Taste Test: Heaven Hill’s New Bourbon Proves Grain-to-Glass Whiskey Is More Than a Gimmick

Major Kentucky distilleries get their grain (mostly corn for making bourbon) from mass producers, and for good reason. The sheer volume of whiskey that comes out of these operations needs the tonnage to match. Small farmers are generally not going to be able to provide that, which is why you usually don’t see “grain to glass” expressions from the big names. But this month Heaven Hill, known for producing major bourbon brands like Evan Williams and Elijah Craig, decided to give the concept a go by launching a trio of new grain-to-glass whiskeys, and the results prove that it’s not just a gimmick.

We’re going to focus on the best of the three whiskeys—a wheated bourbon—but the other two are a rye whiskey and a straight bourbon. The wheater is made from a mashbill of 52 percent corn, 35 percent wheat, and 13 percent malted barley, which has a higher percentage of wheat than the regular Heaven Hill wheated mashbill (68 percent corn, 20 percent wheat, and 12 percent malted barley). Sometimes a grain-to-glass whiskey is made using grains actually grown on-site at a distillery or on farmland owned by the distillery, like Nevada’s Frey Ranch. Other times, as is the case here, the grains are grown in partnership with a specific farm.

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Heaven Hill’s Grain to Glass series started about eight years ago, when executive chairman Max Shapira worked with an Indiana company called Beck’s Hybrids to choose a specific corn seed varietal—number 6158, which has more starch to provide “better alcohol content,” according to the distillery. The corn was then planted and cultivated in Kentucky at Peterson Farms in fields right across from some of Heaven Hill’s rickhouses. The wheated bourbon was distilled in 2017 and bottled at 121 proof in 2024, making it about 7 years old.

There are a couple of things to parse here. The term “grain to glass” can kind of mean anything you want it to, because, after all, a whiskey by definition always starts as grain and ends up in glass. While Heaven Hill didn’t grown the grains itself, the point of this project seems to be about transparency, specificity, and terroir, and in that it’s succeeded. There are many different factors that go into how a whiskey tastes, and some would argue that the barrel is the most impactful and that the act of distillation eliminates any element of terroir (Ireland’s Waterford Whisky would forcefully beg to differ, however). But there’s no mistaking it: This new bourbon tastes different from Heaven Hill’s other wheaters, Old Fitzgerald and Larceny. Granted, those are made using the different mashbill mentioned above, and we know that the Grain to Glass barrels were aged separately from other Heaven Hill whiskeys in warehouse W3 at the Cox’s Creek site on floors three, four, and five. Also, the Grain to Glass expressions are bottled at higher ABVs (“ideal proof,” according to the distillery, not cask strength). In other words, of course it’s going to taste different.

The other whiskeys are worth trying, but the wheated bourbon is the star. On the nose, it’s rich in honey and grain, with a bit of cherry Jolly Rancher lingering in the background. Fresh and dried fruit explode on the palate, with notes of cinnamon, nutmeg, vanilla, butterscotch, and canned peaches. It’s a bit hot at 121 proof, but not aggressive, and a little bit of water or a big ice cube really mellows it out nicely. The rye and straight bourbon are worth exploring as well, but if you have to choose just one I strongly recommend giving this bottle a go.

Heaven Hill has done really small batch before with its Square 6 lineup, made on the micro still at the Evan Williams Experience in downtown Louisville. These Grain to Glass whiskeys aren’t quite that small and are available nationally on an allocated basis, but they are much better than Square 6; they’re older, and much more developed and complex on the palate. If you’re doubtful about whether or not a whiskey might be affected by sourcing and cultivating specific grains, that’s even more reason to give this new bourbon a try. It might not replace your everyday pour, but it’s a good one to add to your collection, especially if you’re a Heaven Hill fan.

Score: 87

  • 100 Worth trading your first born for

  • 95 – 99 In the Pantheon: A trophy for the cabinet

  • 90 – 94 Great: An excited nod from friends when you pour them a dram

  • 85 – 89 Very Good: Delicious enough to buy, but not quite special enough to chase on the secondary market

  • 80 – 84 Good: More of your everyday drinker, solid and reliable

  • Below 80 It’s alright: Honestly, we probably won’t waste your time and ours with this

Every week Jonah Flicker tastes the most buzzworthy and interesting whiskeys in the world. Check back each Friday for his latest review.

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