Exploring Flavor and Yield of Heirloom Corn Varieties for Spirit Production

Project Overview

Project Type: Farmer/Rancher
Funds awarded in 2020: $17,530.00
Projected End Date: 07/31/2022
Grant Recipient: IDEA Farm Network
Region: North Central
State: Illinois
Project Coordinator:
Will Glazik
Cow Creek Farm

Information Products


  • Agronomic: corn


  • Crop Production: crop improvement and selection, food product quality/safety

    Proposal summary:

    In the United States, and particularly in the NCR-SARE region, corn is king. Specifically, yellow dent corn. This crop is used for a wide variety of products, including whisky. But is it making the best tasting whisky? Probably not. And growing thousands upon thousands of acres of yellow dent corn certainly doesn’t foster biodiversity, soil health, wildlife habitat, or many of the other positive ecological impacts of a more varied crop rotation.


    For most farmers to commit to growing a new or different crop, they need to know where the market is. Where are they going to sell this product that they’ve spent the past year preparing for, planting, tending, harvesting, and storing? The spirits industry is rapidly growing in the Midwest and many distilleries are willing to pay a higher price for unique quality products. So, what might those products be? To find out, we will grow out five heirloom corn varieties for distillation at the University of Illinois Pilot Processing Lab (U of I). After distillation is complete, a panel of flavor testers will convene for a tasting at the U of I to sample the distillates and compare results.

    Project objectives from proposal:

      1. Distill six batches of unaged whisky: five batches of heirloom corn varieties and one batch of yellow dent corn
      2. Conduct HPLC and GC tests to determine the chemical compounds in each of the corn samples
      3. Measure the efficiency of alcohol conversion for each of the six batches
      4. Convene a blind panel of tasters to sample and compare the flavors of the five heirloom corn varieties and yellow dent corn
      5. Share findings with area farmers and distillers through the Artisan Grain Collaborative, ReGenerate Illinois, and University of Illinois networks.
      6. Share/present finding at Midwest grain conferences in 2021 and with distillers guilds.
    Any opinions, findings, conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this publication are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the view of the U.S. Department of Agriculture or SARE.