At High West, we believe education leads to appreciation so we’d like to shed some light on a rarely discussed type of whiskey… “light whiskey.” Not to be confused with lower calories or an Edison light bulb, “light” denotes a grain spirit distilled between 80-95% alcohol by volume (ABV) - it’s “lighter” than a straight whiskey (which is distilled to <80% ABV) but “heavier” than neutral grain spirits (what is called NGS and makes vodka) which must be distilled > 95%. However, most light whiskey is distilled to 94.5 ABV so it’s almost NGS! Distilling that high removes almost all the congeners, the chemicals other than ethanol that whiskey lovers call “flavor.” Light whiskey isn’t common in the U.S. because we prefer our “heavier” straight whiskeys.
However, light whiskey has an important role to play in the world of whiskey. It is the “dilutant” in about 95% of the world’s blended whiskeys. In the U.K., what they call grain whiskey is more or less the same thing as light whiskey. It gets blended with heavier malt whiskey to make scotch. In North America, light whiskey gets blended with heavier straight whiskey to make blended Canadian (about 95+% of all Canadian whiskey) as well as most American blended whiskeys that are not blended straight Whiskeys.
We were lucky to find 100 barrels of light whiskey produced from corn and aged in 2nd fill barrels. That time in wood had an amazing effect on the “light” spirit, imparting incredible vanilla and white chocolate notes. This is a rare and beautiful spirit that's not likely to ever be made again for a long time.