Corn Whiskey has a great potential to be popular but distillers seem to be ignoring it. Not all but most distillers are pigeon-holing this whiskey into an ageless product that should only be used as a substitute for vodka in cocktails. This is a shame because corn whiskey has many great attributes and can be so much more. Corn whiskey is a whiskey that does not need to be aged but it can be. Corn whiskey is at least 80% corn and if aged, it has to be stored in either uncharred or used cooperage. A prime example of a good aged corn whiskey is Heaven Hill’s Mellow Corn Bonded Corn Whiskey. It has a nice buttery corn flavor that can also taste of caramel corn. A very good drink. Mellow Corn gives us a look at the potential of what corn whiskey could be with some effort made by the distillers.
Let us start by looking at the mash bill. Corn whiskey is 80% corn but distillers have 20% of grain to play with to create some interesting flavors. How about using some brewer malts to give the whiskey some interesting flavors. A little chocolate malt added to alter the flavor – or even a lot of chocolate malt. It could be fun to play with such a mash bill. Other malts could be used either by themselves or with other brewer malts. Play around with them and see what you can create. Add rye or wheat to further add flavors. There is potential with playing around with the mash bill.
Next let us look at fermentation and distillation. Use a fruity yeast or a spicy yeast. Yeast can have a big impact on the flavor. Distill it at a lower proof to leave as much of that flavor in the whiskey as possible.
Next there is the maturation process. Use a low barrel entry proof to get the maximum sweet notes from the wood. Corn whiskey has to be aged in used cooperage but that does not mean you are limited to used whiskey barrels. Mellow Corn is aged in used whiskey barrels and it has a nice buttered corn flavor. However I know at least one distiller who made corn whiskey using used sherry casks. Several years ago I visited Woodstone Creek distillery. Don had made some corn whiskey and aged it in Sherry casks. It was very good straight from the barrel and I hope he eventually bottled it. Why not age some corn whiskey in used brandy barrels? Not only grape brandy but apple, peach, pear and blackberry brandy barrels. It could add a fruity flavor to the whiskey in the maturation process. Distillers could also use rum or tequila barrels or even used beer barrels.
Finally there is the batching and bottling process to get flavor into the product. You could marry together whiskeys that you made using different mash bills and aging barrels to create some unique flavor profiles. Imagine some traditional corn whiskey married with some with chocolate malt with some barrels that were aged in apple brandy barrels and some aged in rum barrels while others in whiskey barrels. The combinations are almost endless. And the best thing is it would all still be considered straight corn whiskey. It could even be Bottled in Bond.
Corn whiskey has plenty of potential. Artisan distillers should play around with all of these items and see what they can come up with. They should not limit corn whiskey to being an unaged substitute for Vodka.
October 30, 2017 at 12:45 pm
Very nice article and thoughts on the corn whiskey. I have a bottle of Mellow Corn and I find it quite good. It’s not high on my rotation list in my bourbon/whiskey collection but maybe I’ll bump it up and try it more often. It’s a shame that distillers haven’t given it more consideration and imagine the possibilities that corn whiskey offers. Let’s hope they’ll read your article and it will ignite an idea to venture into creating a elixir that will be enjoyed by a number of the whiskey loving populance.
An off side question for you. I noticed on the Mellow Corn label as well as on the Medley and Wathen Bourbon labels an ‘M’ logo. Does that mean at one time they were all made in Owensboro, KY in the Medley Distilleries? If that’s the case, chaulk up another whiskey made from my ancestors.
November 1, 2017 at 1:50 pm
This article is not completely accurate. According to CFR 27 the rules for corn whiskey stipulate that charred wood can not be used in any manner. https://www.law.cornell.edu/cfr/text/27/5.22
So used bourbon barrels may not be used because they are charred. Wine barrels if toasted may be used but you will only get the “mellow” flavors from the wood. I think this is to make sure it does not compete with bourbon.
November 1, 2017 at 4:22 pm
I am not sure what they mean by that last statement. That is the first time I have seen that. I do know that Mellowcorn has been aged in used Bourbon Barrels for ages.