I have no idea which grain they’re talking about when people sing “amber waves of grain.” It could be wheat, I guess…or barley…oats, maybe. Hell, if you leave corn sit around long enough, it’ll probably turn a nice golden brown. What do I know, I’m no farmer. I’ve also never had a chance to sit down with Katharine Lee Bates to see exactly what she meant when she wrote those lyrics. Seems like most whiskey ingredients could pass for golden at some point in their lives so maybe she was a big whiskey fan.
I’ve always liked the smooooooth quality wheat brings to the few bourbons that feature it more prominently in their mix. The Van Winkle’s, in particular, make spectacular use of it in theirs. I’ve been looking forward to trying the Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey for a while now, hoping it would be a great golden wave of biscuity, toasted baked goodness and had my chance recently at Alembic.
Distilled by the Heaven Hill folks at its namesake Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, KY, the make-up for Bernheim is 51% winter wheat, 39% corn and 10% barley malt. The spirit is aged for a minimum of 2 years in new, charred white oak barrels and is currently the only true wheated American whiskey on the market.
The Nose: Caramel…buttered caramel, if there is such a thing. Biscuity and nutty – hazlenutty perhaps, and a little orange zest. More alcohol and not as much depth or softness as expected.
The Palate: Burnt biscuits, charred wheat. There are some delicate cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla tones also. Tastes youngish, more sharp angles than I expected from a wheated whiskey, but then I guess, this has not been aged for very long so that’s to be expected. Again I was looking the softer quality you find in bourbons that substitute wheat for rye in the mashbill, but I didn’t find as much of it as I thought I might.
The Finish: Medium, not too long. There’s a nice dryness. A little astringent and a little hot.
Thoughts: Bernheim is a good whiskey. There’s an interesting, mild freshness to it and the wheat does come through to set it apart from its corny and ryed brethern. Unfortunately, its youth gives it a harshness that, to me fights a bit with the mellowing wheat. It would be interesting to see a more matured Bernheim, to let the wood take some of the rough edges off.