Now that I think about it, I cannot recall exactly how I’ve managed to end up reviewing this infamous whiskey.
It probably came about after some banter amongst American friends about the corn, or Mellow Corn to be specific. I wasn’t aware of the brand image and some of the humour (or specifically humor) that’s grown up and take root regarding it. From my perspective, this side of the Atlantic shields us from such things. Sure, the power of the internet and what it offers, means that such a cult following isn’t too far away. But from my vantage point, I’d always see the visible bottle and never gave it much thought.
Those friends probably felt it was going to be fun to see my verdict on this hotly debated whiskey. A Scotch fiend picking up and reviewing the corn without too much insight or bias into what it is, or what it represents. So, here I am. Surrounded by some wonderful scotches in my office and the most visible bottle – almost glowing radiantly – is the Mellow Corn. It certainly is striking, to say the least. And as a stable of the bottom shelf, or filed away on a retailer layout, it has to be. This isn’t a showpiece whiskey or one that prompts ballots or a scramble. Arguably it’s the exact opposite and a guilty pleasure for some out there. Speaking with Abby underlined its image:
‘The guilty pleasure for Mellow Corn comes from eschewing all complexity and overdosing—going wholly one-note, as it were—on the aspect you like best. It’s like the whiskey equivalent of fast food—all one overwhelming and satisfying flavor, but a kind you know you would never want to define your palate or be your main meal.’
Thankfully, Tony, my bourbon dealer pointed me in the direction of a recent online Mellow Corn tasting. While I only caught snippets, it was very informative and helps build some background to the brand and its existence. For instance, the majority of American distilleries at one time or another offered a corn whiskey at some point in their history including Jim Beam and Brown-Forman. The main advantage of such a product is that under the rules they were allowed to use the barrels once again for a corn whiskey, rather than shipping these off to Scotland or the local garden centre or furniture maker.
After decanting the bourbon, the cask could be refilled and put to work. The financial advantages are obvious, especially during times when cask supply is cheap and plentiful. It seems logical to have your own corn whiskey when empty barrels on the open market are fetching a pittance.
For Mellow Corn, the majority of barrels used will be from Evan Williams. Although the representatives did indicate that Elijah Craig would also be possible. In fact, this led to a discussion about the 1.7 million barrels that Heaven Hill currently has maturing. These are marked by mashbill rather than by brand. So, there is a good chance it just depends on what barrels they have to hand when doing a corn mash.
From the talk, corn whiskey must be at least 80% corn (51% corn to be bourbon, 51% for rye) to be labelled as such. With the remainder of the Mellow Corn recipe being 12% malted barley and 8% rye. Unaged corn whiskey can be sold as moonshine, but when you come to ageing corn, it must be in a used barrel or an uncharred new barrel. So, it seems very unlikely that you’ll see a corn product in a brand-new uncharred barrel; after all, why? By doing so, you’ve wasted the opportunity to do your bourbon first and get the bonus reuse of the barrel. Then, the added aspect that a new barrel would neutralise the corn flavours and the outcome was speculated to be more bourbon-like with all the caramel and vanilla aspects dominating the liquid.
My underlying impression is that corn whisky is cheap with the grain being less in cost and the reuse of barrels seen as a bonus. Particularly when all these factors are so plentiful for the large American distilleries. And that feeds into the actual pricing of Mellow Corn with it retailing for under $20 and being seen as a bargain budget purchase. For those in the UK within to experience this liquid Americana, the experience will cost a little more with Master of Malt requesting £34.25, The Whisky Exchange expecting £33.45 and Amazon coming in at £28.55.
Mellow Corn Whiskey – Rose’s review
Colour: Mellow Yellow.
On the nose: Slightly overcooked and caramelized kettle corn, hmm corny who’d have thought? Honeydew melon margarita, Portuguese sweet bread. Oh yeah, some Juicy Fruit chewing gum like @glassofwhiskey86 Tony said. Hot corn grits with melted butter and honey on top. There’s something so simple and pleasing here on the nose. A Butterfinger candy bar and honey roasted peanuts.
In the mouth: Ooohh a synthetic sicky, sticky sweetness. Corn would again be the obvious here, then there’s vanilla, caramel and molasses of Cracker Jack. So much homey, kitschy American nostalgic flavors going on here. I feel transported to the county fair! For being bottled at 100 proof it is surprisingly thin and dry. Peanut brittle, nougat that soft airy type. There’s some banana walnut bread here too. On the finish, Baskin-Robbins pink bubble gum ice cream, chew on that!
I’m not sure how to really compare or score something like Mellow Corn to anything else. I guess that’s one of the things that makes it enjoyable and fun, it’s like nothing else that I’ve personally had. Now, I’m not saying its overly complex, but its simplicity is charming. Really, and so is its price tag at $19. I think if there were a corn whiskey Malt scoring band this would score quite well in its own realm. From me a corn whiskey score of 6.9 out of 10.
That said I’ve had three corn whiskies, Balcones Baby Blue years ago so I don’t have much of a point of reference here, then this one and another from Mexico called Abasolo. While that one was also interesting, it had more distinct flavors for its region and was only bottled at 86 proof. It reminded me more of masa and some of my favorite tamales. Not quite as flavorful and dollar for dollar Mellow Corn would win.
Mellow Corn Whiskey – Jason’s review
Colour: more golden corn.
On the nose: oily, buttery, sweetcorn, with a paraffin residue and banana leaf. A vanilla custard, some green peppercorn and popcorn. Sunflower oil, toffee, peanuts and cauliflower. There’s also a grainy, youthful burst of alcohol. Time in the glass is beneficial and showcases mustard seeds, caramel and a twist of lime. Adding water brings out more oils and an industrial note.
In the mouth: uncouth in places and some distinctive flavours with cardboard, potato peelings, envelope gum and vanilla. Fresh pinewood, some pine cones and lemon tree leaves. Rumex obtusifolius or dock leaves as we refer to it locally here. Hazelnuts, rice pudding, Weetabix and some beeswax with a hint of zest. Adding water tones things down generally, removing that alcohol note and providing some wood bitterness, more oils and butterscotch.
Quite an unexpected ride. I totally get what Abby said, as Mellow Corn has this dominating buttery corn note backed up with a tinge of youthful alcohol and vibrant vanilla. People who love those flavours will reach for this time and time again. In a way, this is the American equivalent of a peated whisky, in that, consumers just what a blast of peat and nothing else. If you want that buttery corn dynamic, then there’s only really one place to go.
But in Scotch terms, this is very much reminiscent of a youthful grain from say, Girvan or Cameronbridge. There are core flavours and not much development. It’s easy to dismiss the whiskey for what it is without considering the asking price and youthful age.
I’ve had worse and I’ve had better whiskies. Yet there is only one Mellow Corn and for that, I’m happy to enjoy something different and thought-provoking.
There are commission links enough if you wish to discover the joy of Mellow Corn for yourself! Photographs by fromwhereidram.