Wheat has been used and advertised as a flavour softener in the making of whiskey for quite some time. A study in Kentucky, where 95% of the world’s Bourbon is made, aims to show this grain can contribute more. 

Wheat is actually mentioned in one of the oldest available sweet mash recipes, dating back to 1818. In it, rye or wheat meal is added to the corn as part of the whiskey-making process.

In a recent article in the Lexington Herald Leader, Maker’s Mark Distillery president Rob Samuels estimates that over 95% of bourbon today is made with rye, not wheat. Both come as additions to the dominant corn. 

Samuels wants to prove that wheat can add flavour and that flavour and sustainable farming go hand in hand. To do that, Maker’s Mark has been working with David Van Sanford, agriculture professor at the University of Kentucky, for several years to study different strains of wheat and the impact of soil and farming practices on flavour. More than 30 wheat varieties have been tested. A key goal is to actually reverse decades of agricultural practices that boosted the yield but killed most of the flavour.