Tuesday, May 4, 2010

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.


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.

Coming up soon (as in, when I get around to it) we will try some White Dog cocktails.


Oishii Eats said...

Looking forward to hearing about the white dog cocktails. Have you seen any shops in LA selling Buffalo Trace White Dog?

sku said...

Oishii, I haven't seen it yet in LA, but it seems to be spreading quickly, so watch you shelves. As soon as I see it locally, I'll post it.

Dr. Whisky said...

Great post, Sku. This is interesting, mainly cuz it would be illegal in Scotland for an existing distillery, as opposed to a new one, to sell new make under it's well-known brand name. Buffalo Trace has brand value and consumer recognition as bourbon, which is a spirit with strict definitions, but uses the distillery name for the white dog. Glenfiddich, for example, could never get away with this. At a tasting, sure, but not as a commercial release.
Do you think they should be able to do this in Scotland? Do you think this trend is good for American whisky?

sku said...

So established Scotch distilleries cannot use their name on new make but new ones can? I was wondering why Glenglassaugh couldn't but Kilchoman could and perusing the SWA rules didn't offer much guidance, so thanks for that.

I do think new make is a good trend in American whiskey in terms of the established distilleries. It's really done to give people like us a greater appreciation for their Bourbons. I'm not so sure the proliferation of unaged micro white whiskeys is great for the industry, as the main motive there is simply to get some cash flow and I worry about whether they are sacrificing quality in order to do that, but I will need to taste more before rendering any kind of judgment.

Kevin said...

I just got back from Kentucky and picked up a couple bottles of the BT White Dog - my Whiskey tasting group is going to go through the Mash Bill #1 bourbons, and this is going to be a great starting point. Definitely a fantastic way to see the way the spirit changes from still to barrel.

Sam Komlenic said...

I just received a sample of Finger Lakes Distilling's Glen Thunder corn whiskey, which is made with all malted corn. A very different and quite intense experience...another on the "Hey, you gotta taste this!" list.

Also got my Highland Park newsletter this a.m., and it just happens to be about the release of their new make.

More here: http://highlandpark.createsend1.com/T/ViewEmail/r/AD0C261926EF1836/99A7C0166CB0ACF89A8E73400EDACAB4

Dr. Whisky said...

Jeebus, no. Highland Park is doing this now? ugh. And it is more expensive than their 12 year old! While I 100% appreciate the appeal of trying my favourite whisky's new make spirit, I urge lovers of whisky not to support this commercial exploitation.

sam k said...

Yeah, Doc, the cost factor is pure bullshit. I agree with your proposed blockade.

Steve in California said...

I found your blog while nosing around for Popcorn Sutton of Maggie Valley, NC. You would probably highly enjoy researching this man's work. Quite a moonshiner, and ended up giving up his life to do he had to do.

You would probably enjoy the "Last Run of Likker I'll Ever Make" videos on YouTube posted by Wildlife Serial Killer. That video, which I first saw on PBS, is what got me so interested in corn likker.

As a kid I had relatives involved in the fine art of illegal microbrewing in backwater Georgia area. That video brought back a lot of fond memories.

The BevMo (Beverages and More) outlet in Orange, Calif. had Buffalo Trace Distillery's "White Dog" on the shelf. Like you indicated, right at $18 for a 375 ml. bottle.

I got one, along with a jar of "Georgia Moon". (The packaging was irresistible...a mason jar!)

Personally, being a novice, I liked the Georgia Moon - mostly because I liked the corn flavor - seemed to go great in fruit punch. That White Dog is strong stuff and it was quite an educational experience for me. It will take me a long time to go through the bottle. I will save it to share with friends.