Some people don't like anything unless they know it's expensive. When it comes to bourbon, you can pay a whole hell of a lot more, but you'd be surprised how much quality you can buy for less than twenty bucks.
Just to make sure I wasn't deluding myself, I poured myself a glass of the Evan Williams White Label. Next to it, I poured a bourbon that cost me $100. While I'll detail my thoughts on this experiment later, the takeaway was this: the EW White certainly didn't feel like an $86 step down. With scotch, you can taste the gulf between a finely-aged and well-crafted bottle and what lies on the bottom shelf. Here, there's considerably less distance. Surprisingly less, in fact.
Chalk a lot of that up to some basic economic principles that allow us to make good whiskey for not very much money. First, farm subsidies in the US make corn stupid cheap. We feed it to cows whether they want it or not, and the US government pays farmers quite a bit to make sure we have more than we'd ever want. From my perspective, it's one of those baffling aspects of government that survives into the modern era through what I can only imagine is a giant dose of glad-handing and pork barrel politics.
Why else is it cheap? The distillers of EW White use new-make barrels for bourbon. That might sound costlier than using “seasoned” (i.e., used) barrels that previously held wine or rum or whatever, but not so. We don't have to wait for someone to be done with the barrel and ship it back, which creates logistical problems. We just carve up some wood and then, wham—fill 'er up.
Third, we don't need to import the liquor. It's made here, so there's no chicanery related to VAT taxes or tariffs, loading it and unloading it from a freight liner, luxury designations or all of that other hullabaloo. We make it here and put it on a truck so you (who is most likely an American, given my readership) can drink it here.
Digging into the EW White Label, I enjoy this immensely for what it's supposed to be: a prototypical American bourbon. It's big, buttery, and generous when it comes to throwing corn at you until you relent. However, there's also some very detectable cask influence that comes through in the form of cinnamon and the pungent earthiness of clove—just enough to keep the sweetness from wearing itself out. The finish is long, and perhaps one-dimensional, but cinnamon and pepper linger for quite a while.
Are there any minuses? Sure. This isn't a "sit and ponder" kind of whiskey. There's not a whole lot to smell and not a whole lot of evolution from the aroma to arrival to the development and into the finish. But did I mention you get a bottled-in-bond bourbon for a measly $15?