By Richard Thomas
Updated on October 7, 2014
Wheat has not been widely used as the prime ingredient in a whiskey mash recipe in America since before Prohibition, and unless I am mistaken,* Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey is the only commercial wheat whiskey label on the market today. Even so, wheat whiskey is as American as the hot dog and apple pie. George Washington made wheat whiskey (with whatever wheat he grew and didn’t export to Portugal or use to feed his slaves, that is), and generally speaking that style of whiskey-making was popular anywhere in America where wheat grew better than corn or rye.
Heaven Hill Distillery introduced Bernheim Original back in 2005, and while the label has withstood the test of time, wheat whiskey has only just caught on well enough to inspire imitators. It has also bucked the prevailing trend in whiskey, having gone from a No Aging Statement whiskey averaging about 5 years of age to an aging statement whiskey designated as a 7 year old.
Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey comes in a rectangular glass bottle, with a faux, ovoid copper plate-style label and a plastic and cork stopper. Its an attractive package which shows off the whiskey’s middling bronze color. Bernheim’s more resembles an Irish whiskey than a Kentucky bourbon.
Given its unique nature, a word about how Bernheim Original is made is in order. The process is very similar to bourbon-making, except the recipe is comprised mostly of winter wheat with some corn and barley mixed in. Otherwise it is distilled and aged in charred oak barrels, just like bourbon whiskey. Bernheim is then aged for five years and then blended and bottled at 90 proof (45% alcohol). The result is a bourbon-like whiskey which is not as thickly sweet as bourbon tends to be.
The whiskey has a warm, light aroma with hints of citrus and spice and just a touch of oak. The flavor is clean, crisp and dry with honeyed citrus and undertones of toasted nuts. I think a cube or two of ice brings out the best qualities in Bernheim’s Original Wheat Whiskey, especially since dry liquors are rarely at their best when taken neat.
Bernheim Original is usually found on the store shelves for around $30, although this depends greatly upon the liquor store’s distributor. It is not uncommon to find it marked up to as high as $45.