My own first encounter with Mellow Corn came from trying to narrow down what it was about Bourbon that I just wasn't crazy about. My specific line of thinking was that the use of corn as a primary distillate was the most likely candidate. So, when I learned of a whiskey made almost entirely from corn, I figured I'd put the theory to the test.
Now that I'm on my third bottle of Mellow Corn, I can say this with all honesty: corn in whiskey is 100% fine with me. Call me a corn convert. I really enjoy the stuff. Mellow Corn, I'm sorry, baby. I didn't mean what I said.
Mellow Corn is certainly true to its name, provided you add a generous splash of water. It comes out of the bottle at 100 proof and is pretty fiery, all things considered. However, diluted to about 80-some proof, it's light, candied, and deliciously buttery. The corn makes for a sticky and mouth-coating spirit that isn't huge on sophistication, but provides a very distinctive and clear flavor.
So what makes it mellow? The secret is that they don't use newly-made, charred white oak barrels for aging, which is required by law for bourbons. Since most of the wood influence of the barrel went into the first batch of bourbon it housed, that same barrel (referred to in the industry as a "refill cask") is now going to age the next spirit with a much more delicate hand.
That, incidentally, makes Mellow Corn not just mellow, but far less-intensive than other spirits when it comes to cost and labor. Old casks get a second lease on life, and since you don't need to char them, you can just dump out the bourbon and put in the corn whiskey.
But here's the real truth: I don't know whether it's the cost savings of not having to play by all the bourbon rules or what, but Mellow Corn is alarmingly cheap. Problematically cheap. The last time Adam bought Mellow Corn, the clerk asked him, "Have you had this before?" Adam told him he had. The clerk beamed and immediately began talking faster. "It's great, isn't it? The problem is that I can't convince any of the guys around here to try it because it's so cheap." It was an experience probably not too far removed from two members of the same sex cult recognizing each other's secret rings at Costco. Oh, the joy of talking to someone who understands!
But how cheap is it, you ask? Mellow Corn is twelve dollars. At that price, you think something might be wrong with it. The design of the label hasn't changed (allegedly) since the 1930s, so it might be possible that someone forgot to increase the price along with inflation. This is all the more remarkable given that Mellow Corn is bonded, of all things, which means it's at least four years old and bottled at 50% ABV.
The rating mostly reflects the astounding deal of getting a very tasty dram for about the cost of a large pizza. It's not the kind of bottle you're going to crack open to celebrate a promotion or pour to have a cerebral experience. Haters be damned: this is a good-time, no-shits-to-be-given, all-occasions kind of bottle, and it will continue to find a home on my shelf for precisely that reason.