“It’s interesting, but what do you do with it?” my wife asked. She was referring to a white whiskey, also known as “moonshine” (quotation marks obligatory), white dog, and unaged whiskey. It’s a good question on multiple levels: How should we drink unaged whiskey? If not neat, how do you mix it? Should we drink it, or should we dismiss it as a fad, or as a craft distiller’s scheme to stay in business while the rest of his whiskey ages in barrels?
Jason Wilson summed it up quite well in his Washington Post column a week ago:
If you’re keeping track, it appears that moonshine is the new absinthe: a formerly illicit spirit that’s now the darling of the cocktail cognoscenti. Of course, it’s unclear how many people are buying white whiskeys, and even more unclear how they’re being consumed.
White whiskey is, among other things, a novelty, so lots of whiskey lovers will buy a bottle at least once.
A post on the blog Drink Spirits took it a step further: “While white dog might look good on paper, it simply doesn’t deliver as a category,” they write. Here’s a snippet:
At Whiskeyfest we spoke with Kevin Smith from Maker’s Mark who earlier this year strongly considered jumping on the white dog wagon with their own offering. Ultimately they decided not to and Smith explained, ‘Why would anyone want to drink white dog Maker’s when you can drink the real full expression of Maker’s Mark?’ The white dog / light whiskey trend is ultimately a crutch for American micro-distillers who really should be spending the time and money on producing fully aged whiskey. It’s difficult and expensive to sit and wait for your whiskey to age in barrels but the end result is far superior to the alternative.”
Exactly. And while I can’t blame some of the young entrepreneurial distillers for selling un-aged whiskey to generate the cash flow to justify aging whiskey, I can hardly justify spending twice as much for white whiskey as I would for some damn fine run-of-the-mill Jim Beam.
That said, some of these white whiskeys are excellent. Death’s Door, out of Wisconsin, makes a white whiskey so smooth and flavorful that one wonders what magic would come of aging it. I remember trying an experimental white whiskey made by Breuckelen Gin distiller Brad Estabrooke at their tasting room, and thinking it was quite good. But I’ve also tried some—most, in fact–that I thought were lousy, in addition to being overpriced.
Ultimately, I think white whiskey will be like clear Pepsi: a trend that will pass. With clear Pepsi, the fad for all things colorless was novel for a short time, but it couldn’t hold up because the clear craze passed and the taste didn’t change. With white whiskey, the trend came about by necessity when changes in liquor laws allowed for a new breed of micro-distillers to start businesses. Once these guys get off the ground, I’m guessing they’ll move on to oakier things.
In the meantime, here’s a recipe for a cocktail called a Silver Queen Daisy that uses unaged whiskey from Jason Wilson, Adapted from something created by cocktail consultant Tad Carducci. I haven’t tried it yet, but I plan on making one tonight with the only white whiskey in my liquor cabinet: Kings County Distillery Moonshine. I’ll post the results—good or bad—later. That is, if I can find the corn kernels.
1 tablespoon fresh white corn kernels, just off the cob, plus 1-inch strip of fresh corn kernels just off the cob, for garnish
2oz white corn whiskey
.5 to .75oz St-Germain or Dimmi liqueur (use more if whiskey is high proof)
1oz lemon juice
1 or 2 dashes orange bitters
Muddle a tablespoon of corn kernels in a cocktail shaker, add whiskey, liqueur, lemon juice and bitters. Shake well over ice. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and garnish with the section of fresh corn.
A final thought: maybe the best use for white whiskey is to age it yourself at home in a small barrel. If I can find a good one for a reasonable price, I might do just that.