For a bourbon to legally be considered bourbon, we all know that the mash bill needs to contain at least 51 percent corn. The remaining 49 percent of the mash is usually composed of a blend of barley and rye (such as Bulleit) or barley and wheat (such as Maker’s Mark). The final mixture is up to the distiller and what kind of flavor profile they are trying to achieve with their bourbon.
In rare — though increasing — circumstances, some distillers will make a bourbon that contains not only the requisite corn and an amount of barley, but both rye and wheat. These bourbons take the sweet corn notes and the bready barley flavors and mix them with the creamy mouthfeel from the wheat and the spiciness of the rye.
Below, we’ve highlighted the distilleries creating the best four-grain bourbons (and in one case, a four-grain whiskey) to help you expand your palate a little and explore the wonderful world of bourbon.
Made at the first whiskey distillery in New York since Prohibition, Hudson’s Four Grain Bourbon presents vanilla and praline flavors in a neat, delicious little package. The majority of the grains used in production come within just a few miles of the distillery itself (located in Gardiner, New York), and every bottle of finished product is hand labeled and dipped in wax.
If you’re a whiskey-head, E.H. Taylor is nothing new to you. What may be new, though, is the four-grain bourbon expression. This bottled-in-bond bourbon was created in 2005, according to the original press release, but carries no age statement on the bottle itself. The age on this is higher than the others on the list, and that befits the whiskey. You’ll find fruity and vanilla notes leading the way into oak and spice, and, frankly, everything nice.
One of three whiskeys made by this Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, distillery (they also make white and aged rye whiskeys), this four-grain bourbon is distilled only once and produces spicy cinnamon flavors that mix well with the vanilla and the mouthfeel coming from the wheat. Overall, its a well-balanced bourbon in an attractive bottle that will look nice on your shelf.
Made in Colorado using Colorado-grown barley, wheat, and rye, AD Laws’ flagship four-grain effort takes 6.5 hours to cook in order to fully express the best elements of each of the grains. You’ll find a nose and body rich in tea scents and flavors blending with those of honey and orange peel in front of a rich, dry finish.
This small-batch bourbon is 100 percent grown and distilled in New York state by the first distillery in Rochester since Prohibition. (Side note: The distillery got its name from the owner’s family business: button-making, which stretches back generations). Black Button’s four-grain bourbon has orange peel and some oaked smoke up front (mixed with caramel essences), and a sweet malt palate and a smooth finish.
In an effort to revive heritage grains of times past, this Charleston-based distillery eschews the use of rye in their four-grain bourbon, favoring Carolina gold rice bran instead. The other three ingredients — corn, wheat, and barley — remain the same. This blend of grains creates flavors of toasted nuts, cherry, oak, and hints of smoke.
While this isn’t a bourbon, Koval’s Four Grain Whiskey should still go on your list. Made from oat, malted barley, wheat, and rye, the whiskey delivers banana on the nose and a palate that is nice and creamy with a rye spice finish. If the addition of oat sounds intriguing, Koval also makes an oat whiskey and a millet whiskey, both of which are worth trying.
Need more non-four grain bourbon? Check out this new release from New Riff Distilling.
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