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What on earth is white whiskey?

By Jason Pyle

It has many names; white lightning, white dog, white whiskey, and light whiskey amongst others. This growing category of spirits in the United States has ties to moonshine whiskey. Moonshine simply refers to the illegal booze that was bootlegged across the southeast region of the United States by renegades and mountain men driving souped up cars that could outrun the police. This spurned the creation of American auto racing in the form of NASCAR, which began simply as a way for moonshiners to see who owned the faster car.

white whiskeys are being embraced by adventurous consumers

Alas, the moonshine era (for the most part) is long past. Today the growth in this category can be credited to the craft or micro whiskey movement in the United States. The business model du jour for a young startup whiskey company is to generate cash flow quickly by releasing un-aged or lightly aged whiskey right off the still. Once considered too unrefined or crude to be consumed with little or no barrel aging, white whiskeys are being embraced by adventurous consumers looking to try new spirits for cocktails or for neat consumption.

Let’s put this into context for a moment. Popular spirits such as rum and tequila have Blanco or white counterparts offered along with aged products. Why shouldn't whiskey? Through the availability of finer raw materials, better distillation practices, and a commitment to small batch quality, white whiskeys can be a tasty alternative to longer aged whiskeys. It also provides an educational experience for whiskey lovers to see the differences between aged and lightly (or not) aged spirits.

Here are three such white whiskeys worthy of your time and attention if you can find them.

Buffalo Trace White Dog, Mash Bill #1, 62.5% abv.

Buffalo Trace’s #1 mash bill is the recipe used for the bourbon that bears the distillery’s name as well as flagship products such as George T. Stagg and Eagle Rare. This un-aged spirit is marked with a fantastic balance. The nose is bright, full of corn, a dry grain quality, and a rock candy aroma of sweetness. On the palate there is corn syrup sweetness at first that gives way to sour corn, and prickly rye dryness. The finish is dry and crisp with a lingering sweetness.

Low Gap Whiskey, 42.7% abv.

Craft Distillers, a small, boutique brandy distillery operates in the Germain-Robin facilities in Mendocino County, California. The distillery’s Low Gap Whiskey is a 100 per cent wheat whiskey and one of the most elegant and complex un-aged whiskeys available. The aromas and flavours are full of ripe orchard fruit (pear and apple), whole wheat cracker, buttered biscuit, and a light peppery spice.

High West Silver Western Oat Whiskey, 40% abv.

High West Silver Oat is actually a whiskey. Unlike the other two mentioned above, which are not aged at all, High West actually “ages” this whiskey for five minutes or so. This allows it to be considered a legal whiskey by American regulations. The nose is soft with marshmallow, banana, and dry hay - sweet but restrained.  On the palate, flavors of bubble gum, apple, and taffy hold back a licorice-like spice.  The finish is clean, crisp, and fruity.