What is White Dog?

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.

Some other available white dogs are Heaven Hill’s Trybox Series, High West Silver, Woodinville Headlong White Dog, and more.

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6 Comments

6 Responses to What is White Dog?

  1. JoshuaLuke says:

    About a year ago, I purchased a bottle of the Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1, a bourbon mashbill of corn, rye and barley. Like you, I thought it would be interesting to see what bourbon tastes like before the wood. To be blunt, I hated it. All I could get in the nose was CORN, and the palate was a mixture of what I imagine HFCS combined with nail polish remover would taste like. I actually had to fight my gag reflex just to keep it down. Last week, while rearranging my liquor cabinet, I decided that maybe I should give it another chance. I opened the bottle, sniffed at the top, and almost dry-heaved. CORN! Never again. I dumped it down the drain, and since every cloud has a silver lining, now I have a nice 375mL bottle to be used for keeping oxidation at bay.

    That brings up another point, however, which is the ludicrous pricing on these white dogs/new makes. $18 for a 375mL bottle? Really, Buffalo Trace? I can get a delicious single-barrel bottle of Eagle Rare for $23 at a local retailer, and you want to charge me $18 for half the amount straight off the still? I call BS. Unlike young distilleries like Kilchoman, for example, who have valid reasons for charging higher amounts for younger whiskies, Buffalo Trace has absolutely no excuse for charging so much for their unaged distillate, aside from pure greed. Not to mention that Kilchoman actually tastes good!

    Anyways, sorry if I hijacked your post, Sir n00b, but I’ve been needing to get this off my chest.

    • @JoshuaLuke Hah! Good story Joshua. I agree – White Dog by itself is very similar to drinking warm vodka straight – certainly a learning experience, but not exactly lip-smacking. It does indeed have a heavy corn aroma, which is luckily masked by the oak in most (not all!) bourbons with a little age on them.

      I would think that the Buffalo Trace pricing is related to the target market for these drinks: interested whisky drinkers who won’t be buying another one. At least they are 375ml – I would never have considered paying the full $36 for a 750 of the stuff. In general, though, I agree: white dogs and new makes are often priced as curiosities, not serious retail products.

      • JoshuaLuke says:

        Do you also find it somewhat amazing that our forebears actually managed to drink it? Clearly, they weren’t savoring a dram of their un-aged ‘shine.

    • Jordan says:

      I have a bottle of House Spirits’ white dog, which is a 100% malted barley spirit. I actually like it for making cocktails, but it reminds me much more of tequila than whiskey, as there are a lot of vegetal flavors.

      I don’t think it works well when someone like BT is trying to sell you stuff straight off of their stills. Their distillations are designed to make product that’s good after 4-20 years in barrels, and the way you make cuts is going to be different compared to if you want it to be interesting right away. So while I can see some of them as curiosities, it would be nice if they didn’t make you buy such a large bottle just to get a try. Sounds like most people don’t find it to be a pleasant experience.

  2. martini says:

    Very cool that you can buy new-make spirits, although if you ask me the price seems disproportionate to the final product. However, I think this is something I NEED to try to help me understand and taste whisky better.

  3. Justin says:

    I bought the Hudson’s line up not to long ago. Granted this isn’t “white dog” but I enjoyed the jouney from 100% NY corn white whiskEy to the Baby Bourbon. I did try the rest of their (over priced!) whiskEy’s. Sadly the other day whilst at Total Wine I noticed that the white 375ml bottle was $65!!! The Baby Bourbon selling for $55. Guess this goes very well with Josh’s comment. Now on a different note. I enjoy the sweet corn smells mixed with wet concrete(??). I’ve tried many white whiskEy’s and some I like to mix and others are good sipping. It’s a tough job sampling whiskEy trying to find what you like but I enjoy my hobby.

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