The Tasting Panel magazine

May 2013

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Page 24 of 148

Bringing in the Sheaves CLASSIC AMERICAN WHEAT WHISKEY STILL MATTERS W hen it comes to American whiskey, our history books are filled with bourbon and rye whiskey nostalgia. Forgotten in our annals is the good old wheat whiskey. According to an 1862 California State Agricultural Society report, wheat whiskey was the "pure article" and became so popular that 75,000 gallons was not enough to supply the state. The whiskey became highly imitated by rectifiers. One 1860 faux wheat whiskey recipe mixed rhatany root, cinnamon and sugar coloring with neutral spirit and other whiskeys. Fortunately, those days are over. However, there's no real explanation as to why wheat whiskey lost favor. Perhaps the imitated versions were just that lousy, but it's more likely distillers found corn more accessible and rye just packed more lavor. Today, there are only a handful of wheat whiskeys on the market. Brands to Consider What is a modern wheat whiskey? According to federal law, it must come from a mash containing not less than 51 percent wheat. Much like bourbon, small percentages of other grains added can greatly enhance or detract from a distiller's wheat whiskey. Also like bourbon, American wheat whiskey must be stored in charred new oak containers. If it's a straight wheat whiskey, it must have been stored in these barrels for at least two years. When judging the San Francisco World Spirits Competition this year, I voted for a wheat whiskey to win best American Craft Whiskey. Unfortunately, my fellow judges did not agree. The Double Gold–winning Reservoir Wheat Whiskey won my heart with its sweet 100-proof ease. Its $80 price range makes it costly for cocktails, but I surmise it would make fun Whiskey Sours. There's also Heaven Hill's standard 24 / the tasting panel / may 2013 Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Whiskey, the irst straight wheat whiskey since Prohibition. In its effort to resurrect a forgotten style, Berheim noses an awful lot like a wheated bourbon. But this is no bourbon. At 90 proof, Bernheim delivers toffee, honey, vanilla and rhubarb pie. I suspect Berheim is an easy switch for bourbon drinkers, while the more grain-forward craft distiller whiskeys accomplish their mission of showcasing soft wheat. Brands such as Ohio-based OYO, Spokane-based Dry Fly and Seattle's Bainbridge Battle Point wheat whiskeys market their connection to local wheat. Of these, I'm especially fond of OYO (pronounced O-Why-O). Made from 100 percent Ohio soft red winter wheat, OYO showcases the very best of craft distillation. There are no bubble-gummy notes here or unwanted burns. This wheat whiskey tastes exactly how the distillery intended, with gorgeous orange peel, honey and vanilla appearing layer after layer. OYO shows wheat still has a place in American whiskey.

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