Mellow Corn, Bottled-in-Bond

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USA. (Distilled at DSP KY 31)988_437_Mellow-Corn
Style: Aged corn whiskey
Age: NAS (at least 4 y/o)
Proof: 100 (50% ABV)
Appearance: Dark straw, long thin legs.
Nose: Thyme, sage, corn masa, toffee.
On the palate: Full-bodied and soft. Sweet caramel, oak, alcohol, sugar cookies.
Finish: Hot and sweet. Caramel corn, alcohol, tarragon. Lingers and tingles.
Mixed: Use as you would a bourbon or American blend. Makes a very nice Old Fashioned. In a Manhattan and with Benedictine (4:1 ratio on the rocks) makes a mixer-forward but still well-balanced and, most importantly, tasty drink.
Parting words: Corn whiskey occupies its own odd little corner in the world of American whiskey. Before the rise of micro-distillers, corn whiskey was a niche product popular in Appalachia and with nerds like me. It is, by law, composed of at least 80% corn but unlike bourbon it cannot touch new, charred, oak barrels. It doesn’t have to be aged at all, but if it is used cooperage is, well, used.
Mellow Corn is the most widely distributed and probably best selling aged corn whiskey. In my mind it thus provides a benchmark for judging all other aged corn whiskeys. The only thing from a major producer that comes close to it is Early Times Kentucky Whiskey, which has a similar mashbill and is composed of whiskey aged in new and used barrels. Mellow Corn far outclasses Early Times. Comparing it to a bourbon is not helpful, in my opinion, because that’s not what it is. Mellow Corn is a corn whiskey and should be judged for what it is, not what it isn’t.
Before I finish, I should mention that I love the campy, mid-century label on this whiskey. Loads of praise to Heaven Hill for not updating the label on this one. OK, I’m starting to ramble. Mellow Corn BiB is recommended.

Head to Head: Virginia Lightning vs Glen Thunder Corn Whiskeys

1) Virginia Lightning

2) Glen Thunder

Maker

1) Belmont Farms of Virginia, Culpepper, Virginia, USA (product no longer made)

2) Finger Lakes Distilling, Burdett, New York, USA

Age

1) NAS (unaged)

2) Less than 30 days

Proof

1) 100 (50% ABV, taken down to 90 proof for tasting)

2) 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance

1) Clear

2) Clear

Nose

1) Raw spirit, lavender, corn syrup, dried flowers, nail polish.

2) Spirit, corn tortillas, rose water, varnish.

On the palate

1) Full bodied and velvety. Sweet. Grape juice, mango.

2) Medium bodied. Milder than the nose would indicate. Drier and delicate.

Finish

1) Long, soft and fruity. Alcohol, starlight mints.

2)Corn husks, sweet cornbread, a bit of an alcoholic tingle

Parting words: These are two of my favorite unaged corn whiskeys. They are both good in their own way. Virginia Lightning is mild and fruity. It’s easy drinking for an unaged corn. Glen Thunder has more of an edge, but much more in the way of corn character. I have heard rumors that Belmont Farms, when they made this product, added sugar to their mash to achieve its relative smoothness. Both perform well mixed with sweet soft drinks or even on the rocks with a wedge of lime or a maraschino cherry (a summer favorite of mine) Virginia Lightning is no longer made now that Belmont Farms is under new management. If you can find it, it is worth buying. Glen Thunder is still made, but may be hard to find. It has the strong corn character of a traditional corn whiskey, but is accessible enough to work its way into the rotation of whiskey lovers who enjoy this sort of thing. Both are recommended.

Head to Head: Bourye vs. Son of Bourye

Maker: High West, Park City, Utah, USA

Distilleries: Four Roses, Barton-1792, LDI

Style: Blended whiskeys (bourbon +rye, no GNS)

1. Bouryre

2. Son of Bouryre

Batch

1. 1 (thanks Amy!)

2. 3

Age (youngest whiskey in the mix)

1. 10 y/o

2. 3 y/o

Proof

1. 92

2. 92

Appearance

1. Dark copper, long, thick legs.

2. Burt orange, long, fairly thin legs.

Nose

1. Alcohol, oak, caramel, cumin, crushed red pepper.

2. Peppermint, lemongrass, tomatoes, ginger.

On the palate

1. Thick, soft mouthfeel. Creamy soft caramels, nougat, a bit of fennel, alcohol

2. A little thin. Mild, some mint and orange.

Finish

1. Hot, but fading to sweet caramel with a hint of oak.

2. Warm, but not too hot. Some light vegetal notes as it fades slowly.

Parting words

The Bourye is from a bottle I split with a friend, but  I failed to record the batch information. At any rate, the differences between these two whiskeys are pretty stark. The Bourye is well-balanced and an enjoyable sipper. It has plenty of spice, but balanced out by caramel (presumably from the bourbon) and oak (presumably from the 16 y/o rye in the mix). I have seen it on shelves recently, but in most places it has long since sold out. It was pricey, and the remaining bottles will be even pricier now, but it is very well done and there’s nothing not to like. Bourye is recommended.

Son of Bourye was really awful when I first opened it. It was like drinking tomato ketchup. It has settled down in the bottle since then, but it is still mediocre. Some apparently enjoy sour, citric notes in their bourbon. I don’t. The whiskeys in the mix are very young and it shows. The young high rye rye, overwhelms everything else. If this whiskey were $20 cheaper, it might earn a mild recommendation as a change of pace and a decent mixer. Its price, around $40, puts it into the sipper category. As a casual sipping whiskey, it fails. I find it hard to recommend Son of Bourye compared to its competition in that range such as Elijah Craig, Knob Creek, or Wild Turkey Rare Breed. Not recommended.

Balcones Single Malt

Maker: Balcones, Waco, Texas, USA

Age:NAS

Batch: 12-1

Bottled: 1/9/2012

Proof: 105 (52.5% ABV)

Thanks: To Dustin for getting me this sample!

Appearance: Shiny copper with a thick, husky legs.

Nose: Butterscotch candy, sweet cream butter, sharp wood notes appear but then fade (small barrel syndrome strikes again!), alcohol.

On the palate: Full-bodied & sweet. Caramel corn, butterscotch pudding, almond extract, malt. If I didn’t know better I’d say I even tasted a bit of sherry.

Finish: Hot and sweet with a strong Highland accent.

Parting Words: This is the most Scottish American malt I’ve ever had. It is strongly reminiscent of inland Highland Malts with their pure creamy malt characteristics. This is particularly true in the finish. What’s perhaps the most remarkable about this whiskey is how much it changes after being poured. I tasted it in a Riedel Single Malt glass and I felt like every time I took a sip I had to go back and re-write my notes. The Caramel Corn/Butterscotch notes eventually take the lead and it’s for the best. Balcones is one of the good guys in the micro-distilling movement and this whisky (ey?) is exhibit A. Balcones Single Malt is highly recommended.

Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey

Maker: Jack Daniels, Lynchburg, Tennessee, USA (Brown-Forman)

Age: NAS

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Appearance: light copper.

Nose: Light banana scent, corn syrup, papaya, nail polish, touch of wood..

On the palate: Light and sharp. Nail polish, clove, maple sugar, bit of anise.

Finish: Hot and harsh. Bitter clove, acetone, not much else.

Parting words: Jack Daniels is the best-selling brand of whiskey in the world. I have trouble figuring out why. It is fairly easy-drinking with some spice and sweetness. There is not much else going on here, but what is going on is pretty unpleasant. The special charcoal mellowing process Jack (and George Dickel) goes through is supposed to remove many of the harsher congeners found in bourbons of the same age, but there were still plenty left over.

I didn’t bother to try it in a manhattan or anything like that, but I did try it in its most popular applications: Jack and Coke and Jack and Ginger Ale. It does very well in both these drinks. The cola smoothes out the rough edges, but there is enough there to (barely) taste the whiskey inside. The ginger ale complements the spice and fruit notes, and covers up the embarrassing nail polish ones.

As a bargain brand, it doesn’t stand up too well to the competition. It’s well over $20 here in Michigan. Not good value for something of this quality at 80 proof. There are seasonal editions of Jack Daniels Old No. 7 that come out at a variety of proofs and one dedicated to salesman Angelo Lucchesi at 90 proof, replicating the proof of Jack when he started working at the company in the 1950s when Brown-Forman purchased it. That one is only a couple dollars more and probably a better bargain if you enjoy Jack Daniels.

At any rate, I’ve had worse, but not at this price. Jack Daniels Old No. 7 Tennessee Whiskey is not recommended.

Bernheim Original Straight Wheat Whiskey

Maker: Heaven Hill, Louisville/Bardstown, Kentucky, USA

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Copper with thick clingy legs.

Nose: Alcohol, whole wheat bread, raisins.

On the palate: Medium-bodied, dry and subtle. Raisin toast, buttermilk biscuits, shortcake.

Finish: Slightly fruity, a little cinnamon, then fades softly.

Parting words: Bernheim Original came into being when Heaven Hill took over the Old Fitzgerald brand of wheated bourbons. For the first time in history, Heaven Hill was working with wheat, so why not try something different? They decided to name it Bernheim to honor the founder of their new distillery (or at least its immediate predecessor) in Louisville. If you’re ever in Nelson County, Kentucky, you can see I.W. and Mrs. Bernheim’s graves in the Bernheim Forest, a beautiful arboretum on land donated by the man himself.

My tasting notes are simple tasting notes because this is a simple whiskey. This is not a bad thing, but before you drink this keep that in mind. Rye whiskey has loads of flavor and character because of all the flavor rye brings to the party. Wheat and Corn have less flavor so Corn and Wheat whiskeys have less flavor. Bernheim Original is the only straight wheat whiskey being made by a major distiller, so there’s not much to compare it to. The whiskey to compare it with, in my opinion, is one of Heaven Hill’s aged corn whiskeys like Mellow Corn or Dixie Dew, rather than a wheated bourbon. The subtle, simple flavors of an aged corn are similar to the simplicity of wheat whiskey.

Bernheim Original works in Old Fashioneds and Manhattans, but some of its more delicate flavors can get lost. It works best as a refreshing summer afternoon sipper. And it’s at a reasonable price. Bernheim Original is recommended.

My Two Ounces: What’s that mean? Whiskey Edition

All disciplines and hobbies have their own set of lingo. The world of whiskey is no exception. What makes this even more confusing is that all whiskey-producing countries have their own terms and laws. Here are some of the most common terms found on whiskey bottles of all types and the most basic definitions I could give them. I have only included terms used for Scotch, American, Irish, Canadian and Japanese whiskies. These are all I can think of for now. I hope it is enlightening. And please give me crap about it if I screw up. That’s what the internet’s all about.

ABV: Alcohol By Volume, in other words, how much of the volume of the liquid in the bottle is taken up by ethanol (the alcohol in alcoholic beverages). This is expressed as a percentage. If I knew more about chemistry, I’m sure I could explain it better. See proof below.

Age Statements: The age statement refers to the time between when the unaged spirit was put into the barrel and when it was removed from the barrel, usually rounded down to the nearest year. When there is an age statement on a bottle of whiskey of any country, the number refers to the age of the youngest whiskey in the bottle. Whiskeys without age statements are described as NAS (No Age Statement). They are usually, but not always, close to the minimum age allowed by law. That is four years old for American straight whiskeys and bonded whiskeys (see below), and three years old for all Scotch, Irish and Canadian whiskies.

Barrel Strength/Cask Strength/Barrel Proof/undiluted: The whiskey has been bottled at the same proof  it was when it left the barrel. No water has been added.

Blended Whiskey/Whiskey, a blend: All whiskey-producing countries have their own rules and practices regarding blending.

Blended Scotch: A blended Scotch is composed of two components, single malt (usually several of them, see below) and grain whisky (also see below). Generally, the more expensive the blend, the higher the proportion of single malt. If the blend has an age statement, it applies to the grain whisky component as well.

Irish Blends: Irish blended whiskey is usually a blend of whiskey made from malted barley in a pot still and unmalted barley. Generally, the more expensive the blend, the higher the proportion of malt. If the blend has an age statement, it applies to the grain whiskey component as well. Most Irish whiskeys are blends.

Canadian Blends: Canadian Blends are somewhere between Scotch/Irish blends and American blends taste-wise. The grain whisky element is distilled until it is almost, but not entirely, flavorless. The malt component in Scotch/Irish blends is replaced by flavorful whiskies similar to American rye, bourbon and corn whiskeys. Generally, the more expensive the blend, the higher the proportion of flavoring whisky. If the blend has an age statement, it applies to the grain whisky component as well. All but one or two Canadian whiskies are blends. See Canadian Whisky.

American Blends: Most American blends are basically vodka favored with whiskey. Bottles labeled blended bourbon or rye contain a blend of vodka (flavorless neutral spirit) with bourbon or rye. Some newer whiskeys that blend two or more types of whiskey (bourbon with rye, for example) also qualify as blends, but their makers tend to downplay that term since American blends have a bad reputation among enthusiasts. If the blend has an age statement, it applies to the neutral spirit component as well.

Japanese blends: Similar to Scotch blends above.

Blended Malt: Formerly known as vatted malts, blended malt Scotches are blends of multiple single malts. Unlike true blends they contain no grain whiskey element.

Bottled-in-Bond or Bonded: The Bottled-in-Bond law stipulates that any American spirit labeled as such must be at least four years old, bottled at 100 proof (50% ABV), and the product of one distillery in one distilling season. It is mostly used for bourbons, but also for rye and apple brandy and can even be used for vodka or gin. It was intended as a sort of quality control but now some bourbons that qualify as Bottled-in-Bond choose not to use the term because it sounds old fashioned.

Bourbon: An American Whiskey made from at least 51% corn and aged in a new oak barrel that has been charred on the inside. It must be made in the U.S. It does not have to be made in Kentucky, although the vast majority of it is.

Bourbon cask, sherry cask, port cask, etc: Scotch, Irish and similar whiskies are almost always aged in used barrels (casks). The former contents of the cask impart different flavors to the whisky. Most whisky producers use a variety of casks to age their product. Bourbon and sherry are the two most commonly used in Scotland and Ireland.

Canadian Whiskey: Whiskey made in Canada. Almost all of it qualifies as blended by American standards. Like Scotch and Irish, it must be at least three years old. Unlike in the British Isles and the U.S., under Canadian law non-whisky flavoring elements may be added to whisky. These include sherry, port, madeira and other wines, brandy, and even fruit juice. See Canadian Blends above.

Cask Strength: See barrel strength above.

Charcoal Filtered: The whiskey has been filtered through activated charcoal, similar to a home water filter, after aging. Some labels display the words more prominently than others, but most whiskeys are filtered in this way. This is different from charcoal mellowing and in addition to chill-filtering; compare chill-filtering and Tennesee Whiskey below.

Corn Whiskey: An American whiskey made from at least 80% corn (compare bourbon above) and either unaged or aged in a used oak barrel. There is a subtle difference between unaged Corn whiskey, which is meant to be consumed as is, and White Dog (see below) which has been distilled with the intent to be aged at a later date, at least in theory.

Diluted: Any whiskey (or other spirit) that is sold at under 80 proof/40% ABV in the U.S.

Finished: The whiskey has been transferred to a different barrel (or had oak chunks added to the barrel or the like) for a brief time at the end of the aging process. Bourbon and other American whiskeys are allowed to be finished in a used barrel as long as the bottle is labeled as “finished in X barrels” or something to that effect.

Grain Whisky: In the Scotch and Irish whiskey worlds, grain whisky is whisky usually made in a continuous still (as opposed to a pot still) and made from something other than malted barley. Usually it is just whatever grain is cheapest at the time with corn (maize) and wheat being the most common grains used. Grain whisky is typically blended with single malt whisky to produce blended whisky. It is occasionally bottled on its own as a curiosity. The term is not used in American whiskey circles.

Irish: Any whiskey made in Ireland. Traditionally, Irish whiskey is made from malted and/or unmalted barley and distilled three times before aging. By law it must be at least three years old.

Japanese Whisky: Whisky made in Japan. It is made in a similar style to Scotch single malt and blended whisky.

Natural Colo(u)r: No caramel coloring has been added. Adding caramel color is legal for Scotch, Irish, Japanese and Canadian whiskies.

Proof: Now only used for American whiskey. American proof is the ABV doubled. So 50% ABV= 100 proof and so on. American whiskey must be at least 80 proof to be sold in the U.S. Otherwise it must be labeled as diluted.

Pot Still: Implies that the whiskey was at least partially distilled in a pot still as opposed to a continuous still.

Regions: Single malt Scotches are classified according to where they were distilled. There are four traditional regions. These are often mentioned on bottles of Single Malt Scotch. They are Highland, Lowland, Islay and Campbeltown. The Highland region is the largest by far and is subdivided into other regions, like the Islands and Speyside. Speyside is the largest of those in terms of number of distilleries and is itself subdivided into smaller regions like Dufftown and the Livet valley. Region plays a much smaller role in the classification of Irish, Canadian, Japanese and American whiskies.

Reserve: Meaningless marketing term meant to convey the image of extra age or rarity.

Rye: A traditional American whiskey made from at least 51% rye and aged in a new oak barrel that has been charred on the inside. Same goes for other named whiskey types but with their respective grains. Wheat whiskey is at least 51% wheat, American malt whiskey is at least 51% malted barley, and so on.

Scotch: Any whisky made in Scotland. By law, all Scotch whisky must be aged for at least three years in a barrel or cask as it is more commonly called in Scotland. See Single Malt, Blend, Grain Whisky.

Single Barrel/Cask: All the whiskey in the bottle is from one barrel. Most whiskeys are a combination of the contents of different barrels.

Single Malt: Used for Scotch and Irish whiskies, a single malt is a whisky made from only malted barley in a pot still and is the product of a single distillery. It is usually blended with grain whisky to produce a blended whisky. Single Malts are also bottled on their own, either by the company that owns them or by a private bottler. Single Malt used on a bottle of American whiskey is only an indication that it qualifies as a malt whiskey by American law. Other whiskeys that call themselves Single Malts generally follow the Scotch usage.

Small Batch: From a smaller batch of barrels than bigger selling brands. It’s essentially a meaningless term meant to make the whiskey inside the bottle seem rare and desirable.

Sour Mash: The mash (distiller’s beer) is brought to a low Ph before distilling. Although some whiskey labels display the words more prominently than others, all major American whiskey brands are made using a sour mash.

Straight: American whiskey legal term. Any whiskey that is at least two years old and the product of a single U.S. state may be called straight whiskey. If it is under four years old, the label must bear an age statement.

Tennesee Whiskey/Whisky: Whiskey made in Tennesee. In practice, Tennesee whiskey is very similar to bourbon. It uses a recipe that is identical to a bourbon, but unlike bourbons it undergoes a process of charcoal mellowing, also known as the Lincoln County process. Before barreling, the white dog (see below) is run through a large vat of maple chunk charcoal. This removes some flavor compounds and adds a few others. It is then barreled and aged like bourbon and other straight whiskeys. Tennesee whiskeys could probably be sold as bourbons, but Tennesee whiskey makers prefer to sell it as Tennesee whiskey.

Unfiltered/Unchillfiltered/Non-chill filtered: The whiskey has not undergone a process called chill-filtering in which the whiskey is chilled to around zero degrees Celsius and then filtered. The process is performed after aging and is intended to reduce any haziness that the whiskey may exhibit. Chill-filtering produces a clean-looking spirit that looks good on the store shelf, but the process can also remove some flavor compounds. Whisky producers marketing themselves toward enthusiasts will often not chill filter their products and brag about that fact on the label. Unfiltered also implies that the whiskey has not been filtered through activated charcoal, a common practice (see above).

Vatted Malt: See Blended Malt above.

Wheated Bourbon: This style of bourbon is made with corn, malt and wheat instead of the more usual corn, malt and rye.

Whiskey: A spirit distilled from grain and then (usually) aged in an oak barrel. In layperson’s terms, a whiskey is a beer that has been run through a still. Most whiskeys are then aged in a barrel for a period of time. Whiskey with an e is the preferred spelling in the U.S. and Ireland, although some American brands like Maker’s Mark, Old Forester and George Dickel omit the e. Curiously, U.S. Federal regulations governing whiskey also use the e-less spelling.

Whisky: See whiskey above. Whisky without an e is the preferred spelling in Scotland, Japan and Canada. In spite of what some believe, there is no more difference between whiskey and whisky than there is between labor and labour or color and colour.

White Dog: A term from the American whiskey world meaning a clear spirit that is destined to be aged in barrels and become whiskey. The Scotch equivalent is new make. Many start-up and even established distilleries have been releasing their own white dog recently as a curiosity or to raise some quick cash in the case of the start-ups.

Confused about wine labels? So is everybody else. Check out the simple interactive guide to reading world wine labels from Delish.com here.

Double Down Brewer’s Whiskey

Maker: New Holland, Michigan, USA

Type: Straight Malt Whiskey

Age: 6 mos. (in “small” barrels)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Dark copper with thick legs.

Nose: A faint hint of leather up front, like walking into a furniture showroom. Sweet black licorice, caramel, a bit of alcohol.

On the palate: Full, voluptuous body. Like a porter on the palate. Lots of licorice, some more caramel and hard candy, maybe a little horehound.

Finish: same notes as on the palate, but with some slightly bitter clove and Chinese five-spice.

Parting words: This was the first entry into New Holland’s Brewer’s Whiskey series of small barrel, small bottle releases. Some of the acrid nastiness that very small barrels can throw into the nose is absent here. Instead, it’s like drinking a very spicy porter or sucking on black anise candy. A lovely whiskey, and one that is good sippin’ for the holidays. Highly Recommended.

Triple Smoke American Malt Whiskey

Maker: Corsair, Bowling Green, Kentucky/Nashville, Tennesee, USA

Style: Smoked American Malt

Age: NAS

Proof: 80 (40% ABV)

Appearance: Copper with slow legs.

Nose: Young, sharp, small barrel, woodsy notes with a little bit of hardwood smoke and sweetness.

On the palate: Medium-bodied and sweet. With a bit of water, the sweet smokey wood flavors come through. A little cassia and nutmeg lurking somewhere in the background too.

Finish: This finish is where the smoking process pays off. The beech and cherry wood smoke give Triple Smoke a sensual, dare I say hedonistic finish. The peat, which only shows up in the finish, provides a pleasant, floral counterpoint to the other woods. The smoke lingers in the mouth for a very long time, taking on some tobacco notes before gently fading.

Parting Words: This is a very well-executed whiskey. The chocolate nougat notes of a typical American Malt are there, but they’re the O-line to the QB/TE/WR combo of the beech, cherry and peat smoke. Yes, I’ve been watching a lot of football recently.

My only disappointment with Triple Smoke is the nose, which has a definite case of Small Barrel Syndrome. It’s sharp and unappealing, but the taste and finish more than make up for it. Triple Smoke is not widely available, so next time you’re in Chicago, Kentucky or Tennesee, pick one up. I thought about trying it in some cocktails but it’s so tasty neat I couldn’t bear to. This is exceptional American malt in every sense of the word. Highly recommended.

Zeppelin Bend Straight Malt Whiskey

Maker: New Holland, Holland, Michigan, USA

Age: NAS

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Appearance: Burnt orange with long sticky legs.

Nose: Prunes, cardamom, ginger, mace, cocoa

On the Palate: Full-bodied and sweet upon first entrance. Heavily spiced mincemeat pie, and then red wine chocolate truffles dusted with Dutch process cocoa powder. Yes those exist.

Finish: Hot, but then a dry chocolaty sweetness that too quickly fades.

Mixed: A highball of Zeppelin Bend and club soda on the rocks is pretty good, even if it does taste a bit like a watered down Choc-Cola. Other classic Scotch cocktails work well, too. A rusty nail has a nice bitter, spicey note that balances out the honey liqueur nicely, and a Rob Roy is quite good, even if it’s not quite sure if it’s a Rob Roy or a Manhattan.

Parting Words: American straight malt whiskey is has not been very popular historically, and as a result has not been made much by American distillers. Like a rye or bourbon, American malt must be aged in new charred oak barrels and must have a mash bill of at least 51% of the grain in question, malted barley. But where Big Whiskey saw no reason to tread, a few micro distillers saw an opportunity. Stranahan’s in Colorado led the way, followed by (among others) Pritchard’s in Tennesee, and New Holland in Holland Michigan. Bourbon and rye still excite me more than any other American whiskeys, but of the American straight malts I’ve tried, Zeppelin Bend is the best. This is another case in which a micro is doing what a micro should be doing: offering interesting spirits that the big boys don’t.