Bourbon whiskey is America’s native spirit. While its official invention is shrouded in mystery, some believe it was invented by a former Baptist minister named Elijah Craig in the late 1700s when he decided to mature his corn whiskey in charred oak barrels. Others believe this is just marketing from the brand that carries his name. Most believe that there wasn’t simply one person who invented this American staple.
Regardless of who invented it, there’s no denying that bourbon as a whole has never been better. It’s distilled all over the country, from Tacoma to Texas to Tampa and everywhere in between. Numerous subcategories of bourbon now flourish. One of the most popular, thanks to one highly hyped brand named Pappy Van Winkle in particular, is the subcategory of wheated bourbons.
To be legally considered bourbon, it must be produced in new, charred oak barrels, distilled to a maximum of 160-proof, barreled at a maximum of 125-proof, and bottled at a minimum of 80-proof. The most defining rule, however, is that bourbon whiskey must be made with a mash bill of at least 51 percent corn. The rest is rounded out by some combination of other grains like rye, barley, and wheat. The latter adds a soft, mellow mouthfeel along with vanilla, honey, and caramel flavors.
A bourbon that leans heavily into wheat as one of its secondary ingredients is known as a wheat bourbon. There are no wheated bourbons more well-known than Pappy Van Winkle. But if you don’t have a good friend who owns a liquor store that gets allocated bottles (or a few thousand dollars burning a hole in your pocket), then the chances are high that you might never get your hands on a bottle.
Yet there are countless other wheated bourbons on the market to scratch (at least a little bit) that Pappy itch.
Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon
A popular brand in the last few years, Wyoming Whiskey Small Batch Bourbon has a mash bill of 68 percent corn, 20 percent wheat, and 12 percent malted barley. It’s aged for a minimum of five years in charred oak barrels in Kirby, Wyoming. The result is complex, memorable whiskey with a nose of vanilla, caramel, and light floral flavors and a palate of brown sugar, butterscotch, charred oak, vanilla, and cinnamon sugar.
Frey Ranch Straight Bourbon
This Nevada-based straight bourbon is made with a mash bill of non-GMO corn, winter cereal rye, winter wheat, and two-row barley. This four-grain bourbon gets all of its ingredients from the onsite farm, and Frey Ranch is a leader in grain-to-glass whiskey production. Matured for at least five years in new, charred American oak barrels, it has a nose of oaky wood, candied orange peels, vanilla, honey, and spices. Drinking it reveals notes of vanilla beans, butterscotch, dried fruits, and gentle, warming spices at the finish.
W.L. Weller Special Reserve
If you want something as similar as possible to Pappy Van Winkle, you should opt for W.L. Weller Special Reserve, a bourbon expression made, like Pappy, by Buffalo Trace. Known as the “original wheated bourbon,” this beloved bottle has a heavy percentage of wheat in the mash bill. The result is a whiskey that carries a nose of caramel candy, vanilla, and spices. Sipping it brings forth flavors like honey, charred wood, and butterscotch. The finish is sweet, warming, and memorable.
McKenzie Bottled in Bond Bourbon
This 100-proof, bottled-in-bond bourbon whiskey comes from the folks at Finger Lakes Distilling. It’s distilled with a mash bill of 70 percent yellow dent corn, 20 percent red winter wheat, and 10 percent six-row malted barley. As regulations dictate, it’s matured for four years in federally bonded warehouses. The result is a whiskey with a nose of toasted marshmallows, vanilla, caramel, and candied orange peel. The palate is loaded with dried fruits, fudge, brown sugar, vanilla, candied orange peel, and a sweet, caramel finish.
Redemption Wheated Bourbon
With a name like Redemption Wheated Bourbon, you know what you’re in for when you crack open one of these bad boys. This 96-proof sipping whiskey has a mash bill consisting of 45 percent winter wheat. It has a nose of candied nuts, orchard fruits, vanilla, candied ginger, and charred oak. Sipping it reveals a warming, complex whiskey with notes of hazelnuts, orange peels, black pepper, vanilla, caramel, and oaky wood.
Old Elk Wheated Bourbon
This popular, 92-proof whiskey has a mash bill of 51 percent corn, 45 percent wheat, and 4 percent malted barley. Matured for at least five years in charred oak barrels, it has a nose of toasted vanilla beans, wildflowers, sticky toffee, oak, and pepper. The palate is a symphony of candied pecans, vanilla, honey, butterscotch, and wintry spices. The finish is soft, sweet, and effortlessly warming. Especially when you sip it neat on a cool evening.
Rebel 10-Year Single Barrel Bourbon
When it comes to value-to-flavor ratio, it’s difficult to beat the appeal of Rebel 10-Year Single Barrel Bourbon. Distilled with a mash bill of corn, wheat, and malted barley, it’s matured for at least 10 full years in charred American oak barrels. This creates a 100-proof, highly flavorful bourbon that begins with aromas of dried fruits, wheat, vanilla, and oak. One sip and you’re transported to a world of candied orange peels, dried cherries, butterscotch, vanilla, and oaky wood. It’s a great, high-ABV sipper.
Larceny Small Batch Bourbon
While many bourbons opt to up the spice element by using rye as the secondary ingredient to corn, Larceny leans heavily into wheat instead. The result is a soft, mellow, easy-drinking, small-batch bourbon you’ll go back to again and again. It’s sweet, and complex, and starts perfectly with a nose of brown sugar, dried fruits, toffee, and oak. The palate is centered on notes of sweet honey, caramel candy, vanilla, and light spices. The finish is lingering, warm, and very sweet.
Maker’s Mark Cask Strength Bourbon
While you can’t go wrong with a bottle of classic Maker’s Mark, if you want to get the most out of this red winter wheat-heavy bourbon, you’ll opt for the cask-strength release. This barrel-proof bourbon ranges in proof between 108 and 114 depending on the batch. It’s known for its nose that’s heavy on oaky wood, vanilla, and toffee, and a palate of oak, caramel candy, vanilla beans, and gentle spice. The finish is a nice, warming mix of sweetness and spice.
Garrison Brothers Small Batch Bourbon
Garrison Brothers is one of the Texas-based distilleries proving that great, award-winning bourbon can come from places besides Kentucky. It starts with a mash bill of 74 percent corn, 15 percent red winter wheat, and 11 percent malted barley. Each barrel melded together to create this unique expression was matured for a minimum of three years. While young in the whiskey world, this expression still carries aromas of nutmeg, vanilla beans, and caramel. The palate is filled with chocolate, vanilla cake, butterscotch, oak, and seasonal spices.