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The Best Wheated Bourbon to Drink Now

The Best Wheated Bourbon to Drink Now

There’s a wide range of whiskeys made across the United States, from rye and corn whiskey to wheat and Tennessee whiskey. But the most American whiskey of all is certainly bourbon. In order to be called “bourbon,” it must be made from 51% corn, aged in new oak barrels and every step of the process—mashing, distilling and aging—must be completed within U.S. borders.

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Those standards are stringent, but that doesn’t mean all bourbons are the same. The category still offers plenty of diversity, with producers experimenting at every step of the production process. Some opt to distill their whiskey in column stills for a lighter spirit, while others prefer to create richer spirits from pot stills. Some “proof” the whiskey with the addition of water to ensure it’s not higher than the mandated maximum of 125 proof (62.5% abv) when put into the barrel, while others keep their spirit at “cask strength.”

One of the biggest differences amongst bourbons—and most significant in terms of flavor profile—is the mash bill. The remaining 49% (outside the 51% corn already mentioned) can include a wide range of other grains, such as rye, buckwheat, barley and wheat. 

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Those with a remaining mash bill that includes wheat are known as “wheated bourbons” and have become increasingly popular over recent years, says Wine Enthusiast’s resident spirits reviewer Kara Newman. 

“Based on anecdotal evidence, wheated bourbons are on the upswing, but since they’re not an official category, it’s hard to track,” Newman says. “The most famous wheated bourbon on the market is Pappy Van Winkle. Other well-known wheaters include Maker’s Mark, Larceny and Old Fitzgerald.” 

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There are no hard and fast rules as to how much wheat a “wheated bourbon” should contain. The term just means that wheat must be included in that other 49% of the mash bill, though “most ‘wheaters’ contain a fair amount,” Newman says. This “adds a soft sweetness to bourbon, a flavor some liken to cookie dough.”

No wonder these bottles are so in demand. From splurge-worthy selections and budget picks to small-batch bottles and those with the most extreme wheat content, here are the best wheated bourbons to try right now.

A rich vanilla-bean aroma leads into a cookie-dough flavor profile framed by vanilla and roasted nuts. A splash of water folds in cedar and a bracing hint of grapefruit peel, fading into a brisk baking-spice finish. Distilled in Indiana and blended and bottled in Austin. Best Buy. 89 Points—Kara Newman 

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Best Splurge: Maker’s Mark Cellar Aged

The oldest expression from the venerable distillery, this includes a blend of 11- and 12-year-old bourbons, each aged about half its life in a limestone cellar to slow the extraction of tannins. It drinks similarly to the standard Maker’s, with plenty of caramel, charcoal and spice, but with a bit more intensity and oak. This is the 2023 edition; there will be a new edition each year going forward. 95 Points—K.N.


Best Cask Strength: Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon

Aged 11 years and five months, the latest edition in the Barrel Proof series is a straight-up vanilla bomb, start to finish. Along the way, espresso and hints of dark fruit, clove and black pepper add complexity, ending long and super-drying, with oak and toasted almond. Batch #B523. 93 Points—K.N.


Vanilla-bean aromas introduce this 10-year-old bourbon. The palate echoes that vanilla note, coupling it with a hint of dried cherry. Adding water adds a cocoa-powder note, fleetingly transforming the mid-palate to chocolate-covered cherry. The drying finish offers cedar and tobacco, plus a brisk spearmint exhale. 93 Points—K.N.

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Most Wheat-Heavy: Old Elk Wheated Bourbon

At 45% wheat content, you can’t go much higher and still call it bourbon—49% is the absolute uppermost limit.

Containing 45% wheat, the producer bills this as “an extreme wheat bourbon.” So how does it drink? Caramel and mocha lead, followed by a lemon-peel hint into the cinnamon and clove finish. Adding water soothes the heat but keeps the caramel on this 100-proofer, and allows tinges of butterscotch and vanilla cookie to ride the exhale. Distilled in Indiana, bottled by Old Elk in Colorado. 93 Points—K.N.

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Best Small Batch: Castle & Key Small Batch Wheated Bourbon 2022 Batch #1 

This is a five-year-old bourbon, released in 2022. Concentrated caramel aromas entice. The bold palate opens with vanilla and oak, and a surprising peach-nectar hint. Grapefruit peel and coconut emerge on the exhale, shored up by ginger and white-pepper sparks. 94 Points—K.N.

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A “wheater” from the Wheat State, this brings a pleasing vanilla aroma and mellow palate. Adding water transforms toffee and oak into smooth caramel and crème brûlée sprinkled with cracked black pepper. Best Buy. 90 Points—K.N.


Made with 45% winter wheat, more than most wheat-forward Bourbons, and aged four years, this honey-hued whiskey offers gentle vanilla and allspice aromas. The flavor is light at first, showing vanilla, hops and a bouncy hint of sarsaparilla. Adding water brings dramatic changes, coaxing forward silky hints of butter cookie, buttered brioche and pecan, finishing with an allspice twang. 94 Points—K.N.

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