Mellow Corn Kentucky Straight Corn Whiskey: The Ultimate Bottle Guide

Bottle of Mellow Corn whiskey
Bottle of Mellow Corn whiskey - Kenny Jarvis/Tasting Table

Heaven Hill Distillery's Mellow Corn is a curious whiskey. Most budget bourbons are bought without much thought, as people are either short on cash or want something to throw in with a mixer. Mellow Corn is a little different as it has become a much-loved whiskey that enjoys somewhat of a cult status. It possesses a unique charm with its unpretentious bottle and smooth profile. In a world where premium bourbons get the lion's share of attention, there is something comforting in there being so much love for a budget brand.

With this being a corn whiskey, it is undeniably sweet but with a lovely vanilla and oak influence. Due to this, it's much more impressive than many other budget options. As you can guess, this isn't a whiskey with immersive depth, but there is elegance in its simplicity. Thankfully, we were lucky enough for Heaven Hill to send us a bottle to try. Along with trying out this bottle, I'll use my wealth of personal experience to take you on a journey of what makes this brand special and if it's worth giving a try. Let's see why so many people love this cheap whiskey.

Read more: The 27 Best Bourbon Brands, Ranked

History Of Mellow Corn Whiskey

Mellow Corn laid on side
Mellow Corn laid on side - Kenny Jarvis/Tasting Table

The history of Mellow Corn whiskey is one of tradition and revival. It originated in the heart of Kentucky and was created by the Medley Distilling Company in 1945. As with many old distilleries, Medley went through several changes of ownership over the years. It started off being sold to Renfield Importers in 1959, then to investor Abraham Schecter in 1978, and then to Glenmore Distillery in 1988. United Distillers bought Glenmore in 1991 but closed it only a year later. Family descendant Charles Medley took the distillery back into family hands in 1995, but by that time, the Mellow Corn brand had already been sold to Heaven Hill in 1993.

We can't find much information specifically about the brand during this time, which speaks to how Mellow Corn has always sat quietly in the background. Despite facing periods of obscurity when it could have easily been left behind, it has persevered to the point where it's now become popular with people who like to find these hidden gems. It's this history -- or lack of it -- that helps with the charm of Mellow Corn. It's almost a glimpse into the past when mass production and marketing gimmicks weren't as widespread as they are today. It remains an unassuming drink and a great survivor of the ever-changing world of whiskey.

What Is Straight Corn Whiskey?

Mellow Corn bottle resting on glass
Mellow Corn bottle resting on glass - Kenny Jarvis/Tasting Table

While similar, there are a few differences between bourbon and corn whiskey. Whereas bourbon needs to be made from at least 51% corn, that's dialed up to 80% with straight corn whiskey. As with bourbon, the rest of the mash bill will usually be made up of malted barley and either rye or wheat. The higher corn content will give the drink a much higher level of sweetness than most other bourbons. While the mash bills are usually different, the most defining characteristic that separates corn whiskey from bourbon is the aging process.

Bourbon must be aged in new charred oak barrels, whereas corn whiskey doesn't have to be barreled at all. If it is aged, then it must be done in either uncharred or previously used barrels. You may have noticed that Mellow Corn is "straight corn whiskey." To have the designation of "straight" on there, the whiskey needs to be aged for at least two years. This also applies to straight bourbon. Due to this, it's important to know what you are buying when it comes to corn whiskey. Mellow Corn is aged for at least four years, but others may not have any aging, giving them hugely different tasting profiles. If you want an aged corn whiskey, then make sure it at least has that "straight" designation on the bottle.

What Does Mellow Corn Taste Like?

Mellow Corn and full glass
Mellow Corn and full glass - Kenny Jarvis/Tasting Table

Now we come to the all-important question of the taste. The pale color suggests it doesn't go past its minimum aging of four years, and the nose is unsurprisingly light. It does offer a nice level of corn sweetness, and it certainly doesn't burn your nostrils the way cheap whiskeys can. I did get a hint of oak and pear to give it some depth. As with the nose, the palate doesn't show any of the harshness you can find with budget spirits. It's a simple but pleasant taste, supported by a nice mouthfeel that allows it to sit in your mouth. Up front, you get the heavy corn influence with a slight nuttiness and oak.

With cheap whiskey, where harshness can really bite is on the finish. The extended aging means that doesn't happen here either, making it immediately impressive. With many whiskeys you get a flood of warmth on the finish. Instead, Mellow Corn ends with a nice mixture of corn and caramel. Is it a great whiskey? No, but Mellow Corn never pretends to be. Instead, it's a good whiskey that belies its cheap price tag and can easily be sipped neat. I previously ranked this as the worst whiskey from Heaven Hill, but that was always a reflection of the strength of the distillery and not a slight against Mellow Corn. If you've never tried aged corn whiskey before, you must try this.

How Is Mellow Corn Bourbon Made?

Mellow Corn bottle laid on grass
Mellow Corn bottle laid on grass - Kenny Jarvis/Tasting Table

As we mentioned, as a corn whiskey, Mellow Corn needs to use at least 80% corn in the mash bill (as for what a mash bill means, it's essentially the recipe for the mix of grains used to make the bourbon or whiskey). This expression meets that 80% threshold exactly, with the rest being 12% malted barley and 8% rye. That helps to give you the intense sweetness of corn but also allows it to have a little more depth. As with many great whiskey-makers, Heaven Hill uses a portion of the previous distillate when creating its whiskey in order to have a consistency of flavor. It then uses a yeast strain that comes from an old family recipe for fermentation. Finally, the spirit can then be distilled in its 70-foot-tall column stills before being aged in its huge Kentucky rickhouses.

You may also have seen on the bottle that Mellow Corn has the designation of "bottled-in-bond." This is a reference to a set of rules introduced in 1897 that were designed to ensure the quality of whiskey in a world where counterfeiting and cutting whiskey was rife. To meet these rules, the spirit must be aged for at least four years, be made by a single distiller, and be bottled at 100 proof. It's that extended aging that helps to make Mellow Corn excellent value, as it's much older than the vast majority of other budget whiskeys.

How To Drink Mellow Corn Whiskey

Mellow Corn in a glass
Mellow Corn in a glass - Kenny Jarvis/Tasting Table

Most budget bourbons are only good for mixing with other drinks. Mellow Corn certainly excels in that respect but it's also a whiskey that can easily be drunk neat. If you enjoy the taste of corn, then you'll appreciate its raw flavor. It's even worth giving it a proper tasting with a snifter glass to experience its aroma before you sample its taste. If you're expecting the burn or harsh aftertaste that often comes with cheaper whiskeys, you won't find that here. It's smooth and mellow, allowing you to enjoy it from nose to finish. While it stands tall as a sipping spirit, it's fantastic for mixing, too.

Mellow Corn is loved by many bartenders as it offers a great base for cocktails. It can work particularly well in classic drinks such as an old fashioned or a whiskey sour. It will give your drinks a beautiful sweetness without it dominating the palate, allowing the other flavors to shine. Along with Coke, it also works well with other mixers such as ginger ale, ginger beer, club soda, or any lemon-based drink. As you can see, Mellow Corn is a wonderfully versatile whiskey. It makes it a great liquor for your home bar as it can be used for a wide variety of drinks.

Is Mellow Corn Expensive?

Mellow Corn with a glass
Mellow Corn with a glass - Kenny Jarvis/Tasting Table

It's fair to say this is an emphatic no. Mellow Corn is famous for being a budget bourbon that will never be burning a hole in your pocket. It has got a little more expensive in recent years, but it still remains highly affordable. Average costs lay around the $19 mark, but you can often find it for cheaper than that. Just because a whiskey is cheap, that doesn't always mean it offers value for the money. There are a few whiskeys out there that I wouldn't buy even if they were one dollar. As you've most likely worked out by now, this particular drink offers you excellent value for the money when you compare it to its rivals.

It's not the cheapest whiskey out there, but even if you're low on cash, it's worth spending a few more dollars to get something much nicer and see what the fuss is all about. That also applies to those who are overseas and may need to pay a little more due to import costs. There are, of course, much better whiskeys out there for those willing to pay a little extra, but Mellow Corn has a price-to-quality ratio that is hard to beat.

Mellow Corn Vs Balcones Baby Blue

Bottle of Balcones Baby Blue
Bottle of Balcones Baby Blue - balconesdistilling / Instagram

Finding an adequate corn whiskey to compare with Mellow Corn was tough. Many corn whiskeys are unaged white whiskeys that, while worth trying at least once, can't compete with the taste and depth you get from Mellow Corn. Most other aged corn whiskeys are much more expensive than Mellow Corn, which showcases how unique this spirit is. One of the best corn whiskeys out there is Balcones Baby Blue. At an average cost of around $39, it is comfortably pricier, but is that extra cost worth it?

Balcones Baby Blue is a Texan whiskey that is made from roasted blue corn that helps to give it both a rich and complex flavor profile. You'll get a buttery sweetness on the palate and that is joined by roasted nuts and dark fruit. It helps to give it a depth that is not usually found with corn whiskey. It's more of a craft whiskey that is ideal for those looking for an artisanal experience. It does beat Mellow Corn on a straight taste comparison, but the difference isn't vast. We'd say that if you've never tried corn whiskey before, Mellow Corn would be a great first step. If you enjoy it, then a bottle of Balcones Baby Blue could well be for you.

Mellow Corn Vs Evan Willams

Bottle of Evan Williams
Bottle of Evan Williams - EvanWilliamsUSA / X

We've seen how Mellow Corn stacks up against another corn whiskey, but how does it compare against another budget bourbon from Heaven Hill? I feel both of these whiskeys share similarities in the fact that they are quite basic spirits but also have tremendous value for money. Evan Williams also has a high level of corn in the mash bill at 78%, with malted barley and rye at 12% and 10%, respectively. However, with it being bourbon, Evan Willams was aged in new charred oak barrels compared to Mellow Corn being aged in an old bourbon barrel.

Even with those subtle changes, Evan Williams gives you more of a classical bourbon tasting experience. You get a more pronounced caramel flavor with the charred barrels giving it a notable oak influence. In this sense, it offers a bit more depth than Mellow Corn, but deciding which one is better will come down to personal preference. They are very similar in price, so it comes down to whether you'd prefer the beautiful sweetness of Mellow Corn or the extra warmth of Evan Williams. Both deserve a place as great budget whiskeys, and with their low price tags, you may as well get them both and find out for yourself.

The Old-School Label Has Never Changed

Mellow Corn label close up
Mellow Corn label close up - Kenny Jarvis/Tasting Table

With the likes of McDonald's, Starbucks, or Apple, there are countless examples of brands modernizing old logos and labels. It makes sense as you want to bring your brand into the 21st century and keep up with your competitors. One brand that has resisted the urge for this trend is Mellow Corn, but that's not through laziness. It helps with the sense of charm the whiskey has, as its traditional label is a nod back to American whiskey heritage. It's easy to see why some wouldn't like the label with its bright yellow background and bold vintage lettering with green and red. As someone who is colorblind, it can be a little challenging on the eyes!

But the reputation of Mellow Corn has grown due to its authenticity and it receiving a new label just wouldn't feel right. In an ever-changing world, there is some comfort in something staying true to its original self. No doubt, a modern designer would remove the image of the corn and barrel, change the color scheme, and simplify the bottle. If they did, it just wouldn't feel like Mellow Corn. It's also a good case study of how not every brand needs to modernize in order to keep up with demands. It seems like the old-style label has helped the popularity of Mellow Corn instead of hindering it.

It Was Bought By Heaven Hill As An Afterthought

Mellow Corn stood upright
Mellow Corn stood upright - Kenny Jarvis/Tasting Table

Major acquisitions can be incredibly complicated deals. With so many different legal aspects to consider and huge sums of money involved, they can take a lot of time and energy to complete. I mentioned above about how the Mellow Corn brand was bought by Heaven Hill in 1993, but it was thrown into the deal at the last minute. The deal with United Distillers involved several different brands, including Cabin Still, J. W. Dant, and Rittenhouse, among many others. At the time, Mellow Corn had little to no brand value. So much so that United Distillers didn't care whether Heaven Hill wanted it or not.

The story goes that Heaven Hill president Max Shapira asked, "You want us to take this, too?" and United Distillers were happy to throw it into the deal. Whether they regret it or not, who knows, as it's not as if Heaven Hill poured in massive resources to reignite the brand. They were happy to let Mellow Corn be a lesser-known brand. A distillery having a cheap whiskey they don't promote is nothing new. However, over time, the popularity of Mellow Corn has risen in spite of its lack of promotion. It's this story of rising against the odds that helps to give Mellow Corn so much charm.

Despite A Lack Of Marketing, Mellow Corn Is Beloved

Mellow Corn bottle on grass
Mellow Corn bottle on grass - Kenny Jarvis/Tasting Table

Budget bourbons generally don't have much brand appeal. They aren't marketed much by distillers and many people almost mindlessly pick them up from the bottom shelf with the aim of using them with mixers or cocktails. Mellow Corn is a little different as it not only has a cult status among many whiskey lovers but it's beloved by bartenders, too. The reason for this isn't crystal clear, but there are a few important factors. One of the key reasons is the cost-to-quality ratio that we mentioned before. The bourbon is highly accessible for those looking for a cheap whiskey that won't burn their throat.

But there are other factors at play too, as Mellow Corn is far from the only decent cheap whiskey in the world. Mellow Corn has a straightforward, unpretentious nature. Instead of using fancy packaging and heavy marketing, its growth has largely been down to word of mouth. Its sweet and mellow profile appeals to not only seasoned whiskey drinkers but also those who may not like more robust whiskeys. For bartenders, its simplicity makes it a reliable and versatile ingredient for making both classic and inventive cocktails. Its flavor can beautifully blend with other liquids without dominating the flavor. For anyone who wants value without compromising on quality, Mellow Corn has become the go-to bottle for many.

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