What the heck is wheat whiskey? Well, as you may recall, Bourbon whiskey is a whiskey made with corn and rye whiskey is a whiskey made with rye, so it stands to reason that wheat whiskey is a whiskey made with wheat. The requirements for wheat whiskey are the same as for Bourbon, except that it uses wheat instead of corn: it must be made from at least 51% wheat and must be stored in new, charred oak barrels. As with Bourbon, the remaining 49% may be composed of other grains, such as corn, barley or rye.
Keep in mind that a wheat whiskey should not be confused with what in Bourbon lingo is referred to as a "wheater." A wheater is a Bourbon in which the remaining grains, beyond the required corn, contain wheat instead of rye. In a wheater, corn is still the base grain. In wheat whiskey, which is not Bourbon, wheat is the base grain.
For years, Bernheim Straight Wheat Whiskey, made by Heaven Hill, was the only wheat whiskey on the market. Recently, a number of microdistilleries have experimented with wheat whiskies, though I still haven't seen any on the shelf in California, so if you want to try a wheat whiskey, Bernheim is your best bet.
Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey, distilled by Heaven Hill, 45% alcohol ($40).
There is a certain thrill that goes into trying a type of whiskey that one has never experienced. What will be the influence of a majority wheat mash? Will it taste like a wheater Bourbon or will it be something new entirely? Let's find out.
The nose is lovely and subtle. There is some syrupy, Bourbony aroma there, but also wood and wood polish. If I nosed it blind I would guess either at Bourbon or Scotch single grain, both of which sometimes include wheat, so that is sensible enough.
The flavor is just lovely. It definitely reminds me of Scotch grain whiskies I've had. It's got a bit of sweetness but is not overwhelmingly so; the whiskey is very smooth with an underlying oak and a deep savory note at the end, which is similar to what I get in wheated bourbons. A rather complex drink that continues to reveal itself with every sip, this wheat whiskey is a keeper.
Any fan of American whiskey or Scotch grain whiskey who hasn't tried a straight wheat whiskey should run out and grab a bottle of Bernheim right away. This is good stuff. The only question in my mind is why there aren't more straight wheat whiskies out there.