You don’t need to hunt down an impossible release of Pappy or W.L. Weller to enjoy a wheated whiskey experience.
There are plenty of distilleries — big, small and up-and-coming — that produce these gentler, fruitier and immensely sippable takes on our favorite spirit, and they won’t involve three- or four-figure payouts. Maker’s Mark might be the most mainstream (and they’re repped in our Best Of list below), but Old Elk is the most interesting of the distilleries tackling wheated product.
By definition, a wheated whiskey is one where at least 51% of the mashbill is wheat, and a wheated bourbon has wheat in high proportion as a secondary ingredient in the mashbill (behind corn).
“I think wheat whiskey is primarily an untapped market,” says OE’s Greg Metze, a forty-plus year vet of the whiskey world. Metze spent 14 of those years as the Master Distiller for MGP/LDI, where most new and celebrated whiskey brands source their product before they can get their own distilleries going. Along the way, he made a name for himself for crafting some award-winning high-rye mashbills.
Now the Master Distiller at the Fort Collins, Colorado-based Old Elk, Metze has been able to use his prior experience to branch out into two new wheat-forward tipples: a Straight Wheat Whiskey that’s 95 percent soft red winter wheat and five percent malted barley, aged for five years, and a Wheated Straight Bourbon that’s 51 percent corn, 45 percent wheat and four percent malted barley, aged for five years.
“We actually started thinking about this category seven years ago,” Metze admits. “We were thinking, what’s next? And we also wanted it to be different from other wheated products on the market. We wanted to get the wheat content higher than anyone else and take the category to the max.”
And it turns out that high-content wheat mashbills have similar issues to high-rye mashbills when it comes to fermentation, so Metze had the advantage of experience.
As a general rule, wheated whiskies (and wheated bourbons) are a bit gentler and milder, with a little drier and smoother finish and some fruitier notes. According to Metze, they can probably age longer than a bourbon or a rye — meaning the five-year releases now may not even compare to the eight- or 10-year releases down the road
Below, a profile of Old Elk’s new releases, plus five other wheated whiskies and bourbons you should try.
I’ll let Metze describe his own work: “I think pineapple, some honey, stone fruit. The finish is a little drier and smoother, a touch milder.”
There are the usual notes of vanilla, caramel and oak you’d expect here in a bourbon, but also hints of toffee, leather and amaretto.
A crowd-sourced blend of rye, wheat and barley whiskies — there’s spice here from the rye, but an overall gentleness.
An easy sipper seemingly built for hot weather. “It’s like marmalade to me,” as Laws marketing director Steve Kurowski explained to me earlier this year. “This and a little bit of soda water is great for summer.”
One of the better known wheated whiskies, the Small Batch is a touch too smooth for us. But the Barrel Proof (that’s 122+ proof) adds a nice kick to the sweetness.
You can probably sub in any Maker’s Mark Cask Strength expression here, but this new release utilizes a multi-stave approach to get the whiskey close to a (spicy) butter pecan profile.
While this isn’t a “wheated bourbon” per se, it’s the first time this award-winning brand has used a wheated (5- to 9-year-old) set of barrels for a batch. Married with 13- to 15-year-old corn-forward bourbons and some 9-year-old high-rye bourbons, Batch 025 offers up the best in rye, bourbon and wheaters all in one.
Join America's Fastest Growing Spirits Newsletter THE SPILL. Unlock all the reviews, recipes and revelry — and get 15% off award-winning La Tierra de Acre Mezcal.