All bourbon is corn-fueled. By nature, bourbon must have at least 51 percent corn in its base (or mash bill) with a supporting cast of malted barley, rye, and/or wheat, generally. The vast, vast majority of bourbon on the shelf will have a mash bill with around 70 to 79 percent corn in its mash. High-rye bourbons will drill that corn number down to 51 to 69 percent (as will high-wheat bourbons), whereas with low-rye or low-wheat bourbons the corn component will reach 80 percent and above.
Then you have 100 percent corn bourbons. This isn’t a new style of bourbon in so much as it’s a newly popular style, driven mostly by young craft distillers with something to prove. Because of its static mash, it’s not going to be as nuanced as other expressions. That said, testing bourbon with an all-corn mash bill certainly teaches you something about the spirit — if for no other reason than you learn the power and limitations of barrelling and aging in developing flavors (because those elements are easier to identify with an uncomplicated recipe).
Before we dive in, there’s a difference between “corn whiskey” and “100 percent corn bourbon.” Corn whiskey only has to be 80 percent corn-based, but certainly can have a 100 percent corn-fueled mash bill. 100 percent Corn bourbon is different in that it also has to follow bourbon’s other rules. It has to be aged according to bourbon’s aging laws — new oak only and specific ABVs for entry and bottling. In short, corn whiskey and corn bourbon can come off the stills looking identical, it’s how they’re aged that makes them fall into their respective categories.
The five bottles of 100 percent corn bourbon below are all from craft distilleries. You simply don’t see this bespoke style too much in the mainstream bourbon world yet. Still, these are fascinating expressions that we think are worth your time to expand your bourbon palate. If that sounds interesting to you, click on the prices to try these expressions yourself!
Hudson Baby Bourbon Whiskey
Average Price: $54
Hailing from the Tuthilltown Distillery in New York, this 100 percent New York corn bourbon is already a bit of a throwback. The distillery just revamped their line and this is a relic now, thanks to a new mash bill recipe that adds in five percent malted barley to the corn. Still, this bottle is pretty manageable to find on shelves and carries with it deeply crafted whiskey-making with small format barrels, soothing bass music resonating through the warehouse, and four years of mellowing.
There’s a clear sense of popcorn that’s been liberally coated in powdered sugar, vanilla, and a hint of an almond shell. The palate holds onto that final note and dips into rich marzipan with a cut of orange oils next to buttered popcorn and a little warm spice. The end lets that buttered popcorn sweeten back towards caramel corn with a drizzle of honey and a final note of dark chocolate-covered peanuts in the back of your mouth.
This is a great entry point to any 100 percent corn bourbon. It’s very familiar while really leaning into the corn. While we like to use it more for cocktails, it still works as an easy sipper on the rocks, especially paired with a bowl of hot buttered popcorn on movie night.
Yellow Rose Outlaw Bourbon
Average Price: $56
Texas is a major whiskey destination these days, especially if you want 100 percent corn bourbons. This expression is made in Harris County and was Houston’s first legal distillery. The mash is 100 percent yellow corn from the Panhandle. The juice is then loaded into small format barrels where it spends an undisclosed amount of years mellowing through southern Texas’ extreme weather ups and downs.
This opens with a rush of caramel-covered pecans with a dash of salt next to a freshly opened can of creamed corn and a hint of floral honey lurking in the background. The taste holds onto that rich and creamy corn vibe, adding a bit of the husk, while it sweetens towards more salted caramel and a big wooden spoon of that floral honey. The finish is long and smooths out with vanilla, creating a corn pudding feel and taste with a hint of dark spice and a touch more honey-dipped woodiness.
This really amps up the corn from the nose to the finish, which is kind of refreshing for a bourbon. We’ve heard some critics say that makes this a little too one-note for them. We think that’s fair but also misses the point a little — this is built as a yellow corn bourbon from stalk to a creamy, vanilla-laden dessert.
New Southern Revival 100% Jimmy Red Corn
Average Price: $108
This South Carolina distiller utilizes a heritage red corn that nearly went extinct. The distillers worked with Clemson University to help bring back Jimmy Red Corn as a varietal, specifically because that was the corn used by local moonshiners way back in the day.
This barrel-proof expression doesn’t feel overly alcohol-forward. Instead, you’re greeted with mild notes of honey, dried roses, eggnog spice, and caramel corn with a nice hint of salt. The palate is warm but sweet with a continued note of salted caramel corn and buttery toffee next to hints of cherry candy and maybe even salted peanut shells. The end is long and ends with a hint of banana next to that caramel corn and a final savory note.
This is a complete departure from the rest of the list. This feels more like it’s a crafty bourbon than a 100 percent corn one. We mean that as a compliment. The dark fruits, spices, florals, caramel, salt, nuts, and corn all add up to a unique corn-fueled bourbon vibe that feels like something you’ve had before and want to have again.
FEW Sarah Shook & The Disarmers Blue Corn Bourbon Whisky
Average Price: $62
FEW Spirits’ Blue Corn Bourbon is of their many music collabs (they’ve also partnered with The Flaming Lips and Alice in Chains), and thus a very limited release. This collab with North Carolina’s country-punk band, Sarah Shook & the Disarmers, utilized FEW’s artisanal style — leaning all the way into a blue corn base.
Beyond that, FEW doesn’t tell us much more about what’s in the bottle.
This is pure county fair caramel corn straight out of a brown paper bag. Dashes of woody spice, vanilla husks, and orchard fruits linger on the palate but it’s really that caramel corn that drives the flavor profile. The end is somewhat short and lets the spice amp up towards a warming end while a final note of burnt marshmallow arrives on the very tail of the taste.
This is worth grabbing if you’re already a collector of FEW’s other music collabs. It’s unique and likely not to be seen again any time soon. That being said, it feels a bit more like a mixer than a sipper.
Balcones Texas Blue Corn Bourbon
Average Price: $65
This is the most unique bottle on the list and worth the search (and money). Locally grown Texas blue corn is used to create a truly Texan bourbon. The juice is aged in the Balcone’s Waco rickhouse under the hot Texas sun, allowing the sugars from the wood to really imbue themselves into the bourbon. The results are vatted and bottled at cask-proof, letting every detail of the barrel shine through.
Salted butter melting on freshly baked cornbread mingles with fresh tobacco, dried mint sprigs, and powdery white pepper. The sip then takes a left turn into Red Hots, orange marmalade, and fire-roasted marshmallow territory with black tea bitterness cutting through. The pepper and corn return on the finish as this one takes its time to say goodbye.
This is bold and not really like any other bourbon (in general). And that’s why we love it. This is the perfect bottle to reset a palate while expanding it. It’s also a great cocktail base thanks to those hefty ABVs.
As a Drizly affiliate, Uproxx may receive a commission pursuant to certain items on this list.