Bernheim Originial (7 y/o)

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USAwpid-20150904_174616.jpg

Style: Straight Wheat Whiskey (made with at least 51% wheat)

Proof: 90 (45% ABV)

Michigan state minimum: $30

Appearance: Caramel with necklacing and thin legs.

Nose: Alcohol, walnut, whole wheat biscuits.

Palate: Surprisingly hot. Cinnamon, crackers, caramel, pinch of tarragon.

Finish: Butterscotch, amaretto, alcohol, oak.

Mixed: Very good in a Manhattan and an old fashioned. Didn’t try it in anything else.

Parting words: Bernheim Original is a rare thing in two ways. First, it’s the only straight wheat whiskey on store shelves made by a major American whiskey distiller. Second, after years of being NAS, it was reintroduced with an age statement this year! This is unheard of these days when tightening supplies are causing age statements to drop like passes in the hands of rookie wide receivers.

I reviewed the NAS back in 2012. Judging by my old tasting notes, this age stated version is richer and beefier than the old version. It’s no longer a lightweight and has a solid caramel backbone to support the unusual baked goods and cinnamon flavors. This isn’t a novelty anymore, this is seriously good whiskey. With micro-distilled wheat whiskeys popping up all over the place, Bernheim Original has taken its rightful place as the benchmark of the category. The price hasn’t changed much, if it all, since 2012. Even more than three years ago, Bernheim Original is recommended.

Parker’s Heritage Straight Wheat Whiskey (2014 edition)

Maker: Heaven Hill, Bardstown/Louisville, Kentucky, USAwpid-2014-10-03-14.49.22.jpg.jpeg

Age: 13 y/o

Proof: 127.4 (63.7% ABV)

Michigan State Minimum: $100

Purchased for $85

Appearance: Dark auburn with long thin legs.

Nose: Alcohol, old oak, caramel, wheat bread in the oven.

Palate: Full bodied and sweet on entry. Butterscotch, toffee hard candy, chewy taffy, cocoa powder. Water brings out more of that trademark Bernheim “biscuity” flavor, but still plenty of candy.

Finish: Pretty hot with lots of oak and a touch of sweetness. Lingers for a very long time.

Parting words: Heaven Hill’s Bernheim Original is the world’s best selling straight wheat whiskey. I can say that with confidence because it’s also the only straight wheat whiskey produced by a major American distiller. To almost everyone’s surprise, they added an age statement recently and those bottles are now hitting the shelves.

An even bigger surprise was when it was announced that the 2014 edition of the PHC was going to be a wheat whiskey. Many mistakenly assumed that it was going to be another wheat bourbon, but that’s not what this is. It’s a wheat whiskey, meaning that it is made from a mashbill containing at least 51% wheat, the rest being corn and malted barley. It is required to meet all the legal requirements for straight ryes or bourbons, only with wheat in the place of rye or corn.

I came in expecting a very dry, subtle whiskey along the lines of Bernheim Original but oakier. I didn’t expect such a lush, sexy whiskey. It has a round voluptuousness that I associate more with Four Roses or older Van Winkle bottles than I do with Heaven Hill (as much as I love HH). Bottling at barrel proof and not chill filtering were the right choices to make for this one, but when aren’t they the right choices? It’s hard to compare this to anything else, but I think it’s the best in the Parker’s Heritage Series since 2010’s Wheat Bourbon edition. It also fits easily into my personal top twenty list.

I got a good deal on mine, but even at $100-$120 Parker’s Heritage Original Cask Strength Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey (full name) is highly recommended.

If you want a second opinion, consider this: I brought a full bottle of this to the table at a recent gathering of some of the most obsessive and discerning American whiskey enthusiasts in the country. It shared the table with dusties from Wild Turkey’s golden age, Four Roses limited editions, Stitzel-Weller products and dozens of bottles of that caliber. After an hour or so I had to hide it under a chair because it was already half empty. That says it all.

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.