Lesson 04: Which grains can be used for making whiskey in the US?

In this lesson, I will look into the matter of which grains you can use for making whiskey in the United States. You would think that this question would be relatively easy to figure out, as SURELY there must be some kind of list of approved grains somewhere on the TTB’s website (they are the authorities) and you would be all set. Right?


Depending on how you interpret the TTB rules and the mind-numbing Code of Federal Regulations, it is either just “grains” or maybe more specifically “cereal grains” (which would leave out pseudocereals). If you do not know what a cereal grain is and if you have never heard about pseudocereals, fear no longer – because I will let you know in a moment (which, I guess, is the whole purpose of writing these posts).

(OK … if you grab yourself a double-espresso and try to stay awake for one minute, I promise the technical stuff is over and that we will get to the conclusion soon).

A grain is a small hard seed and there are two major types: “Cereals” and “Legumes”. Cereals are actually grass and you know this name, of course, from “breakfast cereal”. The cereal type covers all the four major grains that are used for whiskey:

  • Corn
  • Rye
  • Barley
  • Wheat
The major grains for making whiskey

The big four above represents more than 99% of the whiskey production in the United States, but all types of cereal grains can be used to make whiskey. Other types include:

  • Rice
  • Sorghum
  • Millet
  • Oat
  • Triticale

I have found whiskey products made from these five as well, but they are far apart.

A Bourbon from Jim Beam with Triticale added

And then there was this weird name “pseudocereals”. A pseudocereal is something that looks like it should have been a cereal, but is not, based on the molecule structure. So it is not really a cereal and not really a “legume” (which I promise to explain in a sec) – so I guess it is the unwanted stepchild in the grain household. There are several different types, but the three most common are:

  • Buckwheat
  • Quinoa
  • Amaranth

The TTB has actually approved whiskeys with these pseudocereals, but apparently not when they are the main ingredient in the mash bill.

A quinoa whiskey from Corsair (but with barley, possibly as the main ingredient)

And then the “other” big family of grains called “legumes”. The most common types are:

  • Beans
  • Soybeans
  • Peas
  • Lentils
  • Peanuts

I have never heard of anyone having made a whiskey from legumes, and I’m not sure I would drink it, if I saw it. There are whiskeys out there that are infused with peanut butter, but that is as close at it gets. So let’s go good riddance on that one and come to the conclusion:

Whiskey can be made from cereal grains – and it is allowed to use pseudocereals as well.

So now you know!

And that concludes this lesson.

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Corrections, suggestions for other posts, or any other feedback? Then please leave a comment below or write me on henrik@thebourbonnerd.com

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2 thoughts on “Lesson 04: Which grains can be used for making whiskey in the US?

  1. Thanks for clearing that up. ? 100% Rye Hochstaters Cask Strenght sounds good to me? ??‍♂️

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