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
85-89 Good, Clearly above average
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.