Five years ago, “white dog” was insider slang rarely heard far from the still. But things have definitely changed. Unaged whiskies are prevalent enough today to warrant their own shelf at the liquor store.
One reason for this growth is that it’s a good product for a distillery start-up, since it doesn’t have to sit in a barrel and can be sold immediately. I see a less cynical side to it as well. New, unaged whiskey is at its most elemental: None of the wood, oxidation or wonderful mellowing, only the raw expression of agriculture, fermentation and distillation. This is a whiskey without a suit on—naked.
1512 Barbershop Rye ($32):
What could be better than rye whiskey made by a third-generation San Francisco barber whose grandfather was a bootlegger? 1512 is straight-up, Brylcreem-and-fedora OG, and the liquor is as good as its backstory: It’s brassy, spicy and citrusy, with a touch of sharp vanilla balancing it out.
This certified organic and kosher bottling is out of Loudon County, Va., where the locals know something about white spirits. Left to mature in a barrel, this alcohol becomes the brand’s Roundstone Rye, but without the oak, we get a vibrant flavor, fresh on the palate. There’s some juicy banana on the finish and a nice velvety mouthfeel.
High West Silver is classified as a “light whiskey,” which means that it was distilled at a very high proof. Not surprisingly, the juice is very focused and clean. The oats do shine through, however, and are plump on the finish. If you concentrate, you can fool yourself into thinking there’s a little butter in your glass.
These folks put the micro in micro-distilling. Made in Brooklyn in a 325-square-foot studio and distilled in 1.5-gallon batches, this is the fattest, sweetest corn liquor out there. It tastes like real “mountain dew.”
A pure malted-barley whiskey from, of all places, Santa Fe, N.M. (the town’s first licensed distillery), it’s sweet and alive on the tongue. A very soft dram with grain flavors reminiscent of malted milk.
When I was a kid, across the border and over a hill from the West Virginia town where Smooth Ambler is produced, my parents would go to the Southern States farm co-op to buy supplies. The store had these bins of seed corn, and I’d always pick up a handful and smell it. A pour of this alcohol puts me right back there. It’s hot and dry (fully revealing itself as 100-proof) with a dusty-corn edge that I can’t get enough of.
Trybox Series New Make and Rye New Make ($25 each):
Heaven Hill has recently introduced the first two spirits from its new Trybox Series. (It’s named after the glass-and-copper contraption from which you can pull a sample to see how the still is running.) The New Make is the company’s unaged bourbon and the Rye New Make is its unaged rye whiskey. Both are wonderful, dialed-in products.
Max Watman is the author of Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw’s Adventures in Moonshine.