Thursday, June 17, 2010

What Is Blended Light Whiskey?


In the typically obscure way of whiskey enthusiasts we were talking about light whiskey, a bad idea from the late 1960s. Someone produced a bottle of Four Roses labeled "light whiskey-a blend." I off-handedly opined that it probably was light whiskey blended with GNS (vodka).

It was not.

The reg says, "If 'light whisky' is mixed with less than 20 percent of straight whisky on a proof gallon basis, the mixture shall be designated 'blended light whisky' (light whisky—a blend)."

No GNS.

So I stood corrected, but it reminded me of something else that was pointed out to me recently. You can search Canadian liquor store shelves long and hard, and unless it has been imported from an American bottler you will not find a blended Canadian whisky. Up there they simply call it Canadian whisky.

The U.S. reg says "if such product is a mixture of whiskies, such mixture is 'blended Canadian whisky' (Canadian whisky--a blend)."

Canadian whisky is considered a blend even though it contains no GNS because it contains whiskeys of different types; i.e., corn whiskey, wheat whiskey, malt whiskey, rye whiskey, etc. It's all whiskey, by our definition and theirs, but of different types.

Likewise, blended light whiskey is a mixture of whiskeys, straight whiskey and light whiskey, no GNS. The "less that 20%" is because if it were more than 20% it would simply be "blended whiskey." Blended whiskey is straight whiskey (20% or more) mixed with whiskey (any kind) and/or neutral spirits.

Today, virtually all blends contain the minimum amount of straight whiskey and the rest is GNS, which is the cheapest combination possible under the rules.

Arguably, since it can't contain GNS and must contain some straight whiskey, blended light whiskey would be a more desirable product than either light whiskey or blended whiskey, at least on paper, but perhaps the difference wouldn't be great enough to win many converts.

I keep thinking that if sustained strong demand makes cheap straight 4-year-old bourbon a thing of the past, there might be room at that price point for products that bridge the gap. Stretching a little straight whiskey with light whiskey wouldn't be quite as cheap as a little more straight whiskey cut with GNS, but it would be close and a lot better tasting, at least in theory. It's just theory because nobody makes such a product.

And that's what makes this meditation so obscure.


7 comments:

mong said...

sorry Chuck, I'm being a little slow today, so light whiskey contains no GNS but differs how from straight? Not aged in new barrels etc?

dakini_painter said...

The obscure nature of the regulations and their naming conventions are unknown to the general public.

It'd be much simpler to say "whiskey" and require some qualifiers if necessary. Things like, "contains corn and wheat whiskey"; "distilled above 160 proof".

But these things too are often unknown to the general public. And they don't read the fine print anyway.

The general public will buy the products they like; but if the gov'ment forces an odd name on something they're unfamiliar with, it could make it harder to sell in the first place.

Chuck Cowdery said...

Section 5.22(b)(3) "Light whisky" is whisky produced in the United States at more than 160[deg] proof, on or after January 26, 1968, and stored in used or uncharred new oak containers; and also includes mixtures of such whiskies. If ``light whisky'' is mixed with less than 20 percent of
straight whisky on a proof gallon basis, the mixture shall be designated "blended light whisky" (light whisky--a blend).

Scott L Stursa said...

"Stretching a little straight whiskey with light whiskey wouldn't be quite as cheap as a little more straight whiskey cut with GNS, but it would be close and a lot better tasting, at least in theory. It's just theory because nobody makes such a product."

How about the export (to Europe) version of Seagram's Seven Crown?

In this post to straightbourbon.com, you state that Seven Crown is "reformulated" for the EU market, which I take to mean using light whiskey rather than GNS.

Chuck Cowdery said...

I appreciate your close reading of my posts, Scott, that one having been made in 2007. I was told that by a Diageo spokesperson. Either that was by way of a plan that never materialized or they did it but were not successful and discontinued EU distribution. Earlier this year I was told by a Diageo spokesperson that Seagrams Seven Crown is presently sold only in the USA.

Anonymous said...

What is the designation if American Light Whiskey is blended with Canadian Rye? Is this a blended whiskey, a blended light whiskey?

Chuck Cowdery said...

It probably would be labeled as a blend of American Light Whiskey and Canadian Blended Whisky, much like Philips Union, which is a blend of Canadian Blended Whisky and Straight Bourbon Whiskey.