Whether you call it moonshine or white dog, unaged whiskey is a spirit category worth exploring. It’s nothing new: Americans have been making unaged 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.)
Fortunately, it also tastes pretty good. The silly tropes about backwoods stills and rotgut liquor have been replaced by well-made spirits from quality brands choosing to showcase the flavor of raw ingredients rather than oak.
“People are amazed that something that raw is a perfectly quaffable drink,” says Max Watman, author of the book “Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine.” “I think we’re going to see a white-dog boom.”
It’s easy to taste this clear spirit for yourself, as today there are a number of distilleries selling unaged whiskeys. These are five of Watman’s favorites, along with his tasting notes.
1. Buffalo Trace White Dog ($17 for 375 ml)
“Buffalo Trace’s White Dog 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.”
2. Death’s Door White Whisky ($42)
“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.”
3. Georgia Moon ($20)
“Distilled in Louisville, Kentucky, this novelty bottling of ‘moonshine’ comes in a mason jar. The joke clearly is the most important thing about the spirit. But to be called ‘corn whiskey,’ a spirit has to be produced from at least 80% of the grain, and those flavors come through in this beverage, especially on the nose.”
4. Koval Rye ($35)
“I find Koval Rye 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.”
5. Hudson New York Corn Whiskey ($65 for 375 ml)
“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.”