For the whiskey drinkers

First of all, if you are not a reader of Chuck Cowdery’s blog, I strongly recommend that you become one.  His blogging output is consistent and his material is very informative.  His site has helped me in a number of ways including introducing me to a number of whiskeys that I may not have thought to try otherwise (Jim Beam Double Black being the most recent).

He recently published a post titled “How Long Does It Take to Make Good Bourbon?”  Apparently, it’s a pretty controversial topic given the number of micro-distillers that produce either white dog whiskeys or aged whiskeys that spend very little time in the barrel (in some cases, as little as three months or less).

Recently, when I acquired a bottle of Jim Beam Double Black, I bought a small bottle of Jim Beam’s flagship bourbon.  The Black is aged for eight years while the traditional white-label bourbon is aged for four years.  Doing this kind of comparison, especially as a relatively novice drinker, was an eye-opening experience for me.  While I have no beef at all with Jim Beam’s flagship bourbon and would gladly drink it neat or in a cocktail, I found Jim Beam Double Black to be light years better because I really enjoy the flavor that oak contributes to a whiskey.  The additional four years gives the Double Black a whole new character.  The oak becomes a dominant character trait with the corn sweetness pulling back a bit (it’s still there though).  It’s probably no surprise that I enjoy bourbons like Jim Beam Double Black (8 years), Eagle Rare Single Barrel (10 years), Evan Williams Single Barrel (10 years) and Elijah Craig (12 years).  

This is not to say that I don’t like whiskey that aged less than 8 years.  There plenty of great selections that are aged between four and eight years (Maker’s Mark, Old Grand Dad 100, Woodford Reserve, etc.) that are excellent pours and have a lot of the oak character I enjoy.  I agree with Chuck when he says “The wisdom of the families and companies who have been making bourbon for a long time–several centuries in some cases–is that in a climate similar to Kentucky, it takes a minimum of four years in new charred wood to make something you would like to drink. “

My experience would agree with this.  Personally, I think that the white dogs are overrated.  I have a mason jar with about one or two fingers worth of corn whiskey made by some fine southern gentleman in the mountains of North Carolina.  For what it is, it tastes good.  My guess is that it’s somewhere in the 100-110 proof range so it’s pretty drinkable straight from the jar.  However, like any unaged spirit, there is very little that keeps my interest, something that has helped me avoid spending too much money on the bottles of overpriced white dog produced by many micro-distillers.  My experience with whiskey aged for less than one year is limited to Hudson Baby Bourbon, a whiskey aged for three months.  I liked it, but comparing it to traditional bourbon is like comparing apples to oranges.  The whiskey doesn’t spend enough time in the barrel to get the kinds of flavors that I like.  That doesn’t make it bad at all.  It makes it different.

Then again, taste is subjective.

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18 thoughts on “For the whiskey drinkers

    • Single Barrel Jack isn’t bad, but like other JD products, it’s extremely overpriced. I think that every whiskey I mentioned in this post is better than the Single Barrel Jack and there are several others as well.

      Heck, if you want to stay within the realm of Tennessee Whisk(e)y, you can always go with George Dickel Superior No. 12. My wife brought a bottle back from Ohio (it’s not available for sale in NJ). I’ve been exploring that and may write a review for the League.

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  1. I’ve never tried any of the white dogs, I’m by no means a snob for long aged bourbons.
    I just got a bottle of the Evan Williams 10 year single barrel a few weeks ago – sorely disappointing, much too sour for my taste.

    I do really want to try the Elijah Craig 22 year, if I ever can convince myself to spend that kind of money on a bottle.

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  2. I’ve never had a white dog other than my own moonshine, so I can’t speak to what the commercial distillers are doing. But every time I have some, I am reminded that I don’t set aside enough of my own product to drink white. So smooth, so easy to have another…

    Unfortunately, here in Canada, white dog is impossible to buy legally – our law says anything called “whiskey” must be barrel aged three years. There’s a terrible distiller in Canada that is trying to jump on the white whiskey bandwagon, but they achieve it by means of aging in barrels and then filtering through a fine enough filter to remove all the colour – completely defeating the point IMO.

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    • Actually, I’d draw a distinction between “white dog” – cut for barrel aging, but not yet aged – and “white lightning” – cut for drinking white.

      White lightning is a very pleasant drink. White dog is not – it tastes unfinished.

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      • I would assume that the stuff that I had was white lightning per your definition. It matches your description of your own moonshine. There’s nothing harsh about it.

        What in your mind distinguishes white dog from white lightning?

        One of the big issues I have with the companies selling white whiskey is the cost. Hudson makes a 100% corn whiskey that costs $30 for a 375 ml bottle. Death’s Door White Whiskey costs around $40 where I live. Jack Daniel’s just released a $50 unaged rye whiskey (by comparison, Whistlepig is $55).

        There’s a terrible distiller in Canada that is trying to jump on the white whiskey bandwagon, but they achieve it by means of aging in barrels and then filtering through a fine enough filter to remove all the colour – completely defeating the point IMO

        Jim Beam already does that with its Jacob’s Ghost product. It’s aged for one year and then the color is filtered out. I’m not sure how it tastes, and I’m not sure that I want to spend $25 on a bottle of something that I may not like.

        I agree that it defeats the point, but in another way, it’s a signal in the marketplace. Beam thinks it can make a better product by its method. Time will tell whether or not that turns out to be the case, but I thought the idea was an interesting one.

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        • What in your mind distinguishes white dog from white lightning?

          It’s all in the points at which you make the cuts
          – the first thing off the still is foreshots – discard them, use them as antiseptic or charcoal grill lighter fluid or something
          – the next thing off is heads – some discard them as above, some keep them to add to later spirit runs
          – the next thing off is hearts – this is what you’ll end up drinking
          – the next thing is tails – as with heads, some discard, some keep to re-run later.

          For something you’ll drink white, you want to make a pretty narrow hearts cut. If you aged something that mellow, you’d get the world’s most boring aged whiskey.

          For something that will be aged, I personally widen the hearts cut mostly in the direction of tails, and only slightly toward heads. Tasting that stuff before it goes into barrels, it gets a bit of sharpness from the heads side, and some funky, musty, bitter, sort of flavours from the tails side. These largely unpleasant tastes develop into some pleasant complexity with age.

          Incidentally, there’s also a Brazilian cachaca (agricultural rum) from Ypioca that is aged in barrels made of freijo wood, which adds no colour. I find it quite nice…

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        • I guess I can see some reason behind the higher cost – aside from its being a niche product, it means throwing away more of the alcohol yield, so the same volume of whiskey requires more grain to produce.

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