In addition to the former Stitzel-Weller brands (Old Fitzgerald, Old Weller) and the VanWinkle bottlings, the other wheated bourbon is Maker's Mark. Wheat v. Rye really is a matter of personal taste, not an indicia of quality per se. As famously advertised by Maker's Mark, wheat supposedly is gentler than rye, so a wheated bourbon has less bite. Some people like that bite. Wheat is one way to diminish it. High distillation proof, high corn content and charcoal leaching (i.e., the Lincoln County Process) are ways to produce a mild flavor with a rye formula. Otherwise, it takes time to tame a rye whiskey. I'm thinking about Wild Turkey Rare Breed or Kentucky Spirit, Labrot and Graham Woodford Reserve, Evan Williams Single Barrel and 12-year-old Old Charter. All are traditional formula bourbons, well tempered by age, and very fine.

Back when there were hundreds of distilleries in the Ohio River watershed, there undoubtedly were many that used wheat instead of rye, even wheat and rye in combination.

One explanation for why rye formulas have become dominent could be the Beam family. In addition to the Jim Beam company and Heaven Hill, Beams have been employed at dozens of different distilleries and the traditional Beam family formula is rye-based. On the other hand, members of the Beam family worked at both Stitzel-Weller and Maker's Mark, but that only shows them capable of making a wheat formula. They may still prefer a rye formula.

--Chuck Cowdery