Everyone shared common ground at the year’s Heartland Craft Spirit Competition: corn.

Texas Corn Producers, along with 11 other corn associations, sponsored the competition hosted by American Craft Spirits Association (ACSA). Corn-based spirits were judged at the Heartland Whiskey Competition, with three Texas distilleries receiving high achievements in the multi-state competition. The event hosted on June 4 in Chicago at CH Distillery, helped advocate for the community of craft spirits producers and allowed distillers to promote their corn-based spirits.

Entries for the competition were open to craft whiskey producers from across the nation. Distillers from the 13 “heartland” states, including Colorado, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, North Dakota, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin competed for the Best of Show and Best of State award for their whiskeys.

Balcones Distilling was awarded Best in State for Texas with their True Blue 100 Proof corn whiskey. Other Texas distillers, Ironroot Republic Distilling and Still Austin Whiskey, also received silver medals in sub-categories. With distillers like these accounting for 2% of the corn produced in the U.S., craft distilling is expanding markets and representing the diverse uses of corn.

The whiskeys were judged based on several factors, including appearance, aroma intensity, aroma complexity, palate concentration, palate complexity, body, alcohol, texture and finish.

The different whiskey categories that were judged included:

  • Blended Whiskey: A blended whiskey is a product of blending different types of whiskeys and sometimes also neutral grain spirits, colorings, and flavorings.
  • Bottled in Bond: Whiskey that is the product of one distillation season by one distiller at one distillery. It must be aged for at least four years and bottled at 100 proof. Only spirits produced in the United States may be designated as bonded.
  • Bourbon Whiskey: Whiskey that is made primarily (51% or more) from corn and aged in new, charred oak barrels.
  • Corn Whiskey: Whiskey made from a mash of at least 80% corn. Corn whiskey does not need wood aging, but if it is the barrels must be uncharred or previously used. Aging is usually brief.
  • Straight Whiskey: A variant of corn whiskey, straight whiskey is corn whiskey that is aged two years or more.
  • Four Grain: Corn and one other grain.
  • Rye Whiskey: Whiskey that must be made from a grain mix that is at least 51% rye and aged in new, charred oak barrels. Rye grain is known for imparting a spicy or fruity flavor to the whiskey. It is not as sweet as bourbon. Rye whiskey that has been aged for at least two years and has not been blended with other spirits may be further designated as straight, such as straight rye whiskey.

Craft spirits and farming are tightly knit. Most craft distilleries are family-owned, as are most farms. The corn that family farms produce is the primary grain U.S. distillers use to make finely-crafted whiskeys. Several distilleries are also run by these farm families.

“Several of the craft distilleries are also working farms that use the grain they grow to make their spirits, so they are deeply committed to their product,” Illinois Corn Marketing Board Chairman Don Duvall said.

Corn is extremely versatile and can be found in nearly everything. From the dinner plate to the whiskey bottle, corn plays a role in our everyday lives.

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