At its inception light whiskey was expected to take over 10% of the distilled spirits market in the United States. Before now I’d never even heard of light whiskey, and it occupies only a small, niche space in the market. So what happened?
Light whiskey began as the bourbon industry’s reaction to a decline in sales as consumers were choosing to sip on lighter spirits like gin or vodka. In the 1960’s, American distillers were competing for shelf space with Canadian and Scottish distillers, who were doing things they couldn’t do, like distill at higher temperatures and reuse barrels. American leaders in the whiskey industry argued that the specificity of how to make bourbon made it harder to compete with the foreign market. After they petitioned to the federal government, a new category of whiskey was born in the form of light whiskey. The trend of making light whiskey eventually fell to the wayside, and now exists mostly as a niche product, although there are some examples of high-end variations like High West 14 Year Old Light Whiskey.
A few key differences between light whiskey and traditional bourbon: Light whiskey is distilled between 160 and 190 proof. Additionally, the aging of the spirit can take place in either used or uncharred new oak containers, rather than the new, charred American oak barrels that bourbon requires. The higher-temp distillation curtails the taste of grain, and using seasoned barrels adds less flavor from the barrel so the flavor ends up being much lighter than traditional bourbon.
Black Sam Light Whiskey is admittedly my first experience with light whiskey. The distillery was located in Montesano, Washington, but it appears they are not in business; their website is no longer functional, and their Facebook page hasn’t been updated since 2013. The bottle says the spirit was distilled from grain and bottled by Black Sam Distillery. The bottle also outlines a family member, Pirate “Black Sam” Bellamy, who helped pass down the motto, “Sometimes you have to use a little skullduggery to survive.” It’s very pirate-y.
Whiskey Review: Black Sam Light Whiskey
Vital Stats: Light whiskey distilled from grain. This whiskey is 80 proof and 40% ABV.
Appearance: The color is light, but the liquid isn’t thin.
Nose: Smells like corn, oranges, and honey. There’s an astringent quality at first, which weakens after it opens up a little.
Palate: The taste isn’t very complex. It’s definitely got a lighter flavor, and I think there’s a nice balance between the oak and lighter flavors. There’s nothing overpowering or offensive about how it tastes, which could be really nice in a cocktail. I taste citrus, sweetness like agave or honey, and there’s a touch of heat on the finish.
Black Sam Light Whiskey was an interesting introduction to light whiskey. The flavors are simple and taste good. While this whiskey is nothing to write home about, I’m looking forward to experimenting with light whiskies in general in my cocktails at my next dinner party.