Is there room on your bar cart for a low-proof spirit? If current trends are any indication, there could be.
An 80 mind is quite common, and the reasons are myriad: This number creates a nice balance in your bottle, to begin with. But it is also the minimum of the lawat least for many (but not all) categories of spirits sold in the United States. And the higher the proof, the more the bottle can be taxed – so sticking to that minimum is better for a company’s bottom line.
When discussing something like whiskey, the tendency seems to be to aim high. Personally, I think the sweet spot for whiskey is around 100 proof (where you’ll find Bottled-in-Bond versions), but once you hit descriptors like ‘barrel strength’, that number can easily exceed 120. And in most overstrength spirits, whether whiskey, rum, or tequila, that high number means you’ll taste and feel the alcohol when diluted in cocktails or with ice.
This is accepted wisdom. (And a quick reminder: in the United States, proof is defined as twice the percentage of alcohol by volume — or ABV — in a bottle. So 40% ABV is 80-proof.)
But what if you lower the proof below 80?
Earlier this summer, Cascade Hollow Distilling Co. released Cascade Moon 15-Year-Old Barrel Proof, a low-proof spirit constructed from a blend of corn, rye and malt that scored a 79.8 proof. It’s one of the only cask-proof spirits under 80 proof on the market today, and that low rating meant it had to be classified not as a whiskey (or, as the brand prefers , a whiskey), but as a “spirit distilled from grain.” In contrast, all other Cascade Moon releases have had around 42-50% ABV – higher than the norm, but certainly lower than many limited edition whiskeys.
When I asked Cascade Moon General Manager and Distiller Nicole Austin if there was any historical background in the world of whisk(e)y, she admitted there wasn’t, at least. to his knowledge. But Austin wants everyone to know his proof point was intentional. “I had a desire to be provocative about the perceived link between whiskey quality and evidence by pushing the boundaries of the category,” she told InsideHook. “I was very selective about which barrels were included to make sure the barrel proof was under 80.”
Although there was not too much hindsight (“Especially the curiosity [but] people are mean on the internet sometimes”), Austin thinks the inferior proof actually helps the final product in a modest way. “I don’t think the lowest ordeal is a major contributor to how the finished spirit feels, but I think it was a factor while the spirit was in the wood,” she says. . “Lower ABV during maturation would alter wood extraction, in particular.”
So how do you drink? Clean, of course (in our review, we noted it’s “a sweet brown spirit, though full of woody flavor and spice”). Austin also suggests that he is excellent in cocktails; as with everything, it’s just a matter of adjusting the dilution of whiskey added via ice and the ratio of alcohol to vermouth or other preferred ingredients.
While Austin wanted to start a conversation about quality versus numbers, other brands see low-alcohol spirits as a way to appeal to a growing market of consumers who want low ABV options but still prefer recognizable beverage categories. This is the reasoning behind BODY, a vodka option that just launched at 60 degrees. (It’s also one of the only women-founded, women-formulated liquor brands on the market.)
“We had seen the success of ready-to-drink (RTD), proving that people are interested in more options when it comes to choosing their alcohol,” says Jilly Hendrix, founder and CEO of BODY, who notes that the vodka is distilled from non-GMO corn and a “touch” of organic agave nectar.
For legal purposes, BODY is labeled as “naturally flavored light vodka”, which matches the requirement of the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau (TTB) not for vodka but flavored vodka, which requires bottling at a minimum of 30% alcohol by volume (60 proof). Still, the idea seems to be to create something closer to a true vodka feel; BODY is soft, light, clean, slightly sweet and has a velvety mouthfeel, but definitely does not taste “flavored”. I might not use it in a martini, but it’s a good medium for mixed drinks, especially if you want to showcase other ingredients (like, say, your fruity mixer) or create something something stronger than a vodka-based canned drink but not as potent as a standard vodka and tonic.
While brands will have to get creative with labeling, we can probably expect more low-water spirits that are adjacent to recognizable alcohol categories. “We’re focusing on the vodka market, but I’m sure we’ll see more low-alcohol spirits in the years to come,” says Hendrix.
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