Bernheim Barrel Proof Whiskey (A223) Review

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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 producer 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 were 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.

First released in 2005 as a non-age-stated wheat whiskey and subsequently re-launched in 2008 as a 7y.o. wheat whiskey, Bernheim Original is named after the Bernheim brothers, the distilling company they founded, and the distillery that bears their name in Louisville., KY. Purchased by Heaven Hill in 1999 from Diageo, the Bernheim distillery became Heaven Hill’s main distilling plant following the devastating fire which destroyed their previous distillery in Bardstown. Unlike “wheated” bourbon where wheat makes up a minority of the mashbill, the US government only allows a product to be labelled “wheat whiskey” when the mash is composed of at least 51% wheat. Bernheim Original was the first wheat whiskey produced in a large enough quantity to allow global distribution and also the first wheat whiskey to use winter wheat as its primary grain. Being a straight wheat whiskey, Bernheim Original follows all the legal requirements for the style and is made from a recipe of 51% red winter wheat, 37% corn, and 12% malted barley.

In February of this year, Heaven Hill Distillery announced the first general release of their Barrel Proof expression of Bernheim Original Kentucky Straight Wheat Whiskey. Having been available as part of their “You Do Bourbon” programme since the opening of their new state-of-the-art visitors centre in 2021, this extension of the Bernheim Original line is claimed to deliver the same familiar smoothness with even more depth of flavour and consists of 7to 9-year-old stocks pulled straight from the barrel and bottled without chill filtration. Like the Original, the whiskey in these releases has been produced at the namesake Bernheim Distillery in Louisville, Kentucky and aged in Heaven Hill’s rickhouses. Bernheim Barrel Proof will also be an allocated product which will be released in batches twice a year, and each release will have its own unique batch number and proof. The A223 batch is bottled at 118.8 proof (59.4% ABV) and according to Master Distiller and fellow countryman Conor O’ Driscoll, “The launch of the Barrel Proof expression of Bernheim Wheat Whiskey is a very exciting one for Heaven Hill…We know this is a product consumers want, and we think this batch has the smoothness they’ll recognize from Bernheim Original, but with an even greater depth of flavour.”

Today I’ll be tasting this inaugural release of Bernheim Barrel Proof. Being quite fond of the Original, I’m very excited to taste this in its pure form and hope this isn’t a case of the 90-proof version being the better whiskey.

Vital Stats:

Name: Bernheim Barrel Proof (A223)
Age: Blend of 7 – 9y.o. stocks
Proof: 118.8 Proof (59.4% ABV)
Type: Kentucky straight wheat whiskey
Mashbill: 51% red winter wheat, 37% corn, and 12% malted barley.
Producer: Heaven Hill Distillery
Glassware: Glencairn


Nose: The nose opens with a mix of soft caramels, subtle but lush red fruits, a touch of toasted oak bordering on butterscotch and earthy baking spices of cloves, cinnamon and a touch of nutmeg. As you nose deeper the caramels become darker and more complex alongside butterscotch, dry earthy baking spices, and soft red fruit and wheat notes. A touch of herbaceous charred oak and milk chocolate also comes in at the back.

Palate: The palate opens very viscous with soft red fruit smothered in warm caramel, alongside wheat, earthy baking spices and tart red fruit kick followed closely by warm peppery spice that builds on the mid-palate as you chew. As the spice fades back a bit, it leaves the palate a touch dry as floral malt, herbaceous charred oak, robust dried red fruit and citrus peel notes emerge. The longer you chew the more the spice fades only to be replaced by a warm cookie-like baking spice notes.

Finish: The finish opens with lingering tannic spice on the mid-palate with notes of wheat, dried fruits, and a touch of herbaceous. After taste is long and hot with red fruits, milk chocolate and lingering caramel sweetness.


This whiskey is excellent; it’s subtle where it’s needed, warm at the right times, and its flavours are robust and complex whilst being well-balanced between the spice, fruit, barrel, and grain components. Being bottled at barrel proof and aged between 7 and 9 years old it also kicks where it needs to with the first few sips being a soft introduction before warm earthy spices and peppery tannins have sufficiently built up on the palate, driving the rest of the flavours. These spice and barrel notes are prominent throughout but proportionate, and by around the 4th sip it has returned to decadence, with the viscosity reigning in some of the spice and opening the palate to delicate caramels and robust red and black fruits. Wheat character also shines through beautifully throughout and even the malt makes a fruity appearance on the palate as you chew and the layers of spice and flavour are left to mingle on the tongue. With a splash of water, the palate becomes milk chocolate and caramel syrup heavy with fruit and wheat notes remaining alongside lingering spice that still has some bite to it. Adding a splash of water also cuts through the viscosity and allows a touch more heat to slip through and warm the palate further. Personally, I found it to be delicious both ways and reminiscent of a freshly baked spiced cookie made with a mix of butterscotch, earthy spices, wheat flour, and desiccated ginger and berry pieces.

In 2021 Heaven Hill announced that as part of their new state-of-the-art visitor centre, visitors would have the opportunity to personalise and bottle one of their mashbills at barrel proof under their ‘You Do Bourbon’ programme. The mashbills on permanent rotation were Elijah Craig Barrel Proof Bourbon, Larceny Barrel Proof Bourbon, and Bernheim Barrel Proof. This news caused a big stir with Bernheim Barrel Proof being the stand-out point of interest on both sides of the pond. Personally, I hoped this would lead to a general release of Bernheim Barrel Proof and I’m very happy my hunch turned out to be correct. To date, there have been very few wheat whiskey releases from Heaven Hill so adding this bi-annual release of barrel-proof wheat whiskey using the same formula as Elijah Craig and Larceny Barrel Proof is both a no-brainer and a stroke of genius. As the first release, the bar is now set quite high and if subsequent releases are going to be anything like what we’ve come to expect from their other barrel-proof releases the quality will continue to improve with each successive release.

Try or Buy?

With a suggested retail price of $64.99 this whiskey is both good for the wallet and good for those looking to take a step into a new style of American whiskey. Buy with confidence!


Before you go…

Before you go…

Before you go…

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