Buffalo Trace White Dog (New Make Whiskey)
Chasing the New Make: Buffalo Trace White Dog
There has been a lot of interest lately in unaged whiskey, alternately referred to as moonshine, white dog, white whiskey and new make. To clarify the terminology, moonshine is the name used for illegally distilled liquor, but to capitalize on the rebellious and romantic associations that the term conjures, several new distilleries are calling their unaged (legal) whiskeys moonshine. (Most illegal moonshines are actually made from sugar according to Max Watman, author of the recently released moonshine chronicle, Chasing the White Dog).
White dog is the name used by distillers for unaged American whiskey, and new make is a term meaning the same thing but used by Scotch and Irish distillers.
Legally, most unaged spirits cannot be called whiskey. In Scotland, a spirit must be aged for three years to be called whisky, and it is unclear whether unaged spirits can even include the name of the distillery on their label, hence Glenglassaugh's release of its new make under the label, The Spirit Drink that Dare not Speak its Name. In American whiskey, only corn whiskey can be bottled straight off the still without being stored in wood. All other whiskeys must be stored, for some time, in wooden containers.
Why the sudden interest in this type of spirit? There are likely several reasons. First is the proliferation of new microdistilleries. New distilleries that want to make Bourbon or rye have to age it, which deprives them of any immediate return on their investment. As a result, to get some immediate cash flow, many new micros release unaged spirits such as corn whiskey or white whiskey. The result has been a corn whiskey boom. For years, there were only one or two distilleries that produced unaged, American corn whiskey. Now, in the midst of a microdistilling boom, there are more than a dozen.
Second, the growth of whiskey connoisseurship has produced an interest in new make among whiskey aficionados. Tasting your favorite Scotch or Bourbon fresh off the still is an educational exercise which can give you new insight into how the whiskey matures and the dramatic effect of oak. Maker's Mark, in its whiskey tastings and master classes, has long offered samples of its white dog along side other samples of various ages of whiskey to shed light on the aging process. The logical next step was for distilleries to start bottling the stuff. Along with the previously mentioned Glenglassaugh, several Scotch distilleries are releasing new make as is the Buffalo Trace Bourbon distillery
Third, the cocktail/bar chef/mixology renaissance has led to the (re)introduction of all sorts of old and obscure spirits and cocktails. The release of these new make spirits fits right into that movement as recently chronicled by Watman in the Huffington Post.
As I noted, Buffalo Trace is now marketing their new make, White Dog spirit. When first released, it was only available in Kentucky and at Binny's, but it seems to be slowly spreading (I have yet to see it on the shelf in LA); it goes for around $17 for a 375 ml bottle. The Buffalo Trace white dog is made from their Mash #1, a low rye Bourbon mash which is the same grain combination used in Buffalo Trace, Eagle Rare and the legendary George T. Stagg Bourbon. It comes off the still and into the bottle at 62.5% alcohol.
The nose on this stuff has lots of sugar cane with a bit of a raw alcohol note. It smells much more like a white rum than any sort of Bourbon. The first thing that hits me is the syrupy mouthfeel and a surprisingly sweet flavor. Only at the end of the palate and on into the finish is there anything resembling whiskey. On that finish, I can feel the Bourbon and even a hint of rye spice.
The presence of rye is what separates the Buffalo Trace white dog from corn whiskey, which must be a whopping 80% corn and generally, doesn't include rye. In addition, the Buffalo Trace White Dog is cask strength, while most corn whiskey on the market hovers around 40% alcohol. Compared to corn whiskeys I've had, I definitely prefer the Buffalo Trace. The rye gives it a more complex flavor and the higher strength accentuates the flavor. Regular strength corn whiskey tastes pretty watered down and one dimensional in comparison.
I have to say, I quite enjoy this stuff, though it's more interesting as an academic exercise. It's hard to picture grabbing it off the shelf for a relaxing drink, more of a, "hey, you gotta' taste this" experience for Bourbon fans.
We visited the distillery this summer and they were offering tastings of the white dog as well as BT and Eagle Rare. Most of the folks on the tour wouldn't even try it, but I loved it.
I would have loved to buy a bottle but it was so expensive. I don't see how they can justify charging almost twice as much for unaged spirit as they do for their flagship bourbon, considering the loss of angel's share as well as the delayed return in investment. I couldn't bring myself to buy it and instead got 1.75 bottles of BT and ERSB 10.
I have tasted a number of unaged whiskeys from several distilleries -- everything from corn heavy to rye heavy -- and it still doesn't do anything for me. Not interesting enough to sip and not interesting enough to mix with (sort of a malty vodka). I'm always willing to try more, but afterward, I return to the same conclusion.
Hey! What's wrong with malty vodka? :)
I got a 375mL bottle of some white dog put out by House Spirits. That was exactly my impression of it. Probably had something to do with the 100% barley mash. I actually quite like it, but 375 mL of that stuff is gonna last me awhile. Just can't see craving it too often.
re: cacio e pepe
I think there should be a 3.5/ 4 note. It ties to mixology, but as an evolution of drink, and its sort of the reason I came to white whiskey myself. A time ago, moonshine was created out of necessity. There was no time to age and it did not warrant the risk to hold onto it any longer when you could profit on it immediately. Now its no longer necessary, but is still left over as a category as some sort of drink in the modern world, and that leaves it to now evolve into something else, to find its niche.
There is already a long history of white spirits in the world with their own niches. There is a reason why people reach for vodka for one thing, and tequila for another, they have their places. Its only natural that some of us creative individuals sit around and think, well what else can we make? Or, what else can we recreate? There's still a little piece on the market for new inventions, but there are only so many ingredients in the world left, and only so many ways we can treat those ingredients. Spirits like eau de vie are already a thing, were just going to see more acceptance of new spirits, made with non classical ingredients in the future. So where does that leave moonshine?
If I think it deserves its own niche, it will be a narrow one. Because the people have spoken, and from the majority that I've read on it, its sort of an odd duck. It doesn't have the purity of mixing vodkas to replace it in certain drinks, and most of them far topple the flavor and strength of the strongest vodkas meant for unadulterated enjoyment (personally I've found them to be too rough and rich to enjoy in the same way). Its not as suave as an aged spirit. So what do we do with it? I think it has potential, but it needs a NEW identity. Because this is no longer moonshine, and it has to be better then moonshine if its going to succeed. We can already find a plethora of terrible gut rot on the shelf.
What direction would make me happy? Honestly, I'm not sure when I don't enjoy drinking most of it. But I can tell you what would make me enjoy it more. If it was treated like an upgraded vodka. The trouble is, vodka already exists, and most people who buy it aren't looking to savor it on its own. The European market is full of richer style vodkas, and I don't know what to think anymore of the American market. We're aggressively crafting new and bold things, but the majority of those things seem to be just that, just simply new and very bold, and not everyone seems ready to find grace, in the sense of like good scotch finally maturing into something worthwhile. Bottom line. I'd buy and enjoy white whiskey more if they worked on making it like what amazing vodka could be. Don't filter the hell out of it and don't give me gimmicky advertising about what bloody glacier your gnomes chiseled statues of your distillers from before melting into my glass... but work on making it approachable, like a great boxer could be smooth on the dance floor but still be rough as hell when he hits you, instead of what it is more akin to right now, the Hulk smashing my mouth. We already have great white spirits made of agave, grapes, and grains... can you show us that you can make a better one out of grain?
One thing you have to look at is that legal, quality, craft distilling in the US is in it's infancy. It only started again 50-25 or so years ago, with the greatest advances in the last decade. While in Europe there are hundreds and hundreds of years of history, more than a thousand if you consider all. In South America at least a few hundreds years, if not more.
Prohibition killed craft distilling in the US. I don't just mean 1920-1933, but right from the start in the mid-1800's when Temperance grew, and came into power. Maine and Georgia were dry in the 1850's, with Maine staying that way until 1933.
Then add in the Great Depression, WWII, and you have multi-generations who lost the skills and knowledge of quality, small batch, distilling.
Think about it, the majority of the 500 or so craft distilleries in the US are less than 3-5 years old. Less than 25% are more than ten years old. Only 5% are more than 15 years old.
Until 6-7 years ago distilling was a deep, dark, secret with knowledge being handed on by word of mouth, illegally, by hobbyists. You had to take Graduate level courses to learn, and the jobs were extremely limited. The first real lectures and seminars available for the general public interested in starting a craft distillery only started around 2009-20010. Those of us in the industry were amazed to see and be part of this.
Like wine making, distilling is only partially about the creation. There is the farming aspect. The decision of starting product to use. Fermentation. Distillation. Filtration. Barreling and Bottling. Aging. Sales. Consumer Education. Media. Consumer Feedback. etc.
So, if you look at gestation, birthing, infancy, growth, change... there are many years to go in the multiple learning, growth, and maturity curves. It is actually amazing ho far the fledgling industry has come in the past 50 years. Let alone the past five.
This isn't only about the small, craft distilleries. The major players are experimenting, both to make money, and to improve their craft. Two not always mutually related things.
Just to add to the perspective, it's worth remembering that the winemaking in the United States is -- maybe -- in its "teen years," as opposed to the craft distilling, which I agree is in its infancy.
Winemaking dates back to colonial times as well, and Thomas Jefferson is well-known not only as someone who imported fine wines from Bordeaux and Madeira, but who also made his own wine at Monticello. (Just as George Washington was himself a distiller.)
Fast-forward to Prohibition, and -- yes -- commercial winemaking ceased as did commercial distilling . . . sort of. It was always legal to make wine during Prohibition, but illegal to sell it. Some wineries continued to operate by making sacramental wine for use in religious services, and it was always legal to produce wine at home for personal consumption. And while there *was* "medicinal brandy" and the like produced during Prohibition, it was always illegal to be a "home distiller" despite the long history of making moonshine in certain parts of this country.
When Prohibition ended, winemaking started right back up again. (Indeed, Louis M. Martini Winery was founding in 1922 as the L.M. Martini Grape Products Co., changing its name in 1933 with the end of Prohibition.) But it's only with distillates like vodka and gin that the distiller him- or herself can get (relative) immediate feedback as to the character and quality of a finished product. Brown goods *need* aging, and that takes time, and that means feedback is delayed, as are any adjustments one makes.
In the 1970s, there was an explosion in the number of wineries in California and elsewhere as a number of home winemakers "turned pro" and started wineries. In the 1990s, changes in the law meant that people could share bonded facilities, and didn't even need a physical winery in "wine country" but lots of commercial wineries sprung up in urban warehouses, were 1- or 2-person operations making small lots of 200 cases and often less!
Changes in the laws in the 1970s meant that brewpubs could come into existence, and craft brewing began in earnest in the 1980s.
Distillation remained illegal at home, and obtaining all the right licenses and bonded facilities to start up a new commercial distillery remained extremely difficult. I can only think of Jorg Rupf of St. George (first in the city of Emeryville, then later relocated to the former Naval Air Station Alameda) and Hubert Robin of Germain-Robin (outside Ukiah in Mendocino County) which both started in 1982, and Jepson started in 1985 -- as did Clear Creek up in Oregon. Jorg focused on what his family had produced for generations: eaux-de-vie. Hubert's family had made Cognac for generations, and focused on making alambic brandy here in California. So did Jepson, but it was never as successful and changed hands a few times, eventually all but disappearing completely (occasionally some older stocks show up at Trader Joe's). Germain-Robin never lost its focus, though it added an apple brandy to its line. St. George nearly disappeared (how many Americans drink beaux-de-vie?), but then expanded to create, among other things, Hangar One Vodka (which, as a brand, was subsequently sold off and now is no longer made by St. George).
But, as JMF rightly points out, home craft distillation was illegal and only discussed in private, and even then in hushed tones. It was only in the 21st century that craft distilling saw the light of day, and the industry is still "teething," if you will . . .
In case you missed it, the Times did an article on this yesterday:
I've contemplated mail-ordering the Buffalo Trace just to try it. That said, they've just put the regular bottling on the shelves in ATL (finally). So, maybe I could convince someone to get a bottle in from the distributor.
I've been doing "White Manhattans" with the Buffalo Trace. The House Spirits White Dog is AWESOME. Good enough to drink neat. The recipe I've been using is:
1.5 oz. White dog
0.5 oz. Dolin Blanc (a sweet white vermouth)
A dash of orange bitters
(A dash of Scrappy's Cardamom bitters because I had to start using them in SOMETHING)
If you are a martini fan then it should be up your alley.
earlier this week I was on the judging panel for the artisanal whiksey competition a few days ago at the annual artisanal distillers conference. there were around 8 in the unaged category from small distilleries. Universally the white whiskeys were getting higher scores than even the best aged whiskeys because of their clean and fresh tastes of corn, rye, wheat, or barley. It's a category that is growing rapidly.
I was with a group of 12 friends on the bourbon trail. We all tried the White Dog and we all intensely disliked it. Too much corn flavor and aroma. I think it's definitely a 'love it or hate it' spirit.