Rising from the ashes of Prohibition and into the midst of the Great Depression in Bardstown, KY, Heaven Hill Distillery has grown to be the largest independent family-owned and operated producers of distilled spirits products in the US, and the second-largest holder of bourbon whiskey inventory in the world. The distillery was set up in 1935 after a small group approached the Shapira family seeking capital investment to set up a distillery using their technical expertise. Following personal financial difficulties among the other members of the founding group, their interests in the “Old Heavenhill Springs” distillery was bought out by the Shapira family making the distillery a fully family-owned enterprise. With renewed purpose the family kept on one of the original investors, James L. Beam as Master Distiller, and hired the best bourbon producing talent they could find in their local Bardstown. Four years later in 1939 they released their first product, a 4 year old Bottled in Bond bourbon under the Old Heaven Hill brand. The brand quickly became one of the top selling bourbons in the State and cemented the distillery’s position as one of the top bourbon producers in Kentucky at the time. The name of the distillery originates from the family name of William Heavenhill who was an early pioneer farmer and owned the original property on which the distillery sat. When originally registering the company a clerical mistake resulted in the name becoming Heaven Hill as opposed to Heavenhill.
On November 7th 1996 a fire that started in one of the barrel ageing warehouses spread by strong winds, destroying almost the entire distillery and numerous ageing warehouses. Overall 90,000 barrels of whisky were lost and for the next 3 years the company was dependent on production capacity in neighbouring distilleries. In 1999 Heaven Hill completed the purchase of the Old Bernheim Distillery from Diageo in Louisville and once the distillery was adapted, the production and distillation end moved to Louisville whilst ageing, bottling, and shipping still occur on the original Bardstown site.
Today the modern iteration of the company, Heaven Hill Brands, has become a diversified supplier of whiskeys, liqueurs, vodkas, rums and other spirits. They own 57 rickhouses in Central KY and distribute over 48 brands including 17 bourbon labels such as Henry McKenna, Elijah Craig, Evan William, Larceny, Old Fitzgerald, and Rittenhouse rye to name a few. The distillery also has the largest number of Bottled in Bond whiskies on the market and is the only heritage distiller that features every major category of American whiskey in their 5 distinct mashbills producing traditional bourbon, wheated bourbon, rye whiskey, corn whiskey, and wheat whiskey. Under 7th Master Distiller (and fellow countryman) Conor O’Driscoll the distillery was on course to fill almost 400,000 barrels last year and with continued investment production capacity is growing every year to meet rising demand.
As part of their 5 distinct mashbills Heaven Hill produce a unique straight corn whiskey under their Mellow Corn brand. Typically aged much longer than other corn whiskies on the market (4 years +) this whiskey is aged in used Heaven Hill cooperage and has been a Bottled-in-Bond product since its introduction in 1945.
Before I get into my review I thought I’d quickly run through what corn whiskey is for those readers who have either overlooked it as a category or are yet to come across it. Like other types of whiskey produced in the US, corn whiskey is defined under US Federal law as a distinct whiskey style that has to follow a set of rules as follows:
“Corn whisky” is whisky produced at not exceeding 160° proof from a fermented mash of not less than 80 percent corn grain, and if stored in oak containers stored at not more than 125° proof in used or uncharred new oak containers and not subjected in any manner to treatment with charred wood; and also includes mixtures of such whisky.https://www.ttb.gov/images/pdfs/spirits_bam/chapter4.pdf
In a nutshell it has to come from a mash of at least 80% corn and be aged in a used or uncharred new oak container (such as a barrel). As a Bottled-in-Bond product this whiskey also meets all the strict legal requirements of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, i.e. it’s the product of a single distiller from a single distillery, uses grains from a single distilling season, is aged a minimum of four years, and is bottled at 100 proof or 50% alcohol by volume.
Name: Mellow Corn Bottled-in-Bond
Age: At least 4 y.o.
Proof: 100 Proof (50% ABV)
Type: Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey
Mashbill: 90% corn, 10% rye and malted barley
Producer: Heaven Hill Distilleries
Nose: The nose opens with sweet caramel corn notes, big vanilla notes, and herbaceous earthy spice. As you nose deeper the spice notes become earthier and the caramel corn and vanilla notes become thicker.
Palate: The palate opens viscous with sweet young corn notes before a wave of spice washes across your palate, fading to big vanilla and earthy nuts as faintly herbaceous spice continues to linger on the sides of the tongue.
Finish: The finish opens with lingering ethanol and herbaceous rye spice before fading to earthy nuts, and an aftertaste of young corn and faint malted barley.
Let’s not chase around the stalks-Mellow Corn is awesome. It’s affordable, tastes great, and looks every bit the part of a historic brand that’s perfectly happy to remain in the past when the whiskey was better, the prices more agreeable, and the packaging funkier. As a bonded whiskey that hails from the experts in producing some of the best bonded whiskies in the world it falls smack bang into the Heaven Hill formula of producing whiskies that are older, bolder, cheaper than their competitors. Its pedigree is legit, and the flavours are all there to back it up whether you’re mixing it into a cocktail, expanding your horizons without breaking the bank, or just sipping it neat or on the rocks. With the added rye in the recipe it also gives you a corn whiskey experience with complexity outside of the usual 1-trick-corn-whiskey pony of sweetness and vanilla. Finally, yes, it’s packaging is bright yellow and even the font is a touch corny but don’t let that put you off the true beauty of the whiskey inside – it has amassed a cult following among bartenders and whiskey drinkers of all walks for a reason.
Try or Buy?
This costs around $12 in the US and £~30/€35 in Europe. For this price I would gladly buy a bottle every time I come across it.