“White dog is to whiskey as coal is to diamonds,” said a Slate columnist recently of the unaged spirit—formerly and less flatteringly known as moonshine—that’s been snagging space on shelves lately.
To be fair, the base ingredients in moonshine could be almost anything that would ferment—think rotten fruit cut with kerosene. Legitimate distillers, mostly small-batchers, tend to be a tad choosier in their mash makeup, selecting materials that would yield a credible bourbon or whiskey if aged in oak in the usual fashion.
And, despite the cynicism of some who contend that selling whiskey before its time is purely a play for bucks, every dog has its day. For small-batch and budget micro-distillers, that early influx of cash can help them keep the doors open as they wait, seemingly forever, for rough diamonds to achieve some polish. Another legitimate reason for paying attention to unaged whiskies? Without the mellowing influence of oak and time, the base spirit has nowhere to hide. If it’s good now, it should be great later.
This doesn’t mean you have to become a dog-lover; I was predisposed not to be. But there’s nothing like peeking into the process to inspire new perspective, and a glimpse was provided when I was asked to participate in a tasting panel assembled by the brewstillers at Ranger Creek. Mark McDavid and TJ Miller had asked some local hooch hounds to help them evaluate the components of a new white dog product to be based on the “grain bill” for La Bestia Aimable, RC’s Belgian-style dark ale.
La Bestia is already an impressive product full of orange peel, warm spice, figgy flavors and a powerful floral nose. The two early versions we tasted of La Bestia Defavorable, the beer’s liquored-up “evil twin” were also wow!–but not in quite so refined a way. We were presented with two versions of the twice-distilled white whiskey–one taken from the “heart” or middle part of the distillate, the other consisting primarily of the “tails,” the less alcoholic but more concentrated remains of the day. The first utilized exclusively the beer’s barley, crystal malt, Belgian candy syrup and Texas honey components; the second added a concoction consisting of dried fruits, figs, raisins, cherries and plums and spices. “Let’s throw this shit in the still and see how it comes out,” was distiller Miller’s unvarnished assessment of the experiment.
What came out was the heart sample that emphasized the lightning part of white lightning but did have a certain purity; the tails portion was full of aromatics but seemed to lose clarity—though some preferred it. In the end, RC decided on an 80-proof blend of 25 percent to 75 percent. Some sniffing yielded a nose that suggests grain and flowers; tasting conjured fruit and spice—and much more finesse than I thought possible. This dog hunts.
La Bestia Defavorable is meant to retail in the low $30s when it appears in .750 liter brown bottles at the end of summer, “making it affordable for use in cocktails,” according to McDavid. Look for the product first at Blue Box, the release partner, where beer cocktails will be emphasized.