Bernheim Barrel Proof Wheat Whiskey Review - Batch A223
Another batched product coming out of Heaven Hill?! With the wild success of Elijah Craig barrel proof, I can't say I'd blame them. I've never been one for Larceny barrel proof personally, so I'm a little worried this might be another that doesn't quite jive with my palate. I will certainly go in with open eyes, as I always do when I review a new whiskey. I've had 3 prior tastings of this before today to ensure I am triangulating on the truth and not an unfortunate alignment to a Daniel Powter song.
Heaven Hill describes their strategy with this release, departing from the 3-per-year cadence of their other two batched barrel proof products:
The first letter of the batch number indicates which of that year's releases the bottle was a part of starting with "A," while the second digit is a number that determines the month of the year the bottle was released. The third and fourth digits indicate the year. The full list of batches and their respective proofs will be available below upon each release.
For those newer to the world of whiskey, the label stating this as a Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey means that it has at least 51% wheat in the mash bill, it was aged at least two years in charred new oak, and it was made within a single state (Kentucky in this case). It does still carry 37% corn, which puts it out of the running for being called a bourbon (minimum 51% corn) but does leave some possible similarities on the table.
Wondering if this release is worth picking up? I'll leave that for you to decide, but here's my take on what I'm tasting to help inform that decision.
Company on Label: Bernheim Distillery (Heaven Hill)
Whiskey Type: Wheat Whiskey
Mash Bill Percentages: 51% Wheat, 37% Corn, 12% Malted Barley
Age: NAS (7-9 year old barrels are used for these blends)
Further identification: Batch A223 is the first ever release of Bernheim barrel proof, which will release twice a year and follow the rules on the batch labeling strategy laid out above (A = first release, 2 = February launch, and 23 = 2023)
Nose: Caramel is pronounced up front. On another deep dive of the nose, I can assure you this was definitely aged in oak. Molasses and dry, non-sweet brown sugar coat the glass in an impedimentary wall of flavor. Dusty, dry, funky oak is everywhere in the glass after a swirl. Overall very light, classic, but unfortunately pretty one-noted. Let's dive into a sip and see if this can open up a bit.
Returning from a sipping session doesn't introduce anything new, but soothes and smoothes the easy medley of oak, caramel and molasses. This is just a classic aged whiskey aroma; the soft red winter wheat may have been a little too soft on the mash bill. The empty glass smells of honey, airy vanilla wafers and a hint of peanut brittle.
Palate: At first sip I find a singular sweet cherry that quickly dries out into a wrinkled skin of what came before. Dry, chalky oak layers over the tongue in an extremely tannic linger. Another sip builds in a strong wave of molasses and wild mint. The tingle after a sip carries a bitter dark chocolate note alongside cinnamon and dry earth. The combination of the wild mint and earthiness is certainly a nostalgic profile for me, having picked my fair share on old hiking trails twenty-odd years ago, but it doesn't really resonate with me on a flavor basis here. Continuing to sip through this I find a touch of honeysuckle, but it keeps falling back on that solid trifecta of molasses, oak and mint. The finish and linger do improve over time, as I find myself satisfied with a solid wave of caramel. A larger sip and swish reveal a touch more cinnamon than before, but little in the way of complexity. Nondescript spice may push this out of the realm of an 'easy sipper' for some. I'm always surprised by how spice forward Heaven Hill's wheat mash can be... looking at you Old Fitzgerald. My last sip is soft and mellow with subtleties of cola, raisin and allspice.
(Decent. I can go either way on it.)
Unfortunately my initial suspicions seem to have been confirmed today. This is quite a bit too simple for me to be excited about, but it certainly doesn't land in a place that is off-putting. This solidly gets my middle of the road score, where a majority of whiskeys should land if I am reviewing anything and everything under the sun, and whiskey quality is normally distributed. Now that's not distributed in the liquor world sense, that's my engineering world shining through. This might benefit from more air time. I will revisit this again in another couple months and update this post if anything changes. Maybe the blending team just "had a bad day" with this one, but I expect more from that talent rich company personally. Cheers until next time my faithful reader!