What is in a wheater?
Tell a bourbon lover you are into “wheaters” and you will get a shrug, Maybe even a humph. Polite and experienced drinkers might be filled with skepticism. Is your experience with wheated bourbons relegated to Makers Mark, chasing Weller, and that one time your buddy let you taste some Pappy?
While last year is the year that shall never be spoken of again, I did experience one great wheated bourbon after another. It started in the early part of the year with the first two Larceny Barrel Proof expressions that drank hot and reminded me of incredible Stagg Jrs I have had in the past, which was interesting because Stagg is from another distillery and not wheated.
Then, the spring came and once again Heaven Hill released a Bottled-in-Bond Old Fitzgerald in a decanter that was as pleasant as a spring time morning drying out the dew on a putting green. I was also very lucky to have tasted two samples from other Old Fitzgerald releases courtesy of Malt’s own Taylor Cope. I had written off that line after the second release, but came to find that Heaven Hill has come into their own with that series now; but what does one do with eight of the same decanter?
The summer wind came blowing in, and with it the experience of Wilderness Trail. A slick-drinking vanilla and honey-laden hot toddy in a bottle. A bottled in bond wheat bourbon that was raved about by every single person I suggested it to. Their story of a sweet mash bourbon was similar to Peerless, as well. Peerless has a similar mouth feel and once again I revisited this one last year with Taylor Cope who reminded me of just how good they are.
That’s right. You probably expected me to add “for its age” at the end of that, didn’t you? No. Peerless and Wilderness Trail might be young compared to others, but their flavor is unique and that warrants their price and accolades. Maybe for Peerless there is something to that lower barrel entry proof.
Then, of course, there was Maker’s Mark… all year. I had three Private Selects, the Cask Strength, the 101, and the SE4 x PR5 special release. All different, all very good.
So, when I saw this New Riff Malted Wheat bottle on the shelf in the fall, I was intrigued. New Riff single barrels are a treat in the bourbon world. They really keep to their name sake; they aren’t reviving some “Old” label. They are now putting a literal new riff on whiskey by malting wheat.
From the distillery website: “From the very beginnings of New Riff’s distillery design, we incorporated the ability to add any bag of grain into our recipes. It’s called the ‘auxiliary grain conveyor.’ We use this grain handling feature every week when we add 50-lb bags of malted rye into our standard New Riff Rye Whiskey. But we also use it to make a new riff on classic whiskey traditions…
Introducing Maltsters, a project that explores different malted grains used in a Bourbon recipe. Our distilling team delved into their background as craft brewers and pulled out of their hat a couple of magical recipes: Malted Rye Bourbon and Malted Wheat Bourbon. These unique mashbills offer bold interpretations of traditional Bourbon styles, from a refined and sophisticated rye experience to a darker and deeper version of wheated Bourbon.”
Oh and that malted wheat? They didn’t stop at one or two types of wheat but rather three different malted wheats. Quite a treat. (Yes that was a rhyme.)
I was sold! (I bought this at Binny’s for $50) which adds it a tick on my scale and while Shared Pour doesn’t currently have this expression, they do have several others.
Now, before we get to the review we have another treat for you. The Malt team encouraged me to dig deeper as to what role the malted wheat played in the creation of this whiskey. I reached out to New Riff via social media and they were gracious enough to put me in contact with the man in charge of the great stuff coming out of New Riff; Brian Sprance their Head Distiller.
Malt: What flavor profiles were you after?
Brian: This was really our first foray into wheated bourbon, so we didn’t really have any expectations. We were surprised at how “soft” the distillate came across, but that was mainly because we were used to tasting really high rye bourbon & rye whiskey distillate.
Malt: How did the idea of malting some of the wheat come about?
Brian: These were malts I used in my brewing career. South German Hefewizens are my favorite beer to brew and drink, so we wanted to incorporate these into (what we think) is a pretty unique wheated bourbon.
Malt: Will we see this gem again? Or was this a one time shot?
Brian: Yes this whiskey has been made again.
NOTE: Brian was kind enough to answer my questions over e-mail. His responses have been condensed and edited for clarity and relevance to the article.
A bit of breaking news here which is great for me on two fronts. The first being that I am not going to wax poetic about a bourbon that you cannot buy. The second is that I get to purchase another bottle for myself, hopefully. Onto the review…
New Riff Maltster Wheated – review
Color: The darkened edges of a Baltic amber piece.
On the Nose: Light on the nose. A hearth baking dark breads. A little bit of smoke in the air. This is the kind of nose where the alcohol is the crescendo and all of the build up is those aforementioned notes.
In the mouth: A stout like taste with a whiskey mouthfeel. It’s wild. Dark rye bread. That oatmeal that has been spiced just so. Dark raisins offer a dark fruity enhancement to the oats. On the finish, I want to chew this. The liquid has gone but I find myself doing that Kentucky chew just to get all of that doughy goodness I’m tasting. The bread grain has now turned into a distilled grain that dances on my tongue so cleverly.
As I said before, I didn’t know what to expect when I approached this four-year-old wheated bourbon. New Riff stayed true to their namesake and definitely put their own spin on things, and it pays off in multiples.
There is a commission link above if you want to delve into the New Riff world.
Thanks for the review, Matt. $50 for a wheated bourbon from a fairly new distillery sounds like a great deal Hopefully I’ll get to sample some New Riff bourbon soon.
Very interesting, and thanks for the review. I am really excited about this new trend of distilleries kilning their grains/malts or even using roasted malts. The Balcones Rye uses a grain bill similar to that of a stout beer, which I am all about since I love stouts. That has a great chocolatey flavor and tastes unlike any other rye that I’ve experienced. Interesting, too, that this gave you a rye bread note without having any rye in it! I’m not usually a huge wheater fan, but this sounds like it’s quite interesting and worth seeking. Skål!
True to my initial intrigue, this one sounds like a real delight in a glass! I really like that this unique mashbill invokes stout beer but remains a bourbon through and through, and I appreciate you situating it among the other recent additions to the “wheated bourbon” category – most of which I’ve tried…now to join you in hoping Seelbach’s has a restock sometime soon. Cheers!