Written by Eric Zandona
Bloody Butcher Corn is an heirloom variety that traces its roots to 1840s Virginia. This dent corn gets its name from the fact that what starts as a white corn when young, develops a deep blood red color as it matures on the stalk. The corn was widely planted throughout the east and mid-west and was considered a good all-around crop used for corn meal, hominy, animal feed, and whiskey. However, bloody butcher is an open pollinator and as such it is more susceptible to genetic drift and picking up new traits from other varieties of corn planted near it. This and its lower yield per acre are attributed to why many farmers transitioned away for bloody butcher to more productive varieties.
Post Prohibition, the few existing whiskey distilleries were large commercial endeavors that by in large sought to use economies of scale to produce good whiskeys at the most affordable price. In general, this meant purchasing the most cost efficient grains that produced the best yield, which for may years has been yellow dent corn. For much of the 20th Century whiskey distillers around the world treated grain as a commodity valued for its starch, protein, or other data points. But in the first decade of the 21st Century, several craft whiskey distillers began to emphasize the grain varieties they used and their growing conditions. Garry Hinegardner, owner and head distiller of Wood Hat Spirits in New Florence, MO has been a leading proponent for the use of heirloom corn for making whiskey. He has likened the near universal use of yellow dent corn in distilling as “if the whole wine industry in this United States [only] used Concord grapes.”
Today there are several craft distillers using bloody butcher corn to make their bourbons and corn whiskey. These include Wood Hat Spirits, Widow Jane in New York, New Liberty Distillery in Pennsylvania, and Jeptha Creed in Kentucky. And since bloody butcher is not grown on a large commercial scale, each distiller is either growing the corn themselves or sourcing it from a local farmer. As a result, each whiskey is both an expression of the distiller and of where the corn was grown. This helps to explain why some distillers describe their whiskey as having an intense spice character, while other emphasize fruity flavors. Either way, they all tend to have big, bold, and very expressive flavor profiles.
Jeptha Creed is owned by the Nethery family, fifth-generation farmers with 1,000 acres of farmland in Shelby county, east of Louisville. Their family grows a variety of grains as well as apples, pears, pecans, apricots, cherries, and several other fruits. Around 2013, Joyce and Autumn Nethery had planted a small plot of bloody butcher corn and noticed how much the local wildlife preferred it over the neighboring field of yellow corn. A year later when they tasted their first white dog made with the bloody butcher, they loved how expressive it was and decided to make the heirloom corn the centerpiece of their whiskeys. Today, the Nethery family grow about 450 acres of bloody butcher which they use as the base for their vodkas, moonshines, and bourbons.
Jeptha Creed released their first bottles for two year old Straight 4-Grain Bourbon in May 2019 and more recently a limited edition of their Bloody Butcher’s Creed Straight Bourbon Whiskey distilled from a mash of 90% bloody butcher corn, 5% malted rye, 5% malted barley, and aged for a little under three years. On the nose the whiskey has an interesting mixture of aromas such as barbecued corn husks and sap wood mingled with notes of red hot cinnamon, toasted marshmallow, and hot corn porridge. On the palate the whiskey has a slightly oily texture along with a note of sweet cherries, followed by a bit of tart plum. At the back of the palate the whiskey has a slow building heat and then becomes dry with notes of wood from the barrel and a pronounced grassy character from the malted rye. After, the whiskey has a long and warm finish that lingers with notes of tart plum, nuts, and fresh oak. As the whiskey fades there is a fascinating mixture of maraschino cherry and sprouted grain bread.
This new whiskey from Jeptha Creed is bold, combining the richness found in bloody butcher corn with the intense earthiness of malted rye. And true to their farming heritage, this new bottling of Bloody Butcher’s Creed, places the grains at the center reminding us that bourbon is an expression of its mash bill not the just oak container that holds it.