Mellow Corn Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey

Mellow CornI received another request from Cap’n Jimbo for a review of a bargain whiskey, so I stopped in at Total Wine & More and picked up a bottle of Heaven Hill’s Mellow Corn for $10.49+tax… definitely a bargain price. Being a bonded whiskey (or bottled in bond) means that it’s aged at least 4 years and bottled at 50% ABV.

Isn’t corn whiskey called bourbon, you say?  Actually, here is a good explanation of the differences, but I’ll highlight them for brevity.  Bourbon is distilled from a mash of at least 51% corn, while corn whiskey is at least 80% corn in the mash.  Bourbon is also aged in charred new oak barrels, while corn whiskey is aged in un-charred new oak or used oak barrels.  That’s the law!  So, on to the whiskey….

The nose is a bit hot with a definite corn aroma… corn husk, sweet corn as well as caramel, honey and mild tobacco.  It’s not very different from some bourbons that I’ve had and water doesn’t seem to change things much.

The taste is initially sweet, then transitions to a slightly woody and peppery finish.  Making a brief appearance after the initial sweetness are caramel, honey, fresh cut grass and a bit of cigar box in the background that’s hard to pick out initially, but is more apparent after a while.  The finish is slightly bitter, tannic, leathery and starchy along with the aforementioned spiciness.  The finish lasts a while, but the lingering components are mostly starch and wood.  A drop of water subdues the flavors a bit and kind of muddles them together, but they last a bit longer.  The finish becomes less starchy, but the bitterness and woodiness remains with a bit more spice than before.  More water makes the flavors retreat, but the spicy and starchy finish remains leaving what some might call a mildly harsh whiskey.

It’s not bad, but it’s no winner either.  If I were looking for a whiskey around $10, I would buy a bottle of Evan Williams White Label Kentucky Straight Bourbon (also bottled in bond).  It’s usually $11-12 and is a much better whiskey than Mellow Corn.  Another option is Tom Moore Bottled-in-Bond Bourbon (only 1.75l here) at about $20, which amounts to a lower price per ounce, or Old Grand Dad Bottled in Bond (haven’t had this one, so I’m just basing this on recommendations from others).  If you’re willing to spend a bit more, then try Old Grand Dad 114 for less than $20… it’s quite good.  If corn whisky is really what you’re looking for, then the next best alternative that I know of is Balcones Baby Blue for about $45… not exactly a bargain, though.

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2 thoughts on “Mellow Corn Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey

  1. A big, big thanks to Bearmark for again taking on my request. My thanks for his fine review. Unfortunately, Heaven Hill’s Mellow Corn stands almost alone in representing its unique genre: a BIB, 100 proof, 90% straight corn whiskey. As such it should be viewed without reference to bourbon, rye or any other different category of spirit, each of which ought stand alone. The difficulty is that there are very few other like corn whiskies for comparison and we are left to review a genre without a reference point or previous experience with this genre.

    Thus it becomes difficult to avoid saying the “B” word in a review, and in Bear’s as well.

    As Jim Murray said: “”If you are a true student of whiskey, your education is a long way from being complete until you have mastered this particularly charming form (corn whiskey)”. And as for Mellow Corn, he gave it a respectable “83”, calling it a “…oily with a sweet and spicy flavour. Good whiskey worth trying”.

    There are really two camps of comments regarding Mellow Corn: those who reference bourbon and find it lacking, and those who don’t and find it charming (this includes me).

    Personally I have to agree with Murray that exploring Mellow Corn for itself, for its historical perspective as the forerunner to uh, the “B” spirit, and for its use as a component in other spirits (see, I still didn’t say it) – with these in mind is well worth the $12. My only advice…

    Wax on, wax off. Quiet the mind… and again hats off to the Bear.

    • I think I offered 2 alternatives: (1) other whiskeys in the same price range (for those looking for a bargain whiskey), and (2) another much better, but more expensive corn whiskey (for those looking for a good corn whiskey). My intent was to satisfy both camps, but alas I couldn’t recommend Mellow Corn as a “good” whiskey, which prevents it from qualifying as a “bargain.”

      By the way, here’s another quote from Jim Murray on Mellow Corn, he said it was “the oiliest whiskey there is, suggesting you could fry your eggs in it.” It could be that the oiliness that he refers to is what shows up in the finish for me as starchy. I found myself looking for corn-related descriptions and corn starch is what came to mind first. It was very distinct and the only aspect that ruined the experience for me.

      From a historical perspective, I’m a more educated whiskey drinker for having tried Mellow Corn and I’ll continue to share the experience with others (handing out samples as we speak). I’m glad to have learned about it and glad to have tried it (I’ll continue experimenting with it as a mixer). I can only say that I’m glad someone discovered another style of corn whiskey (I didn’t use the “B” word) so that we could have some more enjoyable bargain whiskey.

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