Mellow Corn is one of the more wonderful oddballs in the U.S. whiskey world. How could it not be, with a name like that? When Heaven Hill debuted the brand in 1945, there were plenty of American whiskeys with slightly more whimsical names than we usually see today. Brands like Airport Straight Bourbon, Big Cat Bourbon, King Albert Bourbon, Rainbow Straight Rye and Old Sport Bourbon filled the shelves, often with colorful labels and terrific 30’s and 40’s fonts. Mellow Corn was born into that time, and for the most part, it hasn’t ever left.
“Unique” is a word that’s probably tossed around more than it should be. I’m certainly guilty of overusing it, but in Mellow Corn’s case, it’s actually downright apt. There are very few corn whiskeys out there at the moment. This particular style of American whiskey is defined by a mashbill of at least 80% corn, and a max distilling proof of 160. By law, you don’t need to age corn whiskey, but if you do, you have to do it in un-charred or previously used oak casks. As a friendly reminder, bourbon must be at least 51% corn and aged in new, charred oak casks. As with bourbon, (and if it meets all the requirements) if you age a corn whiskey for two years, you can call it a straight corn whiskey. If you age it for four years in a bonded warehouse and bottle it at 100 proof, you can call it a bottled-in-bond corn whiskey. There are a few mass-produced, un-aged corn whiskeys out there, but most seem to be more novelty-ish than anything else. There are even fewer craft-distilled corn whiskeys, some of those are lightly aged, most if not all claiming some terroir of some kind to give their spirit more credibility. As far as I know, there are no other bottled-in-bond corn whiskeys out there other than Mellow Corn…so, yeah, unique.
In the early 2010’s, Heaven Hill and Mellow Corn started to broaden their distribution. The brand has, over the years, become a bartender’s darling, a throwback with some obscure caché, and Heaven Hill has moved to capitalize on this renewed interest. Not to worry, tho’, despite this recent surge in popularity, Heaven Hill has said there no plans to change the whiskey nor the label. The mashbill for Mellow Corn Bottled in Bond Straight Corn Whiskey is reportedly 90% corn and 10% malted barley and rye. While the bottled-in-bond designation means that this one is at least 4 years old, bear in mind that it’s been aged in used casks, not new, charred oak. The wood influence will be significantly less because of that, making for a lighter whiskey that likes to show off its mashbill.
The Nose: Straightforward, simple, and to the point. There’s a lot of sweet corn ice cream and vanilla syrup front and center. A little orange blossom honey behind that with hints of navel oranges and lemon furniture polish. Just a subtle bit of oak with cinnamon stick and toasted almonds. Faint hints of corn oil and popcorn in the background with a bit of solvent giving away this one’s youth.
The Palate: Straightforward, simple, and to the point. The palate is a little hotter than the nose lets on. There’s caramel corn, vanilla bean, and a little juicy orange early with unsweetened cocoa powder and slightly salty toasted nuts midway through. There’s youthful, grippy oak with hot cinnamon, clove, ginger and peppercorns, and a bit of slightly burnt popcorn towards the end.
The Finish: Caramel corn, vanilla bean, baker’s chocolate, cinnamon stick, black pepper, a bit of tannic oak, and that touch of popcorn to the end.
Thoughts: Straightforward, simple, and to the point. Yes, this comes across a little young and hot, but it’s also balanced, expressive, and surprisingly smooth and easy drinking. This is a quirky little whiskey that’s somewhat ok neat, simple and refreshing on ice, and a surprising challenge in cocktails. It’s simplicity and relative subtlety can be overwhelmed when subbed into a traditional bourbon cocktail, but that simplicity coupled with its high ABV means it’s a lot of fun to play and experiment with. Given its low price, there is no reason not to put this unique whiskey in your cabinet at least once. Mellow Corn basically sits down in front of you, looks you square in the eye, and says, “I’m bottled in bond, I’ve got a 90% corn mashbill, an awesome looking, vintage-y label, and I cost around $12 a liter…what more do you fucking want from me?” The answer of course is nothing.
- “Mellow Corn Whiskey.” Heaven Hill Brands – Kentucky Bourbon Whiskey and other Fine Spirits, http://www.heavenhill.com/brand/25. Accessed Aug. 2017.
- Pyle, Jason. “Review: Mellow Corn Corn Whiskey.” Sour Mash Manifesto, 3 Mar. 2013, sourmashmanifesto.com/2013/03/03/review-mellow-corn-corn-whiskey/. Accessed Aug. 2017.
- Simonson, Robert. “The Newest Bartender Obsession: Mellow Corn Whiskey.” Punch, 20 Oct. 2014, punchdrink.com/articles/newest-bartender-obsession-mellow-corn-whiskey/. Accessed Aug. 2017.