White Whiskey

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White whiskey seems to be a growing trend in craft-bars. Quite simply, white whiskey is moonshine: unaged whiskey taken straight from the still to the bottle. It’s very hard to find at bars and liquor stores in Omaha. From what I know the Side Door is the only place that has any, and it came in just two days ago.

It’s interesting and controversial stuff. Some brilliant marketer figured out a way to sell whiskey without all that troublesome barrel-aging and still sell it at premium prices. (Most) consumers aren’t idiots and realize this, of course. So some distilleries are marketing it as the sample whiskey that the distillers test before it goes into the casks, kind of like a peek into the distillery process. The white whiskey that Side Door has is the Heaven Hill Try Box New Make Rye. It’s a sample of what will eventually become Heaven Hill’s Rittenhouse Rye whiskey.

And the taste is interesting too. To get a handle on it, I sampled it straight then had it in a White Manhattan. It’s powerful stuff (125 proof). The first whiff nearly blew out my sinuses. It’s also very flavorful. I could really taste what distillers mean by “corn mash”. That being said, it wasn’t exactly unpleasant, just unlike anything I’ve ever had. It’s not a casual, refreshing spirit, by any means, but neither was it too stiff and opinionated to enjoy.

The White Manhattan helped calm the whiskey down a lot. The Side Door bartender made it with sweet vermouth and orange bitters, to complement and contain the pulpy taste of the whiskey. It’s not suddenly my favorite drink (still the Aviation), but in an intellectual sense, I loved it.

It is pretty fascinating to taste whiskey at a point in the production process normally never seen or tasted. And historically, this stuff is essentially what Americans have been cooking up in barns for centuries. So much of the American spirit is embodied by the clandestine backyard home-distiller. This Time article talks about that much better than I can.

Overall, white whiskey is definitely worth a try. I know for a fact that it’s at Side Door, which is probably your best bet. It’s available online of course, I just don’t know if this experience is worth forking over $30 + shipping.

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3 thoughts on “White Whiskey

  1. It’s a funny sort of paradox going on with White Dog right now… Definitely becoming a new trend in select places, but who knows how long it might last.
    If I was a whiskey craftsman who spent generations perfecting barrel aging, I’d be pretty insulted to hear that consumers are clamoring for the most immature product, and willing to pay a premium for it. At the same time, it must be a boon to be able to sell the stuff which is considerably less labor-intensive than mature whiskey.
    They’ll probably enjoy the trend while it lasts. You can probably sort out the quality White Dogs by seeing who prices their unaged whiskey higher than their aged spirits. The stuff we’ve got is unfortunately pricey, whereas Buffalo Trace White Dog is appropriately cheaper than Buffalo Trace Bourbon.

    It’s also curious that the craft, pre-prohibition style bars are so interested in the stuff, seeing as moonshine would be very much a product of the prohibition era. But I can understand the fascination with it: aside from simply mixing “White ____” versions of classics like the Manhattan, it also opens up tons of possibilities for blending base spirits. Instead of making a Rum/Cognac Old Fashioned we can now mix malt whiskey with gin or other clear spirits.

    Just an aside: the vermouth we used in the Manhattan is what’s called a Blanc Vermouth. Basically a not-so-dry, clear vermouth. If we used sweet vermouth, it would not be a very white Manhattan. =)

    • Yeah, I really see the white dog thing as just a trend. It’s certainly educational to get a glance at the distilling process, but I think once everyone has had a glass or two of the unaged whiskey, they will go back go the good old fashioned aged whiskey. Really, there’s a reason that they age them in the first place.

  2. Oh, and for cheaper options, this site has the best selection and probably the lowest prices:
    http://www.hitimewine.net

    Search for Buffalo Trace White Dog, Death’s Door White Whiskey, House Spirits White Whiskey, etc.

    I’ve got a bottle of Death’s Door on the way. If you wanted to try a different one, it’d be fun to compare them.

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