The middle of the 20th century was not a great time to be an American whiskey maker. In the 1960s, U.S. drinkers began to move away from bourbon and rye and gravitate towards lighter spirits – gin, vodka, and blended imported whisky distilled to a higher proof and aged in used casks.
In response, the federal government created a new category in 1968: light whiskey. Defined as a whiskey distilled to higher than 160 proof and lower than 190 proof, and aged in used or uncharred new oak containers, light whiskey was, well, light in flavor and light in color, designed to compete with the imports bourbon producers thought were ruining their business.
It should be noted as well that, if you start blending the light whiskey with less than 20 percent by volume straight whiskey, it becomes known as another category under federal guidelines: blended light whiskey.
There are currently several examples of light whiskey on the market, from highbrow to lowbrow. Coyote 100 Light Whiskey is from South Dakota and is made with sand-filtered Missouri river water. This 100 proof whiskey is distilled in small batches, and the website states, “Our Coyote 100 Light Whiskey is unaged or if aged stored at this higher alcohol concentration for a shorter period of time in American Oak barrels.” If you are looking for whiskey with lighter flavor and robust alcohol, this is it.
So, is light whiskey lower in calories? You wish. Enter Sinfully Thinn light whiskey, which touts itself as being vacuum distilled in small batches in a low temperature process, highlighting its sweetness and smooth wheat finish. It is called Sinfully Thinn so that you may think that it is lower calorie. Truth be told it has about 100 calories per 1.5 ounce pour, the same as any other whiskey of a similar proof. The only thing thin about Thinn Light Whiskey is the bottle.
Another entry into the light whiskey category is Weaver’s Spirits Mount Massive Expression American Light Whiskey. Named after the Mount Massive fourteener in Colorado, it is aged seven years in matured American oak barrels. This is a light whiskey with more flavor that can be enjoyed neat or in a cocktail. High West also makes a light whiskey that is aged for 14 years and is meant to be served neat.
So next time you see a light whiskey on the shelves of your liquor store, know it’s not lower in calories, or even lower in age – but it is lighter in the heavier, caramel-forward flavors associated with bourbon and rye. It is another not-so-new whiskey type that can be experimented with in cocktails or enjoyed on its own.
Lisa Graziano CSW, CSS
Lisa Graziano grew up with a German father and Irish-American mother in Los Angeles, California. An education in beer, wine and spirits came with this upbringing. She has pursued the study of wine and spirits seriously for the past eight years, earning both Certified Specialist of Wine and Spirits from...