Drinking the Bottom Shelf: Evan Williams Apple Orchard

Drinking the Bottom Shelf

Will Gordon drinks his way through the bottom shelf of the liquor store...so you don’t have to.


I'm writing this as a single man drinking tea on a cold, rainy day in Massachusetts, but by the time you read it I'll be a married man drinking rum on a hot, rainy day in Puerto Rico; such are the wonders of airplanes and calendars.

Beyond that I'm having a hard time predicting what my life will be like by the time this hits your computer. Man, I hope we're still friends! I've noticed that a lot of married people kinda shut down socially. That doesn't seem likely in my case, though: Emily doesn't care for mushrooms or heavy metal and only pretends to like baseball, so I'm still going to need some nonfamily running mates. But who's to say, really? I mean, I wear a ring now. All bets are off.

I've only recently come to realize that ring-bearing is nearly universal among married men in my social circles. My father didn't wear a wedding ring, despite being happily enough married to my mother for the whole time he and I were alive concurrently, so it took me a long while to realize that customs have changed.

Or maybe generational differences play a smaller role than I'm imagining. I suppose my dad's friends could have all worn rings and I just never noticed. I'm reminded here of the time when I was in 8th grade and my father told a story about one of the friendly off-duty hookers he encountered at the Dunkin Donuts he stopped at for coffee every morning. My scandalized mother yelled at him to stop telling hooker stories at the dinner table at the same time I yelled, "Wait a minute? You drink coffee? I thought only ladies drank coffee!" It turns out that while my mom was drinking her Maxwell House in plain sight on the couch, pops was skulking around with Styrofoam cups and prostitutes. So what I'm saying is sure, I'll wear a ring. It's all a bit strange to me, as I've never won a Super Bowl or been a weirdo, but if that's what married guys do, that's what I'll do.

I'm excited to see what else changes in my life now that my left arm hangs a little heavier than my right. Emily sprung one sweet treat on me yesterday afternoon. She asked for my social security number and I said, "Oh honey, it's way too late for that. You should have run the background check before the first date, not after the last dress fitting," but it turns out she was just signing me up for her company health plan. As depressingly utilitarian married-guy things go, health insurance is a lot cooler than cargo shorts and bike helmets, and I look forward to developing all sorts of exotic but easily curable disorders in the coming years.

But even though I'm on the cusp of being reasonably insured for a reasonable rate, I have no plans to abandon my strict regimen of preventative care. I will still maintain a borderline healthful diet during the middle of the week, and I will continue to read most of Serious Eats' kale-related tweets, which is to say most of Serious Eats' tweets and most of the known universe's kale-centered communication. However, I might permit myself one minor indulgence in light of my new safety net: I'm thinking of taking my apple a day in alcohol form.

I went through my first pronounced hard cider phase this summer. While I appreciate that apples are a fall fruit, liquored up apple juice was introduced to me as a summertime treat, so I'm going to cast a wider, warmer net in selecting a new apple drink for dead leaf season.

Evan Williams is beloved by many a bargain-hunting bourbonist, and though I don't share the passion, I do respect E.W. as a good value and a decent drink. The basic bourbon comes in 80, 86 (Extra-Aged), and 100 (Bottled in Bond) proofs, with the 86 being the most popular. There are also two higher-end versions—Single Barrel Vintage and 1783 Small Batch—and four flavored "Kentucky Liqueurs": Cinnamon Reserve, Honey Reserve, Cherry Reserve, and the new Apple Orchard.

The Apple Orchard is the lone 34-proofer (the others are 70), and the label promises anyone who shells out $12 "The smoothness of Evan Williams with the taste of spiced apple cider." I called the distillery to make sure they're trafficking in real bourbon and real cider, rather than just the "smoothness" of the former and the "taste" of the latter in the form of grain alcohol spiked with nutmeg dust (years of tasting flavored liqueurs has made me paranoid.) Yup, turns out this baby is bourbon with cider added. Phew.

It looks like soft apple cider and smells very strongly of candy apples dunked in powdered cinnamon. There's also a whiff of bubble gum, which the Evan Williams website proudly trumpets as cotton candy in a manner that suggests it's intentional. Odd choice.

When sampled at room temperature, the spiced bubble gum taste overpowers any apple character; this is presumably why E.W. recommends heating it up a bit, which does indeed produce the nice cooked apple note promised on the site (though still no evidence of bourbon). Evan Williams Apple Orchard is way over on the sweet and simple side at room temperature, but if you take the time to heat it up and serve it properly, it's got just enough range and complexity to drink straight or complement a warm-spiced dessert. But who are we kidding? You're just going to dump a shot in your afternoon tea, and you'll be a happier soul for it.