Some bourbon historians would say wheated bourbons may well have administered the proverbial shot that thrust the exquisite brown liquor past vodka and other nondescript white spirits. They’ll use Maker’s Mark as the paradigm, its smooth complexity a turning point for bourbon in returning to its proper place as America’s favorite spirit.
It’s an intriguing argument, and one not without merit.
Maker’s is a fine bourbon, as are Heaven Hill’s Bernheim and Larceny and, well, Pappy.
Mashbills vary, of course, but the aforementioned all use a percentage of wheat, which isn’t as spicy as rye and brings a different sweetness than corn. Leaping even further down the great wheated road, Top of the Hill Distillery in Chapel Hill, North Carolina uses only soft red organic wheat in its line of whiskeys and other spirits. The wheat comes from a farm in nearby Scotland Neck.
“It’s pretty rare to find locally sourced whiskeys. It’s even rarer to find organic locally sourced whiskeys," Esteban McMahan, TOPO’s spirit guide, told me last year. "And it’s that much rarer to find organic locally sourced whiskies aged for two years in barrels. It’s really fantastic. The wheat is a much better base for alcohol than corn.”
It’s deliciously subtle and dangerously drinkable, a veritable must for fans of wheated whiskeys.
Speaking of Pappy Van Winkle, Buffalo Trace this year has pushed out a line of wheated bourbons under the W.L Weller label — the Special Reserve, an Antique and a 12-Year.
I recently got the chance to taste the Antique 107 and 12-Year offerings.
The 12-year clocks in at just 90 proof, but the longer relative age and wheated mashbill makes this a special bourbon. It’s creamy, with notes of caramel and honey and almost packing a better punch than it’s higher-proof sibling, which is soft and delicate and with just
hint of heat. It’s fruity and bright, exceptionally clean and silky, especially for such as a high-proof whiskey.
Paste Magazine included TOPO and Weller on a recent list of five great alternatives to Pappy.
The Weller wheats, I was told, are aged in the same rickhouse as BT uses to store Pappy and Rip.
What a happy place that must be.
TOPO ages its products just a few miles down the road from my office in Raleigh. A happier place even still.