Producer: High West. Distiller: MGP. ABV: 46% ABV. Age: 14 years. Price: $100.
The whiskey world’s first diet product? Not quite. “Light whiskey” is a long-standing U.S. spirits category that’s essentially the halfway mark between straight whiskey and neutral grain spirits. It’s distilled at 80-95% ABV, comes off the still with far fewer flavor compounds than straight whiskey, and can be aged in used or uncharred new oak barrels. Light-bodied, light flavored, and far more often a component in blends these days than a freestanding product–especially at a time when whiskey enthusiasts want juice so dense you can stand a spoon in it.
High West often sources from MGP, as they did in this case, acquiring 10 barrels of MGP light whiskey (99% corn, 1% malted barley) that was aged 14 years in second-fill (bourbon?) barrels.
My only previous experience w light whiskey was from Mosswood Distillery, an interesting outfit in Oakland, CA, that ages 4-year-old MGP light whiskey in a variety of barrels, from apple brandy to espresso.
Those are delicate spirits with delicate finishes. The High West 14-year-old packs more of a punch. It starts with a hot nose with big corn and coconut notes. Then comes the sweet baked goods, hot buttered brioche, fresh challah–interestingly reminiscent of the Barrell Bourbon Whiskey Batch 1, another MGP-sourced product.
Palate’s sweet, with more body than you might expect. Not bourbon density, but a light syrup feel. Vanilla and coconut. Maple. Candied banana. By the time we hit the finish–a touch too sweet more my taste–I’m craving the balance some oak tannins or a flavor grain would bring.
I think there’s potential for the light whiskey category that we’re only glimpsing so far. This particular release isn’t for me, especially at $100 a bottle. Still, High West is doing things right as usual: experimenting, pushing boundaries, and offering full transparency along the way. This release is distillery-only for the time being. If it catches on, though, I’m sure we’ll being seeing more of it around.
Hope your Saturday’s a tasty one! Cheers, friends! -BO
High West graciously provided a sample for review. As always, our opinions are 100% our own.