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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. In the end though, nothing beats a classic and Maker's Mark won out as our top pick. 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 Bourbon Whiskey
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 Under $50: Larceny Small Batch Bourbon
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 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 Splurge: Old Fitzgerald Bottled in Bond
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 50% | Tasting Notes: Apple, Baking Spice, Vanilla
Old Fitzgerald is a bottled-in-bond wheated bourbon released twice a year by Kentucky’s Heaven Hill Distillery. This means it’s bottled at 100 proof and at least four years old, among a few other qualifications. The fall 2021 release was an 11-year-old bourbon that comes in an intricate decanter, and like most previous releases became a coveted whiskey almost immediately. You’ll find it for at least $500 on most websites, but this is a good wheated bourbon if you are looking to splurge a bit.
Related: The Best Bourbons to Drink
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 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 at MSRP,” 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 for Cocktails: Wyoming Whiskey
Region: Wyoming | ABV: 44% | Tasting Notes: Cornbread, Vanilla, Floral
Wyoming Whiskey makes this small-batch bourbon using a wheated mash bill, and it’s as good as any bottle you’ll find from the big distilleries. This is a craft release that works exceptionally well in cocktails, from an Old Fashioned to a Manhattan to a Boulevardier. The mash bill has both wheat and rye in it, so there’s a bit of spice to counteract the sweetness, and the balance is just right for mixing (and sipping, of course).
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. 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
Best Gifting: Jefferson’s Ocean Wheated
Region: Kentucky | ABV: 45% | Tasting Notes: Oak, Stone fruit, Vanilla
This is the only wheated bourbon in the Jefferson’s portfolio, and it’s an interesting one. After four years of traditional aging, the barrels are loaded onto a cargo ship to travel the world’s oceans. The point here is for the motion of the sea to cause more interaction between the whiskey and wood, and the salt air to permeate the whiskey to add some flavor. This is a great gifting option, because not only is the whiskey good but the story’s kind of fun as well.
Best Cask Strength: Larceny Barrel Proof
Region: Kentucky | ABV: Varies (55-60%) | Tasting Notes: Vanilla, Caramel, Pepper
Larceny is made at Heaven Hill like the much more expensive Old Fitzgerald, and the two brands share the same wheated mash bill. The barrel-proof version of Larceny was introduced a few years ago, and it’s become very popular. It’s released several times per year, and each ABV differs slightly, although it usually lands somewhere around 115 - 120 proof. This is a really tasty cask-strength wheated bourbon that fans of high-proof whiskey should try, although be prepared to pay much higher than the SRP for it.
The best overall wheated bourbon is Maker’s Mark. This bourbon, owned by the Beam Suntory corporation, is a classic with deep flavors that won’t cost you very much and is widely available. Maker’s Mark is kind of an under-appreciated bourbon, but longtime whiskey fans and newcomers to the category alike really enjoy this Kentucky brand.
What To Look For
Wheated bourbon is generally going to have some sweeter notes than bourbon with rye in the mash bill, but this varies from brand to brand. You can find bottles from long-running distilleries and newer craft operations, and the age range can be as little as two years old, to close to ten or more. The proof runs the gamut as well, so you can choose from something close to 40% ABV to a cask-strength bottle that you might need to add a little water to. And wheated bourbon is great for both sipping and using in a cocktail.
What is wheated bourbon and how is it different from other styles?
Wheated bourbon simply means that there is wheat in the mash bill. Bourbon must have at least 51 percent corn, and the rest is usually rye and malted barley. With wheated bourbon, wheat is either added to the mas bill to make it a four-grain bourbon, or used as a substitute for the rye. The result is often softer and sweeter than bourbon made with rye, which tends to add spice to the palate.
What's the best way to drink a wheated bourbon?
Any way you like it! You can drink wheated bourbon neat, or use it in a cocktail like an Old Fashioned or Manhattan. Try swapping a wheated bourbon for your regular choice and see how it affects the flavor.
Can you drink it if you have a gluten allergy?
Generally speaking, bourbon is safe to drink for those who avoid gluten, even if there’s wheat in the mash bill because of the distillation process. However, if you are concerned, consult your doctor before trying it.
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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.