There’s been a lot of noise about Single Grain Whisk[e]ys. In recent months, I’ve seen launches, blog posts and promoted features highlighting Single Grain whiskies from Ireland (Teeling, Greenore), Scotland (HAIG Club) and Japan (Nikka Coffey Grain).
The most prominent of these launches may have been for HAIG Club, which featured David Beckham as the brand’s global ambassador.
In Scotland, Single Grain whiskies are usually blended with Single Malt whiskies to make Blended Scotch Whisky. They have similar uses in Ireland and Japan. Single Malts, made from 100% Malted Barley, have a rich flavor that can be too strong for some drinkers. The term “Single” in Single Grain refers to it being made in a Single distillery, not that it was made from one kind of grain. Single Grain whisky is made from milder grains – usually corn, sometimes wheat – with a bit of malted barley to help along fermentation. It is distilled in industrial column stills – not the Copper Pots that are required of Single Malts – usually to the relatively high ABV.
By blending these Single Grains with Single Malt whiskies, distillers not only help to round out the smoky, malty flavors of Single Malts, but also help to spread out the liquid inside their more prestigious matured-casks.
But when reading about these imported Single Grain products – which generally run from $35 to $75 – I couldn’t help but be reminded of a couple of types of little-known or forgotten American Whiskeys: Corn and Light whiskeys.
While Light Whiskey more closely resembles Single Grain (due to the fact that Light Whiskey allows for distillation up to 190 Proof, the E.U. limit, versus the standard 160-proof U.S. limit), Corn Whiskey is also similar to Single Grain in many ways. Both are column-distilled and they are both made using predominantly corn.
So, I decided to conduct a side-by-side comparison of an American Corn Whiskey and an imported Single Grain Whisky.
The two products chosen for this experiment were Mellow Corn, made by Heaven Hill in Kentucky, and Teeling Single Grain Whiskey, made by Teeling Distillery, now located in Dublin, Ireland.
The first difference between the two was price. Mellow Corn was $13, while Teeling was $50. That difference in price was also evident in packaging. Teeling’s bottle and label had a certain handsome “Craft” appeal. Mellow Corn had a retro 50s thing going on that, while I loved it, I’m sure was quite unintentional. Also, as a Bonded Whiskey, Mellow Corn was bottled at 100 proof while Teeling was 80.
A blind tasting was the only way to go.
Color: Deep Amber
Nose: Marzipan, oak, almond, antiseptic, heather
Taste: Strikingly different than the nose. Not overly complex. Very corn-forward, oak, antiseptic, smoky ash
Finish: Orange peel and heather
Nose: Mild, floral, faint oak
Taste: More complex than the nose. Great mouthfeel. Almonds, maple syrup, vanilla, floral, oak
Finish: Floral, faint honey
My choice was Brand B, which turned out to be Mellow Corn. While Teeling had a better nose and more attractive color, that may have been aided by the addition of caramel coloring, which is legal in Ireland but illegal in the production of American Bonded Straight Corn Whiskey. The taste and finish of Mellow Corn was more appealing.
As an added benefit to this article a couple of lessons were learned. First, while neither is a great sipper, they are both pretty tasty in a highball.
More importantly, these products have proven indispensable to me for another reason. “Vatting” is a term used to describe blending whiskeys together to come up with new whiskey concoctions. The addition of corn whiskey to my arsenal has been invaluable in this endeavor.
A future blog post is in order, but let me fill you in on the recipe for my “Atmosphere” Blended Scotch-Irish Whiskey: 1 part Tomatin Single Malt Scotch, 2 Parts Green Spot Pure Pot Irish Whiskey and 2 parts Teeling Single Grain Irish Whiskey.
Let me tell you, this makes for a mighty flask indeed.