Our editors independently research, test, and recommend the best products; you can learn more about our review process here. We may receive commissions on purchases made from our chosen links.
Bourbon must legally be made from a mash bill of at least 51% corn, with the rest usually being a mixture of barley and rye. But there’s an unofficial subcategory of bourbon called “wheated.” This means that the rye is swapped out with wheat, giving the whiskey what is often described as a softer, sweeter profile.
One of the most famous, coveted, and expensive examples of wheated bourbon is Pappy Van Winkle, which has long been aspirational whiskey for most people. But there are other brands to seek out that are just as good, and perhaps even better. Here are some of the best wheated bourbons to try now, with expert insight from top bartenders and members of the United States Bartenders’ Guild.
Best Overall: Maker’s Mark
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Oak, Caramel
“This is the part where I’m sure a bunch of folks with a lot of disposable income want to volunteer labels that you can’t be in the same room with for less than $1000,” says Clay Tolbert of The Alley Light in Charlottesville, VA. “But you’re going to drink a lot more Old Fashioneds than pours from unicorn bottles. Maker’s Mark tastes like yellow birthday cake and pancakes and makes a dang good Old Fashioned. I rest my case!”
Best for Beginners: Redemption Wheated Bourbon
Region: Indiana | ABV: 48% | Tasting Notes: Coffee, Hazelnut, Black Pepper
"A highly underrated gem and a great price point for a style that is highly sought after,” says Jonathan Cunningham, bar manager at Husk Barbeque in Greenville, SC.
Redemption sources its bourbon from Indiana distillery MGP, which supplies whiskey made from a variety of mash bills to different brands. This wheated bourbon is about four years old and contains 45% wheat in the recipe, which is very high. This brings soft, sweet flavors to the palate, making this a good entry point for those who are new to this type of bourbon.
Related: The Best Bourbons for Beginners
Best Craft: Garrison Brothers Small Batch
Region: Texas | ABV: 47% | Tasting Notes: Honeysuckle, Cinnamon, Butter
For Scott Wenger, independent drinks consultant in Tampa, FL, the reason to choose Garrison Brothers Small Batch hinges on flavor. “Top five reasons I like this whiskey,” he says. “Taste, taste, taste, taste, taste!” This Texas bourbon, made from a mash bill of corn, red winter wheat, and two-row barley, has a deep, rich palate. The hot Texas climate, punctuated by some cooler days, causes the bourbon to really soak up flavors from the wood. This craft wheated bourbon is a shining example of how a small operation can make something big in flavor.
Best Under $50: Larceny Small Batch
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 46% | Tasting Notes: Bread, Butterscotch, Vanilla
Larceny is a bourbon produced by the Heaven Hill distillery made from a mash bill that is 20 percent wheat. This high percentage makes the whiskey sweet and complex, a great choice for those looking for something inexpensive but rich with flavor. “If you’re looking for an everyday wheated bourbon, Larceny is it,” says Jose Medina Camacho, bar manager at Automatic Seafood & Oysters in Birmingham, AL. “It’s reasonably priced… and great for making your favorite cocktails such as Kentucky Mules or even Mint Juleps.”
Related: The Best Bourbons Under $50
Best Under $100: WL Weller Special Reserve
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, Honey, Oak
“Weller Special Reserve is absolutely the closest thing to Pappy that you can find considering it has the same build as Pappy and is made by the same parent company, Buffalo Trace,” says Torres. “This beautiful mash recipe gives a presence of caramel on the nose and is beautifully smooth on the palate with hints of honey, butterscotch, and a wooded finish.”
“It's a bit hard to find in most states, but it's always worth it,” says Benjamin Pozar of Fogo de Chao in Philadelphia. “It's light, not overaged, with a lovely clean flavor with no sharpness. Sip it all day.”
Best Splurge: Pappy Van Winkle 12 Year
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 45.2% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Baking Spice, Vanilla
“Naturally, my first instinct here would be to go with Pappy Van Winkle, considered the gold standard when it comes to wheated bourbons,” says Tyson Torres, food & beverage manager at Belmond El Encanto. This famous wheated bourbon is a cult favorite and a unicorn bottle, meaning it’s difficult to find and can cost upwards of $1,000 if you do locate one, making this a real splurge. But those who can afford it will not be disappointed with the flavor or the bragging rights.
Related: The Best Bourbons to Drink
Best for Cocktails: Maker’s 46
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 47% | Tasting Notes: Caramel, Spice, Sweet Oak
“If you are looking for something more affordable, then I would recommend Maker’s Mark 46,” says Matthew Sentas, general manager at Precinct Kitchen + Bar in Boston. “Wheated bourbons tend to be a lot smoother than your normal all corn bourbons. Maker’s 46 is more versatile because it makes a great cocktail and is also amazing by itself on the rocks. We use Maker's 46 in our Cherry Smash cocktail at Precinct Kitchen + Bar.”
Best Sipper: 1792 Sweet Wheat
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 45.6% | Tasting Notes: Dried cherry, Vanilla, Citrus
“This wheated bourbon has notes of vanilla and caramel, it is not too sweet which is nice, and the price point is great for what it is,” says Reniel Garcia, bar director of Havana 1957 on Española Way in Miami.
Carlos Lopez, restaurant manager at Moxy South Beach, also considers 1792 to be a really good wheated bourbon to sip neat or with a large ice cube. “It's easy to drink and the price point is just right for what you get,” he says.
Read Next: The Best Gifts for Bourbon Lovers
Why Trust Liquor.com?
Jonah Flicker is an experienced writer who has been covering spirits and traveling the world visiting distilleries for many years. His work has appeared in many different national outlets covering trends, new releases, and the stories and innovators behind the spirits. His first love remains whiskey, but he is partial to tequila, rum, gin, cognac and all things distilled.