Wheat, Not Wheated

This was a fun surprise from last week. I got a call from Germain Robin distillery about a haphazard project I began with them more than four years ago. In 2010, less than a year after I had taken over as spirits buyer, I had all these empty Jefferson's 18 barrels from the casks we were purchasing at the time (back when you could not only buy bottles of Stitzel Weller juice, you could buy entire barrels) and I wanted to give them to a distillery for maturation purposes. At that time, Germain Robin had started playing around with different grains for whiskey distillation and they were working with 100% Bavarian wheat spirits. I said, "You know what would be funny? If you aged a wheat whiskey in a wheated Bourbon barrel. I don't know if it would taste very good, but it would at least make for a funny story." I thought about the prospect of this project for about three seconds, said "Huh," and then promptly forgot about it until a few weeks ago.

"Whoa, you guys actually went through with that?!" I asked, half kidding.

"We did," said the distillery, "Would you like a sample of it?"

A few days later the tiny vial showed up on my desk, so I gave it a whirl. No, it didn't taste anything like Pappy, or even remotely like a Bourbon in general, but man was it fun! It started out basic and primary, but ultimately erupted into an explosion of wheat flavor on the finish. I've never tasted an aged whisky that expressed so much of the source material in the flavor itself. There are just gobs of golden wheat on the finish. I told them to bottle up what was left and sell me back my barrel. Now it's here. Check out the notes below:

Low Gap 4 Year Old K&L Exclusive Single Stitzel-Weller Barrel Wheat Whiskey $69.99 - Four years ago, when barrels of 18 year old Stitzel Weller Bourbon could be purchased on a whim, we began piling up more casks than we knew what to do with. When you buy a barrel of whiskey from a producer they usually send you the empty vessel with it. At that time we were working closely with Germain Robin on a number of new projects and when they mentioned they were experimenting with wheat whiskey, running it through their antique column still, I offered some of our ex-Bourbon casks for maturation. "Fill this old wheated Bourbon barrel with wheat whiskey," I said, "and maybe we can buy it back from you in a few years." Then I completely forgot about it. But a few weeks ago we got the call from the distillery; it had been four years. Did we want to see where the whiskey was at? You bet we did, and after tasting the sample we had Germain Robin bottle the whiskey immediately. It's in an absolutely perfect spot. The nose is a mixture of fresh cut grain and oak spices. The first sip is like a handful of Wheat Thins that turns into a rich, stone crackery explosion on the finish. There is no doubt as to which grain this whiskey was distilled from. It's just wheat all the way through. The SW barrel is really just a coincidence; a matter of what we had on hand at the time. Gimmicks aside, this is one fun new bottle I will be drinking lots of and a new step forward for California's whiskey movement.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll