Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey is produced at it's namesake distillery in Louisville, Kentucky and should never be called a bourbon.
Legally, bourbon must have a mashbill that contains 51% corn. Since Bernheim's Wheat Whiskey contains a higher amount of wheat than corn, it must simply be called American Whiskey. The "straight whiskey" definition means that the spirit in the bottle was distilled at less than 80% ABV, aged a minimum of two years in new, charred oak barrels, and contains no coloring, flavoring or blending agents.
Bottled at 45% ABV, this small batch whiskey is the creation of Parker and Craig Beam who were inspired to use soft winter wheat as the main grain in the mashbill when trying to use up leftovers from a newly completed run of wheated bourbon for the Old Fitzgerald brand. The result, as the bottle necktie declares, "is a sweet yet smooth whiskey." According to the website, because Bernheim's whiskey is made primarily with wheat, it has a more mellow taste profile than typically found in that of a traditional bourbon, "wheaters" included. This smoothness, they say, makes it the perfect base spirit in a "high quality" cocktail and the site features no less than 12 recipes to showcase the whiskey's mixability and versatility.
As this small batch whiskey appears to be only available in limited runs at the LCBO and I'm a fan of wheat-forward bourbons, I decided to take a gamble and pick up a bottle of this American wheat whiskey.
Nose: Soft, sweet aromas of vanilla, honey and a whiff of cherries amidst toasted oak.
Palate: Medium-bodied, like thinned honey, the dram begins with a toffee sweetness that's quickly overtaken by bright and fruity black cherry flavours. Tucked in right behind the cherries, is walnut oil and a hit of spice in the form of cloves and oaky pepperiness that heat things up a bit on the way to the finish.
Finish: As the spice hit fades, soft toasted oak flavours elegantly wend their way to a close with a replay of black cherries showing late.
Overall: Not a lot of complexity here but it's well-crafted with no rough edges. Fans of "wheater" style bourbons like Maker's Mark, Old Fitzgerald, Rip Van Winkle, Weller and so on, will likely enjoy this wheat whiskey. Smooth, sweet, and lightly fruity, it's remarkably mellow. While there's no age statement on the bottle, I've read various accounts that suggest the spirit is between 3 to 5 years old. Easy-drinking and approachable, it's obvious that Bernheim's would really shine in a whiskey cocktail and could be a great substitute for Maker's. However, with a price tag of $73.80 in the LCBO, I doubt many people would use the spirit for mixed drinks and it's a shame really that the current pricing doesn't really match the quality of what's in the bottle. Quite frankly, I'd be happier paying $30-$40 less for this whiskey and drinking twice as much. That said, this is a small batch product (albeit one without overt unique identifiers so as to compare batch variation year over year) and is only available for limited runs in the LCBO so if you are thinking about picking up a bottle I'd advise you to try before you buy simply because of the high price.