The year’s best bourbon? Ken Miller says yes

Note to self: If you see this label, get out your wallet.

Call this a premature move if you must, but I’m already calling it for Bourbon of the Year: Evan Williams Single Barrel’s 2003 vintage.

For those of you who up until now have only ever had Evan Williams’ Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, take special note: The Single Barrel is a whole new animal. Now in its 18th bottling, EWSB is a 10-year bourbon released once a year, and while I’ve only been along for the ride since the 2001 version, I can say without hesitation that this will always be on my shelf.

What makes this whiskey so exciting is that every year’s vintage tastes different from the previous year's. (In some cases, you can taste variations from bottles of the same year!) And it doesn’t hurt that, at a $25 price point in most stores, this is easily the best bourbon value around. My collection is now up to 30 bottles, and I have yet to find a product that even comes close to touching this one for the price. Heaven Hill Master Distiller Craig Beam’s product weighs in at a modest 86.6 proof but delivers a flavor profile that keeps me coming back year after year.

And what a profile a year makes! I’ve sampled nearly an entire bottle of EWSB 2003, and here are my observations:

Nose: Three words. Pappy. Van. Winkle. Yes, you read that right. It seems impossible to imagine, but that same sweet, deep maple flavor in PPW can be found here. And I know it’s not my imagination, because I’ve sampled many pours over many days, and have also tried side-by-side comparisons. The nose knows, people.

Taste: The PPW comparisons end here, as this is light, elegant and slightly sweet, the polar opposite of PPW. Again, I’ve only had the 2001 and 2002 versions, but this is the lightest so far, and the easiest to drink, but with a complexity that keeps you coming back for more. So far, I’ve detected cinnamon, apple, a bit of toffee, chocolate, pecans ... and that list is likely to go on and on.

I cannot stress this enough: If you see this on the shelf, buy it. This will easily be one of the most popular bourbons this year, and it will be talked of fondly once it is gone. Get in on the fun while you can. After all, 2014 is right around the corner.

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Ken Miller is Las Vegas Magazine's managing editor, having previously served as associate editor at Las Vegas Weekly, assistant features ...

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