Or Why You Can’t Teach a New Dog Old Tricks
I am going to preface this rant with one caveat: I love gin. Which may seem like an odd thing to say at the beginning of an exploration into the relatively new phenomena of white whiskey, but hold on, you’ll see my point in a bit.
I am a whisk(e)y educator. Not an expert (that would take more lifetimes than I currently have available), but more of a gifted swat with underlying matchmaker intentions. My best moments have been when I have managed to introduce someone to a whisk(e)y about which they had little or no knowledge and make them a lifelong admirer. I love to see that light bulb moment when they take a sip, and then another and realize that this one is a must for their collection.
It has always been my aim to make the exploration of new whiskies an easy thing, and in the pursuit of new experiences I have had to undergo a number of tastings which I would really rather forget. Earlier in my life as an educator, I had to taste some ‘white whiskies'. Now, as far as I am aware, the major part of creating a thing of beauty like a well-balanced whisk(e)y is a hefty stint in a barrel. Almost always in an oak barrel, sometimes new, sometimes old, with a preference for air dried over kiln, possibly having housed some other form of delicious spirit or liqueur previously. The idea of a new spirit, even one made from a single grain, having had just a vacation length of time in a barrel is just alien to my whole idea of what whisk(e)y is about.
I am not opposed to single grain spirits, even flavored neutral grain spirits; I am, as previously mentioned, a gin lover. However, I simply cannot gel the idea of a single grain spirit, having been bottled shortly after having been shown a barrel as “whisk(e)y". Call me old-fashioned if you will, but I like my whiskies like I like my men: complex, interesting, with sometimes more than hints of smoke and peat and a gorgeous golden color. The color part is optional for the men, though not the whisk(e)y.
There is a sneaking part of me that wants so badly to believe in it, to encompass it within my love affair that is whisk(e)y. It was, after all, once upon a time, the way to prolong the life of or increase the value of an excess harvest of fruit or grains, firstly in the form of primative beers and then, over time, distilling it.
White dog or 'new make' as most distilleries call it, brings to mind those early years, perhaps before people had discovered, probably by accident, that storing the bounty of a harvest in a barrel for years on end not only kept it but improved it, not only in terms of taste but also in value.
But I also want to believe in it for another reason and it's this: the United States is my adoptive home and white dog or it's more common cousin, moonshine, is such a valuable and fascinating part of the history of this land. Of course, modern productions methods and a nice dose of legalization have ensured that 'white dog' has none of the romance, taste, or let's face it, danger of moonshine which is a shame.
But, on the other hand, as one prohibition importer of booze who submitted a sample for testing to a chemist found out: 'your horse has diabetes', perhaps not.