Monday, July 30, 2012

Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey

A bourbon whiskey mashbill is at least 51% corn, rye whiskey's is at least 51% rye.  For a "straight wheat whiskey?"  You guessed it, at least 51% wheat, in this case exactly 51% of the mashbill is soft winter wheat.  I've only ever seen one other wheat whiskey besides this one, and it was made by a craft producer.  I had this product a couple of years back when I first saw it on local shelves.  I paid $40 at the time.  This time, only $28 bucks.  Heaven Hill has slashed the price, presumably because it has not grabbed the share of market it was expected to.  But I don't really care about that--only if the stuff in the bottle tastes good.  Jim Murray rates it in his "brilliant" range, using descriptors like "smoldering toast from that-day- baked bread."  Intriguing.  Bernheim is a historic distillery, and has produced some legendary whiskey.  I am just starting to get into a bit of bourbon history, like what brands were produced where and when.  It's a rabbit hole I am completely unqualified to take you down right now (check out Chuck Cowdery's blog if the history is interesting to you, he has a book as well).  Just know that there were rumors that Bernheim stock made it's way into some Pappy Van Winkle bottles.  In other words, some good stuff has come off of the still at Bernheim.  This one is 90 proof, by the way.

Color: A bit lighter than your average bourbon, perhaps that is the effect of wheat?  The rest of the mash is corn and a bit of barley.

Nose:  Jason Pyle over at Sour Mash Manifesto gets graham cracker on the nose, and there is a bit of cracker, toast, or something of that nature.  The nose is strong yet soft, if that makes sense.  Pleasant.

Taste: It's very round in mouthfeel, as you might expect from a wheated bourbon or a wheat whiskey.  Jason Pyle gets lemon candy up front.  There is an acidity, with some sips it is more like candy in others a bit less pleasant.  Once it moves to the back of the tongue there is a nice toastiness, like campfire marshmallows.  It's very warming yet smooth all of the way.  There are some typical bourbon type flavors from the new charred oak, vanilla, some spice and oak, etc.  But it is a unique bird a bit harder to describe than its cousin, bourbon.

Finish: Again, soft and pleasant, but substantial.

Value: I think a fair comparison is Maker's Mark, the most famous wheated bourbon.  Similar in price and both featuring wheat.  Bernheim may have a bit more interest to it, a bit more range of flavors and a better finish.  That's not to say it is better than Maker's.  The folks at Maker's set out to make a reasonably priced, tasty sipping whiskey that has mass appeal, and they have achieved that.  Bernheim and Maker's might both be good introductory type whiskies.  Not too harsh but with nice flavors.  I do think $28 more accurately reflects what this whiskey is than $40.

Intangible/Overall: It's kind of a novelty.  If you like novelty, great.  But in a way, novelty can never trump the association you make with your favorite spirit.  You can say, "that's damn fine bourbon, " not so much "that's damn fine wheat whiskey."  But it could have a place in your rotation, a good change up.

1 comment:

  1. i think i might pick up a bottle of this, i've seen it on the shelf at the liquor store plenty of times. $28 is pretty decent. you are right, it may not be the best, but the novelty it brings by being one of the few wheat whiskies is cool. if it made its way into pappy bottles, than it must be pretty good.