Friday, June 24, 2011

Edgefield White Dog Whiskey Review:

What's the Deal with White Dog?

"Well, between Scotch and nothin', I suppose I'd take Scotch. It's the nearest thing to good moonshine I can find." -William Faulkner

One of the trendiest spirits on the market right now is unaged whiskey, that is moonshine (or white lightning, white dog, mountain dew, etc). It seems that almost every micro-distillery, and large corporate distillery following in their footsteps, are jumping on the moonshine wagon. Now to clarify, moonshine is technically the name given to illegally produced liquor which, as I have been reading from Max Watman’s book lately, is generally distilled from sugar (more on that another time). But benefiting on the nostalgic aestheticism of a backwoods hooch producers many distilleries are naming their unaged whiskey moonshine, currently the label dominating the US market is being White Dog.

So what is unaged whiskey? Basically it’s the crystal-clear newborn distillate which after coming right of the still, rather than being but into a barrel for aging, is packaged and shipped as is – lacking color and all of the flavor gained from the barrel, the distillate keeps the “base of the spirit” which provides the participant with the distinct flavor of the mash. Where one hears of Vodka being distilled one hundred times so as to have purest and most tasteless spirit possible, the distillers of unaged whiskey are attempting to maintain the distinct flavor and aroma of the spirit, unassociated from the caramel, cinnamon, vanilla flavors, etc., typically found in aged spirits.

Some believe the recent popularity of unaged whiskey will not became a dominant category, but I on the other hand feel that to say it won’t is to overlook the reason its popularity has grown in the first place. There are various reason the trend of new-make (Scottish term) has risen over the last few years but the greatest factor for increase follows hand-in-hand with the Micro-distilling boom which is occurring in the US and abroad. Mainly as an outgrowth of economic pressures white dog has become the first choice spirit to produce for any start-up micro-distillery. Setting up a distillery is a large investment coupled with the long term investment of having to wait for whiskey to develop into maturity. Producing an unaged spirit allows a distiller to have immediate cash flow. If the distillery boom keeps up pace, we are simply going to see more white dog on the market and more competition and experimentation along with it. And Moonshine has always had a large market, as was shown in Max Watman’s book, but the difference today is there is a legal market for it – one which desires to produce quality products to a thirsty population of old and new whiskey drinkers who are wanting something new, as well as wanting a way to connect with the past legacy of American moonshiners.
On reading a New York Times article on moonshine, there was an interview of an unnamed moonshine hobbyist of 30 years. He states that he has been “telling people for years that they have to taste [unaged whiskey], so that when they taste [aged] whiskey, they can find their way around the inside of their mouth.” Unaged whiskey can provide something the general public has had little access to: a whiskey that can be a teacher and a transition spirit into other aged whiskeys. One which can actually allow them to taste and follow the change which is made through the barrel. This first tasting I am providing is one such example. With the Edgefield distillers presenting this fairly new White Dog Whiskey to the public, one can taste a unique whiskey in its own right while also having a great comparison for their Hogshead Whiskey, since the White Dog is simply the unaged version of it.

Edgefield White Dog Review:

Price: $17.50 for a 375ml bottle. Sold exclusively at McMenamins locations.

Packaging/Label: Straight of the shelf, there is no box or excess packaging. The label is simple, yet holding the McMenamins artistic flair as always. On a small note the material of label feels a bit cheap to the touch, but overall not a big issue. There is a plastic wrap on the top cap which seems unnecessary since they have a sticker/seal strip over the bartop cork. Synthetic cork (the more I read on these the less I am convinced they are a better alternative to corks in terms of their environmental impact) however I don’t feel they take away from the aesthetic appeal.

Alcohol Content: 46% alcohol by volume, 92 proof

Color: Clear and oily.

Nose: Upon the first nosing I was very surprised by how strongly the barley stood out while the alcohol note was subtle to the point that I could breathe deeply without being hit in the face. A sourdough flavor rises quickly but settles down into something more yeasty. Hints of banana and citrus. Green gauges, unripe apple, bitter grapes, and bitter rice wine and some floral notes. Dark chocolate - very dark. I was still quite baffled by the nose until jackfruit came to mind. Most likely, if you have never been to India or some other southeast Asian country, you have never tasted jackfruit. It's similar to a tart banana  and smells... well, it’s very unique. Think Juicy Fruit.

Taste: What a transition from the nose to the first taste – it is only upon tasting it does the real whiskey overtones come out. Unripened, fresh Brazilian nut and possibly a hint of pistachio. I think of fresh green bark or the inside of a fresh twig when split in half. Cereal grains. Raisin Brand, yet unripe raisins. Mild hints of banana and citrus nuances which were found in the nose. The texture comes off oily yet ends grainy and dry. The light burn settles on the tongue and not in the back of the throat which warms ever so slightly as you swallow.

Conclusion: Honestly, I am still quite undecided about it. I defiantly enjoyed the tasting compared to the nose, which confuses me more than anything. I don’t think I would designate this a place on my “relaxing time” shelf. I still feel that I need to give it another go. I haven’t yet tried adding water, nor have I let it sit very long to open up which could be a significant factor in allowing some of the harshness to die down. I am very interested in trying this in a cocktail since it has such a great texture and because there are so many great unaged spirit cocktail recipes floating around these days. Another update will be needed.

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