By law, bourbons need to have a mash bill that consists of at least 51% corn. Since Bernheim is 51% wheat, it's similar to a bourbon, but it's technically a wheat whiskey. It's a lonely category, which is a shame: this is great stuff.
Bernheim comes from the Heaven Hill distillery, the same guys that make Rittenhouse Rye, Elijah Craig, and the remarkably enjoyable Mellow Corn whiskey. They also make Hpnotiq, but let's try not to hold that against them.
Most bourbon-producing distilleries tend to use wheat as what's called a "secondary grain." Corn is big, sweet, and mouth filling. A lot of people love that taste, so producers go well past the 51% required minimum for bourbons and use something in the 70% range. Past that, it's up to the distiller how they want to get to the remaining 100% with respect to the other grains. Rye is spicy, barley is efficient in creating the enzymes for fermentation, and wheat—when distillers care to use it at all—imparts a softer flavor.
Using wheat as the star player makes Bernheim something of a curious novelty. On one hand, Bernheim is light in comparison to something like a garden-variety Evan Williams or Wild Turkey. On the other hand, that lightness produces a pretty distinctive character.
More to the point, Bernheim solves the problem I have with a lot of bourbons, which is to say a cloying finish that glues itself to the back of my throat. It enters with corn for sure on the arrival, much as a good bourbon does, but what I appreciate is that on the development it begins to mellow the fuck out. There's a wonderful peanut butter sweetness with custard, toffee, and a little bit of allspice.
On the whole, it's a whiskey that's perfectly content to laze on the palate and give off its flavors in gentle waves. What was fairly remarkable was that the Bernheim seemed to become softer and more graceful with every sip. Sometimes you get exhausted with a whiskey before the glass is empty, but that's absolutely not the case here.
Again, Bernheim is lighter in comparison to a lot of bourbons, but at 45% ABV it's certainly no slouch in the flavor department, and it's far less hot than one would expect. Bernheim is also age-stated at 7 years (this version, anyway), and it's got a very agreeable price point at about $30. I think it's a super tasty whiskey, and completely worthy of your dollars no matter where your preferences lie.
Just be sure to get the 7-year version—I've heard the non-age stated bottle isn't nearly as good as this guy.