Old Elk's Wheaters Collection

Old Elk’s Wheaters Collection (Photo by the brand)

A Malt Whiskey Lover’s Mash

I frequently tell people I’m a malt guy as I turn my nose at sour-mash whiskey. Then, almost as often, I find ones that I really like. It appears that Old Elk is my kind of mash. Back in February, I reviewed another trio of Old Elk whiskeys– Straight Rye and the Port and Cognac Cask bourbons. I really liked them, and the same holds for the “Wheaters” Trio – Wheated bourbon, Straight Wheat whiskey, and Blended Straight bourbon.

Wheated Bourbon

Old Elk is constantly tweaking its whiskey offerings, much to the joy of whiskey lovers. Wheated bourbon follows the trend of bourbon experimentation that brought us bourbons finished in every type of cask- port, cognac, rum, sherry, sauternes, etc. Given that bourbon is made from 51% corn and 49%…. whatever, using wheat as part of that remaining balance doesn’t seem all that innovative. Many producers have used wheat in their mash bills for years. However, as a style, it’s only become an art form in recent years. Whereas rye adds an intensely spicy character to bourbon, wheat produces a milder, sweeter, and by some accounts, more approachable profile.

Old Elk’s wheated bourbon (46% ABV) fulfills that concept perfectly. Soft and sweet, it’s ripe with intense toffee, brown sugar, nutmeg, and cinnamon spice notes, followed by black cherry juice, apricots, coffee, and pipe tobacco. A common complaint is that it’s TOO soft, with insufficient “corn likker” character. For a malt guy like me, that’s a refreshing change – this one is not a typical bourbon, so YMMV!

Straight Wheat Whiskey

Expanding on the light and soft theme, Old Elk’s Straight Wheat whiskey fills a unique space between bourbon and malt whiskeys. Light, sweet aromas lead the charge with vanilla and caramel chews, followed by buttered toast and oak notes. Hints of pear, baked apple, and peach follow. The mouthfeel is round, oily, and supple, with a bit of alcohol burn supplied by its 50% ABV. The finish is supple and moderately long, with a bit of white pepper, more caramel and vanilla, and roasted cashews leading to a fruity and slightly drying finish.

Blended Straight Bourbon

Blended bourbon may carry a sour connotation for those familiar with blended Scotch – generally a “lower shelf” product. Not so this whiskey! Having more in common with blended malts, this is produced as a premium option, clearly evident in the taste. Blended from several straight bourbons, it sources specific flavor components to combine into one tightly melded bottle of liquid gold. Its mash bill is 51% corn, 34% malted barley (no wonder I like it), and 15% rye. The result is an elegant whiskey possessing a delicate nose – traditional caramel and toffee notes, lots of spice, burnt brown sugar, and roasted nuts backed by hints of cocoa and barrel spice. Silky on the tongue, its 44% ABV leaves a gentle hint of alcohol but with little burn. This is a subtle whiskey, with the flavors, including maple syrup, molasses, slivered almonds, and baking spice, intertwining nicely with cocoa and burnt sugar hints. The finish is warm and long, with a cozy afterglow of lingering caramel and rye spiciness.

Once again (or should I say three times), Old Elk lives up to my usually-never-bourbon appreciation of their products. So far, I haven’t found an Old Elk product I don’t like, a fact for which I’m both surprised and grateful!