Out of all the distilleries I visited in Kentucky last year, Wilderness Trail had the most je ne sais quoi to it. Their grounds are a bit out of the way on the Bourbon Trail, with the most immediately eye-catching part being just how much land they occupy. Yet the actual base of operations still came across as quite modest, or at least until taking a tour with one of their well-informed guides. Then came the obligatory end-of-tour tasting, which brought one of the biggest surprises of my entire trip: their wheated bourbon.
Wilderness Trail recently updated their off-the-shelf portfolio to be small batch and bottled in bond, as opposed to single barrel, with the rye previously being bottled at barrel strength. Otherwise their lineup remains the same by being distilled from a sweet mash, non-chill filtered, and copper column distilled. The yellow label bottle designates their wheated mash bill of 64% corn, 24% wheat, and 12% malted barley, commonly being for 4 years. This is also the only Wilderness Trail product I can acquire without driving nearly an hour out of town. My bottle purchased from the distillery last year was a single barrel, with barrel code 16F21G2.
Nose: Soft. Acorn squash and sweet, faintly nutty character—almond liqueur? Cream soda, brown sugar, and maybe a mild clove. Hint of mint in the background. Light woodiness complements the distinct presence of Honey Smacks.
Palate: Fairly mild flavor with light-moderate mouthfeel. Caramel and honey-flavored cereal. Further sipping ramps up the oiliness with more defined caramel and butterscotch flavors. Soft cherry note with some honey. Still a fairly soft (but not boring) experience.
Finish: Short-medium. A touch grassy. Sweetened, honeyed cream with a touch of mint and vanilla.
I remember being damn-near blown away by this bourbon for the first couple months. Part of that was thanks to how developed it tasted despite the relatively young age. Many bourbons barely pushing 4 years still exude tell-tale characteristics of their youth, often with dry, light, grassy, and new oak qualities. Wilderness Trail’s wheater is a tasty breath of fresh air. Although I’ve since become more receptive to the grain-based flavors, they don’t detract from the experience. Instead, these flavors come across as pleasantly sweet, complemented by the barrel influence. The end result is a soft experience in the best way possible.
There’s a lot to appreciate about Wilderness Trail’s operation, especially when you listen to Pat Heist talk with other people in the industry. I’m particularly partial to the aforementioned use of sweet mash and low barrel entry proof, which seems to pair well with their wheated mash bill. All of this combines to make the ostensibly elevated price tag of about $60 far easier to swallow. It’s to the point that I don’t even notice the price tag when considering a bottle of Wilderness Trail, which is impressive coming from this drinker, especially in such an inflationary economy.