Mash bill is a term that gets thrown around a lot in whiskey talk, and if you’re just getting into the category of American brown spirits, it’s good to have a little primer. A mash bill is simply a recipe used by distillers that’s composed of different grains. The usual suspects in American whiskey are corn (for sweetness), rye (for spice), barley (for weight/mouthfeel and enzymatic properties), and wheat (a round sweetness and soft texture). While most American whiskeys are made of the first three grains, the four grain mash bill is making a return in popularity and I’m definitely not mad about that.
Wait, back up, what even is mash? Mash is the mixture of milled grains, water, and yeast that is fermented prior to distillation. Mash bills vary from distillery to distillery, and while some stick to one house style to achieve a particular profile, others have multiple recipes. While many distilleries disclose their mash bills (after all, whiskey is affected by many factors) some choose to keep theirs a secret. By law, bourbon must be composed of 51% corn, and rye whiskey must be made of 51% rye, so you at least start with that information.
Can you tell the difference? Keeping in mind that many factors affect how the whiskey tastes, try lining up a few different styles and tasting them in a flight.
Basil Hayden Bourbon - $38
Basil Hayden Bourbon mashbill: 63% Corn - 27% Rye - 10% Malted Barley
Wilderness Trail Bourbon - $55
Wilderness Trail Bourbon mashbill: 64% Corn - 24% Wheat - 12% Malted Barley
Maker's Mark Cask Private Select - $75
Maker's Mark mashbill: 70% Corn - 16% Red Winter Wheat - 14% Barley
George Dickel No. 12 - $24
George Dickel No. 12: 84% Corn - 8% Rye - 8% Barley
Written by Nat Harry
Nat Harry curates the spirits portfolio at Cask stores, including selecting many of the shop’s single barrels and agave club offerings. A career bartender, Nat fell in love with artisan spirits while running a farm to table bar program at Berkeley’s Revival Bar & Kitchen, and has received accolades including the East Bay Express award for Best Bartender in the East Bay.