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White Dog a Go-Go

July 30, 2010

Last week I went to a hunting cabin in the woods, with two bottles of booze and no guns.  You can read all about my trip preparations here, but after a thorough evaluation I decided that unaged whiskey, sometimes referred to as white dog and historically known as moonshine, would be most appropriate.

Suffice it to say I will not be asked to bring the drinks for the next camping trip.

Not that the two bottles I brought were bad.  Most decidedly they are not.  In fact, they are both very good.  It is just that drinking straight 90 and 125 proof liquor isn’t most people’s idea of a tasty treat.  These spirits should really be saved for whiskey aficionados who will delight in seeing what the brown stuff tastes like before it goes in wood.

But even those knowledgeable in spirits, like regular commenter Collin, had this to say:
Gah… whitedog… the new spirit of the day. I don’t know what I think… a lot of white dogs are –not– good. There are some exceptions (Finger Lakes being one) but still, its an unaged whiskey. Generally there is a reason whiskey is aged.

There is a reason that rum is aged.  There is a reason that tequila is aged.  Wood and time do magnificent, magical things to raw spirits.  Without a doubt there are a lot of bad white rums and there are a lot of bad white tequilas on the market too.  It is very difficult to hide shoddy craftsmanship when the taste of a spirit isn’t interlaced with the taste of the barrel.

The good ones are worth seeking out, though.

I don’t really do tasting notes.  They are incredibly difficult to pull off, they often sound made up, and I want you to trust the things that I write.  So instead, I’ll offer you my considered impressions of the two bottles my camping compatriots could have done without.

Earl McKenzie of Finger Lakes Distilling gave me a bottle of his rye at the New York Craft Distiller’s seminar, and I was smitten with its haunting notes of grain and hay.  Ever since that day, I had been hankering to get my hands on a bottle of his Glen Thunder corn whiskey.   In the world of craft distilling, it’s a bargain at $20 a 750ml bottle.

Surprisingly, I picked up some flavors in Glen Thunder that were similar to those in the rye.  I say surprisingly because the grains in the two whiskeys are completely different.  Perhaps both bottles use the same yeast?

Someone in the beverage industry told me once that yeast plays a critical if unsexy role in the flavor of alcoholic beverages.  They said that if you used wine yeast in beer it would taste like wine and vice versa.  I have no idea if this is true, but I do know that distillers use different yeasts to imbue their spirits with specific characteristics.  This is one of those areas where I know just enough to be dangerous.

I have heard people refer to white dog as grainy vodka and I think that is a terrible metaphor.  The Glen Thunder has tremendous body and presence, and I would compare it more with tequila.  But instead of tequila’s tart vegetal characteristics, Glen Thunder gives an impression of a grain locker.  On the finish, if I concentrate hard enough, I can truly detect a faint taste of corn.  It’s there, but it is not what I would call front and center.

Buffalo Trace is among the finest bourbon distilleries on the planet, and their white dog used to be available only at the distillery itself.  I don’t know if their distribution is growing or if the buyers at Exit 9 in Halfmoon are just that super-awesome.  Either way, I couldn’t resist picking up a 375ml bottle of the stuff for $15.

This bottle is a mash of corn, rye and barley that weighs in at 125 proof.  Honestly, it’s a bit daunting.  Taking a deep whiff of the stuff is a sinus-clearing experience.  All the same, I enjoyed the time I spent sniffing my glass (or two) of the Buffalo Trace in the cabin.  After a while, I was able to smell the barley.

The spirit is literally mouth-watering.  It’s the strangest experience, and perhaps it has something to do with the high proof, but after just a small sip my mouth starts to fill with saliva.  My guess is that my body is trying to protect my mouth from the very powerful and delicious poison that I just put in it.

There is a greater impression of sweetness in this spirit, although it finishes completely dry and maybe just a bit floral.  If you will permit me to get a little loose with my descriptions, I would say that Buffalo Trace has more of a roasted corn component while Finger Lakes Distilling presents corn as more of a dried grain.

Both spirits are a ton of fun, especially for a whiskey geek, and I’m going to enjoy the heck out of them.  But next time I go camping, I’ll probably bring something different.  Then again, maybe I won’t.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Mr. Sunshine permalink
    July 30, 2010 9:04 am

    Don’t know what you were thinking; there’s a reason that dreck is cheap!

  2. July 30, 2010 11:33 am

    From the title I thought you were going to talk about white hots! I am disappoint.

  3. July 31, 2010 4:13 pm

    The ironic part is, in the “industry” people have been trying to guess what the next big fad was going to be. Vodka has had its hay-day now, people are starting to drink different things. A lot of people thought tequila was the next up and coming spirits. They were apparently wrong. It seems that white dog is the next big thing.

    That is why I am a little wary of white dog, not because it’s bad (though as I said it often is) — but because I don’t know how much of its resurgence is because it’s good/desirable, and how much is because of recent hype/marketing.

    By the way, little fact — white dog is aged. It has to be to have “whiskey” on the label. Generally they are aged for a day. (At least this is my understanding).

  4. July 31, 2010 4:26 pm

    In Costa Rica, the national distillery creates its versions of scotch, rum, vodka and gin by tinkering with the same guaro (firewater) base. It’s truly incredible stuff if you like raw taste and an instant hangover. Maybe you should try that on your next camping trip.

  5. Ellen Whitby permalink
    July 31, 2010 11:14 pm

    I wonder if tasting the two over ice would make a difference to someone who didn’t have as sophisticated a palate as you. If it did, you might be able to redeem yourself for the next excursion.

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