More artisan distilleries are beginning to experiment with heirloom varieties of corn. Each distiller will say that their choice of heirloom corn adds a unique flavor to their whiskey and that is why they are using that corn in their mash. I am not a scientist and I have not seen lab analysis of whiskeys using heirloom grains, so I can not tell you why these whiskeys taste different on a chemical level, but I do know that they do taste different. The standard yellow corn used by most distilleries contributes a sweetness of corn and often a thick and rich mouthfeel from the corn oils. I thought I would look at three whiskeys, two Bourbons and a Corn Whiskey, that use heirloom corn in their mash bill. Jeptha Creed uses Bloody Butcher red corn. Dettling 1867 uses an heirloom variety of white corn. Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky uses an heirloom blue corn.
Jeptha Creed Distillery is owned by the Nethery family of Shelby County, Kentucky. They are true farmer-distillers. They plant the Bloody Butcher corn on their farm and Joyce Nethery, the distiller, turns it into Bourbon. Joyce is fond of telling the story that one of the reasons she uses Bloody Butcher is the fact that the white tailed deer will pass up fields of yellow corn to eat her Bloody Butcher corn. If the deer like it so much, it is a sign that it tastes better than yellow corn. They have a straight four grain Bourbon on the market that is between two and three years old, and soon should have a traditional Bourbon and a wheated Bourbon on the market. They are waiting until those whiskeys are at least four year old before releasing them to the public. These whiskeys all use the Bloody Butcher corn. The four grain is 98 proof and has a nose that is corn, vanilla, peaches, baking spice and sweet oak. The taste is corn, peaches, allspice, vanilla and oak. The finish is long with some sweet oak, vanilla and cinnamon. There is a rich, chewy mouth-feel to this whiskey that is probably from the corn. The corn sweetness of the taste is very rich and sweeter than most Bourbons. Bloody Butcher definitely makes a very different flavor profile.
Dettling 1867 Bourbon is the brand of Big Escambia Spirits, LLC., of Altmore, Alabama. The distiller, Seth Dettling, has told me that the variety of white corn that he uses in his Bourbon is the variety of corn he grew up eating as corn bread. He believes that it makes the best corn bread and he sent me some corn meal to try for myself. It does make very good corn bread. I grew up with Hickory Cane white corn, raised by my grandfather in Barren County, Kentucky, and this corn bread, made from the Dettling corn, was almost as good as that made by my grandmother. The Dettling 1867 Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon is made with this white corn. The nose is rich butterscotch, corn, dried apricots, and sweet oak. The taste is corn, apricots French vanilla, ginger and cardamom spices and oak. The finish is long with sweet oak and spices. White corn is not as oily as other varieties of corn and the mouth-feel reflects that fact. Thin but still full of flavor from the corn. I believe the white corn does not contribute as strong a corn flavor and allows other flavors to come through in the whiskey. Once again, a very different flavor than what is found in Bourbons made from yellow corn.
Balcones Baby Blue Corn Whisky is made by Balcones Distilling of Waco, Texas. It is a 92 proof corn whiskey with no age statement. It is made with roasted blue corn. I am not sure if any other distillery makes whiskey from a roasted corn, let alone an heirloom variety of blue corn. The label states that the blue corn is “rich and oily” and that roasting adds a “round nuttiness”. The nose of this corn whisky is butterscotch and corn. Not a complex nose, but a very pleasant nose. The taste is butterscotch, corn, a little pepper spice and yes, a little walnut or pecan nuttiness. The finish is long, with the nuttiness coming out strong in the finish with a little sweet oak, a hint of pepper spice and butterscotch. I believe the statement on the label label. The mouth-feel is thick and chewy and the blue corn does seem to bring a nutty and maybe even a little smoky note to the finish.
Three different heirloom corns, making three very different whiskeys. I do hope that you will taste these whiskeys yourself. Everybody has different tastes, but I think everyone will agree that these whiskeys are different from the run of the mill whiskeys made with yellow corn.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller