The Current

Is White Whiskey Campfire Worthy?

The unbarrelled, unaged spirit is still trending. With outdoor sipping season approaching, we unleashed our expert tasting team to select the best-in-batch.

White tonight? Our jury weighs in on the white whiskey phenomenon.     Photo: Nick Kelley

Catch us around the campfire and we’re more likely to be nursing a tin cup of 10-year-old Bulleit than one of the now-ubiquitous brands of white whiskey—or what your grandparents called moonshine. But although aficionados tend to turn up their nose at the stuff, a growing number of distilleries big and small continue to crank out new varieties. And for valid reason: There's something worthwhile going on here.

White whiskey, in case you're new to the game, forgoes the barrel aging—the spirit is bottled young, clear, precocious. The idea, say the craftfolk behind its creation, is to get a better sense of the grain mix (still mostly corn mash) and fundamental distilling process. None of those pesky barrel-imbued oak and honey overtones to confuse your tastebuds.

Really? asked our uninitiated in-house test team. Show us the 'Shine! So we did. Herewith, the results of our highly legit, carefully controlled blind taste test—featuring a few new players and a few stalwarts. We liked some, we didn't like some, and we loved one or two. Bottoms up.

George Dickel Foundation No. 1
A touch sweet flavor, this white brew has served as the backbone for all Dickel whiskeys for the past 140 years. It’s now making its debut as one of the smoothest on the market. Dickel himself claimed No. 1 was “Mellow as Moonlight.”

Tasters said:

  • “Reminds me of the glory days of huffing sharpies in class.”
  • “Love it. Love it. Love it.”
  • “Tastes kind of like buttered pickle chips.”

Maker’s White
Much like George Dickel, Maker’s Mark uses the exact recipe that goes into their classic, caramel-colored whiskey to craft their white. Distilled with red winter wheat instead of rye, this spirit tastes of corn without the bitterness you’d expect from a moonshine.

Tasters said:

  • “I once used this to sterilize a wound.”
  • “Masculine and rugged.”
  • “Gin worthy citrus, sweet and nearly clean.”

Buffalo Trace White Dog Mash #1
Buffalo Trace
has been winning awards for over 200 years. Now they present White Dog Mash #1, a white whiskey big in flavor and with a yeasty finish. The grain used in the distilling process provides a doughy flavor, and our tasters picked up on it.

Tasters said:

  • “Reminds me of pizza dough, and an oak tree?”
  • “It put hair on my chest. And I’m a girl.”
  • “They should take this off the market.”

Jim Beam Jacob’s Ghost:
One of the bigger players on the table, Jim Beam did something unusual with their recipe. They took their White Label Bourbon that has been aged for one year in white oak barrels, and filtered it to create Jacob’s Ghost. It’s like moonshine, in reverse.

Tasters said:

  • "Actually smells drinkable. And it tastes gin-like, from start to finish.”
  • “Sweet, smooth, licorice.”
  • “The Bud Light of Whiskey."

Jack Daniel’s Unaged Tennessee Rye
The only illegal whiskey at the tasting, everyone’s old standby Jack Daniel’s snuck under our radar with this clear-colored rye spirit. Consisting of 70% rye and only 18% corn, it fit in well with the other white whiskeys and went undetected—almost.

Tasters said:

  • “OMG love.”
  • “It smells like my grandpa’s garage. And... vegetables?”
  • “I’m so bad at this.” [Takes giant swig]

Finger Lakes Glen Thunder
Out of New York comes Finger Lakes, introducing the most well-distilled white whiskeys in the bunch. Glen Thunder is noticeably crisp and corn-filled with a strong finish that lingers—for better or worse.

Tasters said:

  • “Resounds like a thunder clap.”
  • “Someone forgot to cook the mash.”
  • “Made my throat tickle and my armpits leak. Not sweat. Leak.”

TOPO Carolina Whiskey
The only certified organic and local distillery in the South, TOPO offers the corn-weary tasters a reprieve. With a soothing vanilla flavor, this white whiskey draws on an unusual flavor—a hint of chocolaty fudge. 

Tasters said:

  • “The palatability is a nice surprise. There’s a decent caramel tone.”
  • “Buttered wheat toast. Yupp, that’s it.”
  • “I can actually say I kind of like this one.”

Bully Boy White Whiskey:
Bully Boy
was born out of a family heritage of hoarding spirits in the basement during the Prohibition. Seventy years later, they’ve brought it back to life and introduced a USDA certified organic white whiskey featuring notes of basil and vanilla.

Tasters said:

  • “Tastes like a tumbleweed.”
  • “Party at the start with a mellow finish.”
  • “Antiseptic chased with juniper.

White Old Fashioned
Not into sipping moonshine? Here’s an Old Fashioned recipe straight from mixologist Dale DeGroff to set you straight.

Ingredients:

·         1.25 oz George Dickel No. 1 (or other white whiskey)

·         1 dash DeGroff’s Pimento Bitters

·         .25 oz Dale’s Cherry Liqueur

·         .5 oz Simple syrup

·         2 orange slices

·         2 cherries

Preparation: Muddle the cherry and orange slice with the syrup and liqueur. Throw in a dash of bitters and strain into a glass. Next add the whiskey and ice and stir. Top it off with an orange slice and a cherry. Bottoms up.

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