One of the more peculiar observations regarding American whiskey is how consumers tend to favor wheated bourbons more than wheat whiskey. I already mentioned how odd it is that there aren’t more of the former out there, but the latter appears to be almost completely untapped. Other than Woodford Reserve, Oregon Spirit, and Bernheim, I’d be hard-pressed to think of any other wheat whiskey. Perhaps it’s time to see what one of them has to offer.
Bernheim, which comes out of Heaven Hill, has an undisclosed wheat-majority mash bill and is aged for seven years. I’ve only ever noticed it at Total Wine, where it retails for $30. Just from a numbers standpoint, that sounds like a bargain. Add in the small batch designation and 45% ABV and you have the recipe for a whiskey that sounds like it should be captivating the masses. Yet in my experience it tends to collect dust and almost never gets brought up in discussions. Is it for a reason? Only one way to find out:
Nose: Soft. Cereal-like and crop-forward with a mildly yeasty essence. Brown butter, pancakes, caramel/butterscotch candy. Sweet nuts—thinking walnuts and almonds. Cornbread with some vague fruitiness, maybe peach and cantaloupe. Pleasant and buttery.
Palate: Light-medium mouthfeel, leaning towards light. Cornbread and pancakes at the fair. Orange, brown sugar, and light butterscotch. Clean mid-palate with only a slight touch of astringency.
Finish: More lightly yeasty wheat funk and cornbread. Whisper of nutmeg over buttery rolls. Mild warmth.
If first impressions were everything, then I’d be tempted to buy a case of this. Bernheim smells like what I’d imagine an American whiskey equivalent to Redbreast might be like: buttery, but with its own distinctions. The actual sipping experience is far less enticing, though it’s far from a dud. There are some wonderfully executed flavors upfront and even into the finish, but I find the whiskey loses focus in-between those points. It’s difficult to put my finger on it, but this feels underdeveloped, despite its age.
Bernheim ends up as a bit of a tease. So much of what it has to offer would suggest a borderline-excellent expression. And yet, the final experience is stilted. I think this would absolutely benefit from a little Pikesville-esque treatment: higher proof and some extra time in the barrel. If something like that were introduced, I’d be most interested in procuring a bottle, provided it doesn’t receive the frustrating Elijah Craig Toasted Barrel and Rye treatment from last year. As it stands, this is a flawed but ultimately enjoyable whiskey that may be best utilized in a cocktail.