Try as you might, you’re not likely to find the white whale of bourbon, Pappy Van Winkle, for a reasonable price. And getting hold of Pappy’s younger siblings, the Weller lineup, is about as tough. Blame the limited supply of 15-, 20-, or 23-year-old juice. Blame distributors for unfair allocations and retailers for marking up bottles into the thousands. And blame the secondary market for perpetuating the astronomical pricing. Regardless, the hype for Pappy shows no signs of slowing. These bourbons are famous for many reasons but mashbill is often touted as the big one: both the Van Winkles and Wellers are wheated bourbons, made with wheat as the secondary grain, rather than the more common rye.
What Are Wheated Bourbons?
All bourbon is made with a majority of corn, at least 51 percent by law. Most also include malted barley, which has enzymes that help with fermentation, and a secondary, “flavoring” grain to provide added flavor dimension. The use of wheat creates a softer—some might say smoother—whiskey, with sweetness emphasized, rather than the spice that comes from rye. Despite the overinflated popularity of the leading brands, wheated bourbon is fairly uncommon, though becoming less so as craft distillers aim for a share of its frenzied demand.
“Many people are turned off by the wheated bourbon category because the spice in the whiskey is too much,” explains Flavien Desoblin, owner of Brandy Library and Copper and Oak, two of the most prominent whiskey bars in New York City. “The rye is what gives you that spice. Remove the rye from the equation, and you end up with a bourbon that’s softer, sweeter, and more fruity—a bourbon most people like.”
The bourbons below are all made with wheat but show great diversity in flavor and character: These are not Pappy replicas. While some are available in only a few states, others can be found at just about every liquor store around. Try a sampling and discover that there’s much more to wheated bourbon than unobtainable unicorns.
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