the ever-evolving American whiskey space. Aged a minimum of four years, the brand lineup includes several core expressions, including Evan Williams Black Label, the aforementioned 1783, as well as Single Barrel, Bottled-in-Bond, and Kentucky Straight Bourbons.
But it doesn’t stop there: The lauded brand also makes a bourbon-based eggnog that’s only available from September through December. In the fall, the brand also offers a seasonal Kentucky Cider, made from apple cider liqueur and extra-aged bourbon.
There’s value in its vintage.
Bourbon lovers looking to tread into single-barrel territory on a budget should turn to Evan Williams Single Barrel Vintage 2012. At an average of $29, this label is touted as an inexpensive introduction to single-barrel bourbons — landing it among VinePair’s 30 Best Bourbon Whiskeys for Every Budget in 2020.
The classic Evan Williams Black Label ($12 on average) has a sweet, easy-drinking flavor profile with minimal burn, earning it a spot on VinePair’s 20 Best Bourbons for Every Budget in 2019.
Same mash bill, different bourbon.
The mash bill used to make Evan Williams is Heaven Hill Distillery’s traditional bourbon mash bill: 78 percent corn, 12 percent malted barley, and 10 percent rye. This grist is used across a large percentage of the distillery’s bourbons. The distinguishing factors between the resulting products are age, storage, and barrel finish — among other heavenly secrets.
Williams was a community doer.
After arriving in Kentucky, Evan Williams did a lot more than make bourbon. Along with establishing his distillery, he served as the city’s wharf master and operated as one of seven early trustees of Louisville. Louisville lore says Williams would bring a bottle of his whiskey to board of trustee meetings, during which all members present would enjoy a dram. Can’t say “nay” to that.
Evan Williams helped build Louisville. Literally.
A man of many trades, Williams was also a master stonemason and building contractor. After constructing what is believed to be Kentucky’s first commercial distillery, Williams also built Jefferson County’s first clerk’s office and courthouse, as well Louisville’s first brick home. On a less community-oriented note, he also oversaw the construction of the county’s first jail.
Evan Williams claims a lot of Louisville ‘firsts.’
Along with its claim to be the first commercial distillery in the state of Kentucky, Evan Williams is also the first stop on Louisville’s historic Whiskey Row. Of course, it’s also an official stop on the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. The Evan Williams Bourbon Experience is one of the trail’s highlight attractions, featuring an artisanal distillery tour, tastings, and more. On guided tours, visitors can learn about the life of Evan Williams. At this distillery, just one barrel of bourbon is produced per day under the guidance of artisanal distiller Jodie Filiatreau.
Evan Williams is on a mission to help veterans.
Each year, Evan Williams honors U.S. military veterans through its American-Made Heroes program by sharing individual inspiring stories and producing limited-edition bottles. In 2020, it expanded the program with the American-Made Heroes Foundation Fund. The mission of the foundation is to raise public awareness for causes impacting the veteran community, and to support nonprofit organizations that provide aid to veterans and their families in the wake of Covid-19.
Evan Williams isn’t just a bourbon. It’s a lifestyle.
The bourbon brand’s biggest fans can incorporate Evan Williams into their daily lives in a staggering variety of ways: cooking with Evan Williams gourmet foods, including sauces, seasonings, marinades, and coffee; decorating with Evan Williams home goods, such as bourbon-scented candles; stocking the home bar with branded barware; or showing the love with branded clothing. As one T-shirt wisely says, “bourbon goes with everything.”