Ezra Brooks 90 and Evan Williams Black Label are two of the most popular bottom shelf “black label” bourbon whiskeys. It is always asked which one is better. And the answers you get are varied and often times heated. I have done reviews of both of these whiskeys and enjoy them both for what they are.
I will provide links to each individual review after this head to head comparison. And this comparison will not be a full review of each with complete tasting notes, but more a comparison between the two.
BOTTLE AND LABEL – These two are both classic bottom shelf black label clones. The shapes and overall sizes of their bottles are very similar; certainly not enough different to give one an edge in how it feels in your hand or looks on the shelf. They are square with modest body size and elegant fairly straight necks with fluting. Both feel good in your hand and lend to easy pouring.
Same goes for their labels. They are comforting in looks and feel. Classic. One might say they are the “comfort food” of bourbon bottling and labeling. Their black and white dominant colors with just enough gold to offset the clean yet stark design speaks of strength and stability. Not flashy, but just enough to keep these bottom shelf contenders from being trashy.
Ezra Brooks 90 utilizes a cork and Evan Williams has a plastic cap. Twist off vs cork is also a heated debate among some, but not really for me. But I admit that if I had to choose one or the other a cork would probably be my choice. Yes, you have to keep them moist, and if they are exposed to the whiskey too much they can pass on flavors that are not pleasant; but I have never had a cork give me problems nor fail to seal adequately. I can’t say the same for the classic metal twist tops. While most work just fine, I have had some that expand with use (sometimes the first use), and then fail to give a proper seal from that point on. With that said, Evan Williams uses a plastic twist cap and not a metal one. And plastic caps tend to be very reliable and don’t expand like the metal ones can do.
So who wins for me on bottle and label? I have to give this one to Ezra Williams 90. I just love the feel of pulling a cork and then slapping it back in after a pour. It just seems so… whiskey. (ADDED: Ezra Brooks 90 used to use a plastic cap as well though, I just checked with my old bottle. It has a plastic cap.)
COLOR AND VISCOSITY – Both are a coppery or amber color. Evan Williams is a deeper color, more rich looking. Ezra Brooks 90 is a brighter and overall lighter appearance. But both are close in color.
When swirled in the glass Evan Williams forms a thicker coat and legs take longer to form. The legs are also thicker than those formed by Ezra Brooks 90. And Ezra Brooks 90 will form some beads once the whiskey settles. I find Evan Williams leaves more ghosts of the thick legs and no real beads.
Winner for Color and Viscosity? I will have to give this to Evan Williams.
NOSE – The nose of Ezra Brooks 90 is unmistakably young. It puts forth the fact that it is 90 proof and without any real age. It leads with corn and alcohol and then follows with its other notes. But Evan Williams leads with a smooth sweetness. It is much more gentle on the nose and you don’t have to push the alcohol aside to discover the other notes. With that said, it is almost too sweet and smooth.
After letting both breathe a bit, it becomes an issue of crisp vs sweet. Ezra Brooks 90 is crisper, yet still has some sweetness to it. Evan Williams much sweeter, but its smoothness becomes less noticeable.
So which do I like better nosing? I have to give this one to Ezra Brooks 90, but only after it is allowed to sit a while. That said, I always recommend letting your whiskey sit no less than 5 minutes after your pour, but a good 10-15 minutes is ideal.
PALATE – Evan Williams is definitely smoother, with a more oily consistency. It is also sweeter in a more classic sweet bourbon way (think Maker’s Mark) than Ezra Brooks 90 is. Ezra Brooks 90 has a cleaner sweetness for me, but has a definite oak bitters presence before oxidizing, which Evan Williams does not have. This will be a positive or a negative depending on your preference. Both have about the same amount of spice or pepper, but how that comes across is affected by a heavier or lighter sweetness. I would consider Evan Williams a dessert whiskey, and Ezra Brooks 90 just a standard pour.
That begs to ask, which one do I think is better. Well, this would be a tie for me. It would depend on what my mood was or why I was drinking it.
FINISH – With a fresh bottle, Evan Williams is a more enjoyable finish. Why do I lead with a winner out of the gate on this one? Because it is not quite that simple. Ezra Brooks 90 when oxidized is a superior finish in my opinion, but you have to let it oxidize; and that takes time. The bitter oak that is there with a fresh bottle fades away with oxidization and gives a longer cleaner, more enjoyable finish.
Like I said though, if you have a fresh bottle, Evan Williams is simply the better finish. And in this price range, I believe most people are not buying it to keep around. For me that is not the case. I stock nearly 30 bottles at any given time (at this point), which is not a lot for whiskey enthusiasts but it is more than most folks keep stocked. And my reviews are not just for the enthusiast but for everyone.
PRICE vs QUALITY – I have to give this one to Ezra Brooks 90. For me, I can get Ezra Brooks 90 for $10 every day. Evan Williams runs $15-$20. This does not hold true for all areas, but does for mine. You will have to do the price comparisons in your market for yourself, and then bounce that off of both my head to head here; as well as my individual reviews, and see what you think for yourself.
OVERALL – For me this is a tie. It is much like Coke vs Pepsi. There are fanatics in both camps, but I never was one. I liked them both, for different reasons. And I would not turn down a glass, can, or can of either. Those who follow my reviews know that I tell it like I see it and am not afraid to say I don’t like something. These are both well worth their price, and I would not turn down a pour of either. I keep stocked a wide range of whiskeys so that I have something that suits the need or want, of the moment.
I enjoy both of these whiskeys and believe they are more than adequate for sipping or mixing. I tend to lean a bit more toward the Ezra Brooks 90 as a true budget pour though simply because in my area it is clearly the more cost effective whiskey. And in the $15-$20 range there are more choices that are wonderful pours. In the $10 range, not so much. For $10 it would truly be hard to beat what Ezra Brooks 90 offers, and delivers. But like I said, you will have to check prices in your area to determine which one you may think is best for you.
Here are the links to each individual reviews:
Evan Williams Review – HERE.
Ezra Brooks 90 Review – HERE.
(NOTE: The Ezra Brooks 90 label changed from the time of my review and this head to head, that is why the labels are not the same.)