Grain Stories Heritage Corn Whisky 2017 Harvest
What they say
The Oxford Artisan Distillery launches a series of experimental whiskies titled Grain Stories, with the inaugural release of Heritage Corn Whisky.
Each expression in the new collection will focus on Master Distiller Chico Rosa’s research into different heritage grains combined with a variety of distilling and maturation processes. The name is also indicative of the creativity and experimentation planned for the bottlings, giving the distilling team plenty of room for play.
Chico comments: “Every whisky we produce has its own narrative and with our exclusive use of heritage grain, the different varieties we use play a vital part – it is these distinctive grains which are the thread that binds every chapter in this tome of Grain Stories whiskies.”
The distillery’s regenerative and organic farming partners, led by their Head of Grain & Sustainable Development, John Letts, grow the heritage grains, the likes of which have not been grown in England for centuries. The Oxford Artisan Distillery is the only distillery in England to use these populations, painstakingly sourced and bulked up over many years, and now grown sustainably using ‘restorative’, carbon-negative methods.
Heritage Corn Whisky has a particularly unique, and serendipitous, origin. John Letts grew up in Canada surrounded by fields of modern hybrid corn used to make products like corn flakes and high fructose syrup. A few farmers grew multicoloured corn (technically North Eastern ‘flint’ corn) that was once grown by native people all over North America. Some also grew a slightly sweeter corn – the ancestor of modern ‘sweet corn’ – which has a mutation that prevents the sugar initially stored in the seed from turning into starch (flour) as it ripens.
In 2010 John collected samples of both ‘flint’ and ‘sweet’ corn from gene banks all over the world and added this to seed he’d obtained from Canada. He planted all of it in a large research plot in his garden and allowed it to cross-pollinate for 5 years, which produced a genetically-diverse population with a large range of cobs with multicoloured seeds. After every harvest he selected out the earliest ripening plants with the healthiest and most productive ears.
In 2017 John harvested about a ton of corn – by hand! Half of this was dry, but the other half was still damp and began to germinate (malt) on the barn floor as it was being cleaned. What at first appeared to be a disaster was actually an opportunity. John comments: “I flaked and crushed all of this maize and sent it to the distillery in a panic… and the team immediately put it in the distilling vat.”
The grain ratio the team used contained 51% corn (a mixture of ‘sweet’ and ‘flint’ corn seeds), half of which had germinated (malted) along with 34% rye, 10% wheat and 5% malted barley. Lactic maceration was undertaken prior to mash, and the corn was fermented dry as a paste after milling and before mixing with water and the other grains for three days boosting creamy characters and textures.
Having been fully matured in New American oak for three and a half years, the highly active wood has gifted the creamy spirit sweet vanilla, allspice and cinnamon notes.
Chico comments: “The second most abundant grain used is rye which is quite noticeable through its spicy character, but the corn is oily and its charm comes through with butter and biscuity notes that elevate the spirit. The whisky is full of the distillery’s characteristic floral and herbal tones coupled with shortbread and unroasted nuts, while banana and ginger cake flavours interplay with the whisky’s smooth velvety mouthfeel, finishing with spicy and green grass vibes.”
Heritage Corn Whisky is a first from a British distillery. It has been bottled at 50.4 % ABV, and the batch consists of 830 bottles, priced at £95 for 50cl and it is now available exclusively from the distillery’s website.
- AROMA: Floral and herbal with notes of honey and wormwood. Dough, buttery biscuit, raw almonds and banana finishing with vanilla, allspice and cinnamon.
- PALATE: Creamy and smooth with banana and ginger cake notes. Sweet and nutty with a hint of grass and liquorice root.
- FINISH: Warm yet refreshing. Herbal and Spicy.
- OVERALL: Floral and herbal. Shortbread and nuts. Banana and ginger, refreshing spice.
What I say
A Corn whisky from The Oxford Artisan Distillery. Continuing the theme of their inaugural Rye whisky releases this also uses heritage grains. With a mashbill of 51% corn, 34% rye, 10% wheat and 5% malted barley and maturation in virgin American Oak casks I think it is safe to claim this as the first homegrown ‘English Bourbon’.
- ABV 50.4%
- Age NAS
- Bottler The Oxford Artisan Distillery
- Bottling Heritage Corn
- Cask American Oak Casks
- Category Corn Whisky
- Cost £95
- Origin The Oxford Artisan Distillery
- Outturn 830 bottles
- Region England
- Released 2021
- Vintage 2017
My tasting notes
- Appearance Dark gold (12/20), rounded, fine tears and long fine legs.
- Nose Sweet, toffee, estery, banana and orange, some cocoa powder, vanilla, spirity and spicy, toffee-coated popcorn (oh I do like my butterkist), cinnamon, allspice, a touch mineralic, later more woody vanilla.
- Taste Light-bodied, spiced, dry, powdered baking spices, sweet honey, a touch sharp, lemon citrus, peel & zest, lemon juice, vanilla, Danish pastries, buttery, mineralic/flinty, spiced oak wood, gingerbread and banana muffins.
- Finish Short, honey sweet, cornflakes, some honey-nut, and soft spices.
- Overall Quite light & vanillic a nice mixture of sweet and spiced from the grains without being overly oily/buttery. I’m relishing what this will be like with a little more time in the cask.
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