Thursday, April 21, 2011

Bernheim Original Wheat Whiskey – Blind Tasting

I remember when I first saw Bernheim Wheat Whiskey on the shelves of Virginia's monopoly called Alcohol and Beverage Control. At the time, they charged the premium price of $40 for a 750ml bottle. I thought it must be something special since the bottle is unique and the price is kinda up there. Well, for some it is great and for others, it's not worth a plug nickel.

To be honest, I think the nose of the Bernheim is quite enticing but that's about where it stops for me. The entry is somewhat astringent and the finish is too short. The whiskey does have a nice sweet char component to it about mid palate. This is a whiskey I will likely pass over in the future, but that's just me. For others that are new to bourbon or American whiskey, I would actually encourage someone to pick up a bottle. Various American whiskey's have differing mashbills; e.g. varying percentages of corn (at least 51% for bourbon by law), rye (at least 51% by law), and wheat. So, in the case of Bernheim the dominant grain is wheat, then corn and about 5% barley. This mashbill produces a very sweet, smooth and light whiskey. Some folks don't like the harshness of a rye bourbon like Old Grand Dad so starting off with something like Bernheim or Makers Mark is usually a good place to begin your American whiskey journey.

My tasting panel again consists of 11 participants who tried this whiskey in the blind. This particular whiskey produced no bell curve as tasters loved it, liked it, disliked it or hated it. Some reviewer comments were:

"Very light on the palate. Pay close attention and you'll find some caramel, cinnamon and a hint of cocoa. Clean but not very exciting."

"….a little lackluster overall and could be much more if the flavors were a bit bolder"

"The body was very heavy, but it was more creamy than oily. I don't think it was high alcohol, but it was delicious."

"A short and uninteresting finish. This is a disappointing whiskey"

"A happy balance of oak that makes it very drinkable. Medium-Full body"

As you can see, the experience for the tasters were all over the map ranging from delicious to disappointing.

After the reviewers found out what it was, many were surprised and in some cases stated that they would now buy a bottle based on the revelation. This is how this particular whiskey broke down among the participants

95-100 A Classic Whiskey


90-94 Excellent


85-89 Good, Clearly above average


80-84 Average


75-79 Fair


74 and below - pass


This is how the industry has viewed this whiskey over the last couple of years:

Gold Medal, 2009 International Spirits Challenge

Silver Medal, 2009 and 2010 San Francisco World Spirits Competition

"Great stuff: a superb addition to the American whiskey lexicon … an immediate classic" Jim Murray, Author of Jim Murray's Whiskey Bible

Final note, see that 1 in the 80-84 Average column…..that's mine.


  1. Greg, if I'm honest, this is a example where I don't know that blind is the best method of tasting this one. And I hope you don't mind me saying that. I do so respectfully but there's been such an emphasis put on blind lately that I think the counterpoint deserves some discussion.

    Now you could argue, as I'm sure you might ; ), that blind is blind. But this is a real departure whiskey at 51% wheat with virtually no peers. You can move into some of the wheaters, but honestly we're talking double or more wheat percentage. So the finish is going to be shorter, the flavors aren't gong to be as intense as a Bourbon or Rye for example, and it's going to be hard to compare this one against just about anything.

    So for this reason getting folks in the panel to understand what the makeup is of what they are about to drink so they can calibrate a little I think is helpful. Again, you have few comparisons here. More are entering the market, but not at this age.

    This is just one guys opinion, respectfully. In the end, whether you know what your tasting or not I know it's about enjoyment. But I think it's helpful to know exactly what you are about to dive into.



  2. Greg, I really like what your doing with conducting these blind tastings. Even though knowing your whiskey and its pedigree is undoubtedly a big part of its subjective enjoyment it is always enlightening to see what happens with out that knowledge. I look forward to more reports and may I suggest seeing how some dusties fare.

  3. Jason - point well taken. I agree the Bernheim is an outlyer in the whiskey arena. One byproduct of these tastings is folks are discovering whiskies they would have normally bypassed because of some bias or pre-convieved notion about the label. For instance. I've passed by Evan Williams Bottled in Bond for years. It was bottom shelf and ran about $10 a 750ml. "Can't be any good" I would think. Well, I was an idiot and made a judgement based on little or no data. The EWBIB is a good base whiskey and one I now pick up when shopping for bourbon. The other point of the blind tastings is convicing folks that their palate is the ultimate arbitor of what they like, whether or not they can pick out flavor nuances like cherries or toasted nut or mossy rock. We discussed this on the board and these tastings have broadened the bourbon horizon for many folks who now buy things they wouldn't have in the past. These blind tastings are not the be all/end all, it's just another data point I, and many others, find very interesting when it comes to enjoying our passion.

  4. T-Comp - thanks for the feedback. You wish is my command...dusties are coming. To your other comment, you are correct that knowing the pedigree is part of the overall experience. When standing in front of the bourbon shelves at our local stores, I think we tend to reach for things that have a favorable rating among us enthusiasts.

    I do find it interesting how these blind tastings come out and also how the group rating compares to what industry reviewers say about it. My EWSB tasting is completed and I'll be posting the final 4 years but if you go back and look, reviews for the early editions of EWSB were very favorable. As you can see from our collection ratings, the bell curve is pretty tight showing the EWSB are pretty much average.

    As I told Jason in the above response, the blind tastings are simply another data point.

  5. Greg, that is certainly a very good point. The group that didn't enjoy it were probably not likely to purchase this product. The ones that did get a surprise found a new whiskey they like. So I do understand that.

    Looking forward to the last of the EWSB. That's been a fascinating run of posts.

  6. Greg, IMHO, you said it all with "The other point of the blind tastings is convicing folks that their palate is the ultimate arbitor of what they like". I may or may not be able to pick out all the subtleties and flavors of a whiskey, but I'll certainly know if I enjoy it.

    The comments in your response to Jason regarding EWBIB hit home as well. I'll be at the Sampler next week and will definitely check out bourbon's that I may have overlooked in the past.

  7. Thanks for the feedback Gary. I'll be at the sampler as well. Cheers.

  8. Gary, I mimic your thoughts exactly. Whiskey is like politics, where the same man (bottle) can be the most revered, and the most reviled all at the same time. It's all a matter of personal taste.