Whether you call it moonshine or white dog, un-aged whiskey is one of the hottest spirits categories right now. Not bad considering that Americans have been making the alcohol since before the founding of this country. But unlike many other colonial antiquities, the often illegally-produced, high-proof, clear alcohol has developed a cult status and unique folklore. (The Dukes of Hazzard was about moonshiners after all.) It also tastes pretty good. “People are amazed that something that raw is a perfectly quaffable drink,” says Max Watman, the author of the new book Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine. “I think we’re going to see a white dog boom.” Fortunately, there are a number of legal distilleries now selling this spirit. Here are a few of Watman’s favorites along with his tasting notes.
Buffalo Trace White Dog ($17 for 375 ml):
Buffalo Trace’s White Dog (pictured above) is made from its mash bill #1, which after barrel aging becomes Eagle Rare, George T. Stagg and, of course, Buffalo Trace Straight Bourbon. There’s a very nice amount of corn on the nose, a sweetness on the palate and it’s quite drinkable even at 125-proof. It is available now at the distillery and over the next few months will be sold in select liquor stores.
This whisky is bright, sweet and soft, which is everything you want in a wheat and barley spirit. There’s even a slight note of grapefruit in the finish. This is an incredibly versatile whisky and it is excellent for cocktails, especially in a sour and a Collins.
Distilled in Louisville, Kentucky, this novelty-bottling of “moonshine” comes in a mason jar. The joke is clearly the most important thing about the spirit. But to call something “corn whiskey” it has to be produced from at least 80 percent of the grain and those flavors come through in this beverage, especially on the nose.
House Spirits Apothecary ($20.45 for 375 ml):
House Spirits releases small batches of un-aged whiskies under the Apothecary name. They are fantastic and often very experimental distillates. At the Portland, Oregon, distillery you can now buy a 100 percent barley white dog bottled at 100-proof, which is floral and very clean on the palate.
I find Koval’s Rye Chicago remarkably subtle and spicy, far less rough than other rye-based white dogs. Koval also makes millet, oat, spelt and wheat un-aged whiskies in tiny 10-gallon batches from organic grains.
The oily and sweet Hudson New York Corn Whiskey suggests the basic elements of the grain. It’s also the foundation spirit for Tuthilltown’s Baby Bourbon and tasting them next to one another is an interesting lesson in which flavors are from the grain and which are from the oak.