White Dog, New-Make and Moonshine are among the names given to spirits made with various grains and not aged in oak. While not known for their elegance or sippability, such products can make flavorful replacements for vodka in cocktails, or shine in their own right in mixed drinks. What I like about white dog is that the experience of tasting whisky without the wood gives the whisky drinker a much better sense of the profound effect that oak aging has on the spirit. A surprising range of flavors and aromas – from vanilla and chocolate to fruits, flowers, sugars, baked goods and nuts all come from the barrel, rarely from the still. By tasting whisky without the wood, one is better able to mentally separate the flavors in aged whiskies.
I recently tried two products that gave me a good sense for where bourbon comes from. A Buffalo Trace White Dog at 57% ABV from a wheated mash (probably very similar to the mash that goes into Pappy Van Winkle) showed raw fresh corn kernels on the nose, freshly-mown grass, and… asparagus (I’m glad that disappears in the barrel!). It was mildly apple-like on the palate, with still more of those green vegetable notes. It finished with potato peelings and butane. While not exactly something that I want to relax with on a quiet evening, it was nevertheless interesting to see how the corn translates (directly), while the wheat and barley come across more as flavors I associate with vodka. The youth of the drink certainly shows through with raw green notes and weird ‘rotting’ fusel alcohol compounds that would mellow out with time and oak.
Onyx Moonshine, a new product from a small company in Manchester, Connecticut, had somewhat the opposite effect. Instead of heavy-handed corn, grass, and butane, Onyx smells and tastes chiefly of… nothing. When stretching, one can detect very slight florals in the nose, and some mint and aniseed on the palate. The finish is a bit vodka-like, but with a minor sweetness. The marketing material (for once!) is dead-on: this stuff disappears in cocktails like no vodka I’ve ever had. A little water makes it somewhat sweeter, and almost makes it worth drinking straight at room temperature. I much prefer it in cocktails, and I bet a properly-made Onyx Moonshine Martini would be fascinating. Oh, and it’s $27.