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.