High West Light Whiskey Review

So, you may have noticed that it’s been a while since my last post. Unfortunately, the “real world” (i.e., paying work) has been keeping me extra busy, but thankfully things are easing up just in time for summer. And just in time for the coming warm weather, I’ve gotten my hands on  a new whiskey that’s light-bodied but still flavor-packed.

High West recently sent me a sample of their new Fourteen Year-Old Light Whiskey, which is a limited release spirit only available for purchase at their distillery store. Based on my enthusiastic tasting, I feel comfortable saying this is worth checking out if you can make the trip out there (a journey I hope to make myself in the near future).

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According to High West, this particular whiskey comes from 100 barrels they stumbled across while searching through other stock at MGP. However, this is quite different from just about any other MGP whiskey you may have tried – or really, from any other premium whiskey out there. Rather than being a bourbon or rye, this is a “light whiskey.” Rather than implying it’s a health food, light whiskey is a grain spirit distilled to a higher proof than straight bourbon or rye (between 80 and 95% ABV).

Light Whiskey is more-or-less the American equivalent of Scottish grain whisky, and just like grain whisky, it’s exceedingly common, but rarely bottled on its own. Just as most Scottish grain whisky is used in blended whiskies, most light whiskey is used as filler in blended American and Canadian whiskies. In fact, the vast majority of Canadian whiskies contain light whiskey. However, just because light whiskey is typically used in blends doesn’t mean that it isn’t tasty on its own. In fact, with this release, High West has demonstrated that, with proper care and maturation, light whiskey can be an incredible dram.

This particular light whiskey was distilled was distilled between 1999 and 2001 before being aged for 14 years in second-fill white oak barrels. The higher distillation proof creates a whiskey with a lighter body and mouthfeel (hence, “light” whiskey), but that same higher proof extracts even more flavor from the barrels. This is balanced by the use of second-fill oak, keeping this whiskey from feeling overly woody. Instead, the finished product is complex and flavor-packed, but almost too drinkable. It’s definitely lighter-bodied than bourbon, and I get the sense it wouldn’t stand up particularly well in a cocktail, but that’s not what it’s meant to do. Despite its gentle nature, this whiskey is flavor-packed and delightful to drink neat.

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Nose: The nose leads with milk chocolate, vanilla, some plums, and a bit of cinnamon. I also get a hint of coconut, ginger, some light tannins (probably from the oak, but they smell fruity, like a light red wine). There’s a also decent amount of alcohol nip, but it’s not overwhelming, and doesn’t eclipse the other tasty notes. With a drop of water, I get a bit more ginger, some toasted oats, and a little creamed corn. There are also some lighter fruits, particularly green apple and banana.

Taste: It drinks very easily, with a slight alcohol nip burn that doesn’t eclipse the flavors, but rather is just hot enough to clear the palate for the next sip, while leaving the finish intact. This whiskey has an almost velvety texture that slides across the tongue readily, coating it from back to front. Massively creamy, with tons of coconut (candied coconut), plenty of vanilla, and some light spices (cinnamon and allspice, especially). There’s a little red apple in the middle, along with plump milk chocolate covered raisins. The Finish is delicious coconut crème with a little cinnamon, and it lingers on the back of the tongue for approximately forever.

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With a drop of water, it gets even creamier (if that’s possible!). Milk chocolate-covered bananas (maybe drizzled with a little white chocolate too), a bit of pineapple, and maybe some mango and peach. However, this is s subtle, and doesn’t overwhelm the still-prominent coconut.

Overall, this is an outstanding whiskey, and once again reaffirms my love for both quality MGP whiskies and High West’s incredible barrel selection chops.

Questions of the Day: Have you tried a light whiskey? What’s your favorite “less common” type of American whiskey?

Disclosure: High West sent me this sample for review. All thoughts and opinions are strictly my own.

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