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Moonshine and White Whiskeys


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WaPo article on the emergence of legal "moonshine". A bit romanticized, mostly educational, but only passing mention (courtesy of Junior Johnson) of the fact that not all moonshine is "corn likker". Illegal moonshine for sale was often a nasty concoction distilled out of cheap refined sugar, which avoided the complexities of the mashing process.

There are no clear label distinctions that I know of, so research your hooch before buying. The name often isn't useful as a clue. For instance, Southern Moon (Isaiah Morgan Distillery in WV) is distilled from a corn/white sugar blend, while Shine On Georgia Moon (Heaven Hill, sold in mason jars) is all corn. Virginia Lightning (Belmont Farms, Culpeper) is all corn, despite the reference to white lightning.

IMHO, the thing that sets fresh corn whiskey apart from vodka is the remaining presence of congeners (aromatics, flavors and fatty acids) from the corn mash, so this matter of "triple distilling" is anathema to me. All that succeeds in doing is stripping the flavors off in the still, while capturing the alcohol. BFD. A good corn whiskey should closely resemble the "white dog" distillate as it comes off the still, perhaps diluted to a more marketable proof :lol:

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I've come to discover that I do like "moonshine" style liquor - if it's what I'm expecting.

For instance, the Belmont Farms stuff all has that flavor profile that I remember from mason jars of hooch from WV, and if that's what I'm in the mood for, well, that's good - but I need to be mentally prepared for it, and not be expecting, for instance, aged bourbon.

But nothing goes with a moon pie like some white lightning!

:lol:

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I need to be mentally prepared for it, and not be expecting, for instance, aged bourbon.
We were given some *ahem* local product from home that had been cask-aged, and it's significantly better than a lot of commercial whiskeys. It's easy to see how Jack Daniel made the leap from a still up on the ridge to commercial distiller when you taste something like that.
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I was once handed a mason jar of product by a co-worker on a long drive back from Charleston, WVa. Noticing that it was browner than your usual white lightning, I inquired and was told that it had been flavored by sitting on applewood chips. I immediately then blew all my mountain cred by taking a swallow and finding echoes of Calvados (itself a product widely moonshined across Normandy these days) in its otherwise varnish-stripper-like taste.

But I got all my cred back by polishing off the mason jar in its entirety over the course of the drive. :lol:

My question about this wussy fake 'shine -- will it have that same semi-psychedelic effect as the real thing?

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I have to admit that reading that article makes me thirsty for some moonshine, and I'm thinking I'm going to go grab that bottle of Kopper Kettle (Belmont Famrs, no longer made if I remember correctly) out of the back of my liquor bookshelf and have a sip.

I never thought of mixing moonshine with root beer like the article mentioned at Cochon in N'awlins. That makes me wonder how it'd taste mixed with ginger beer - which I may experiment with here in a minute.

The Catdaddy is available in Virginia according to the article - anyone know an ABC store that carries it? I know I've seen the Midnight Moon around.

I like the idea that moonshine might be the next "thing" in mixology; honestly, I'm excited to experiment with it. Then again, I'm the grandson of at least one moonshiner, and the stories I've heard from relatives really makes me want to experiment myself. (But it is illegal, and I do not want to go to federal "pound me in the a--" penitentiary).

:lol:

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The result is a corn-based whiskey that's more akin to a premium vodka than to the stuff made in a still out back. Catdaddy and Midnight Moon are triple-distilled, a process that eliminates rough flavors and the famous burn associated with old-school shine. Both also are 80-proof, on par with most premium liquors though far weaker than traditional moonshine. "It's smoother" than what he used to make illegally, Johnson says. "We couldn't afford to distill more than once. We had to sell it as quick as we could get it in a jar." Improving quality is essential if moonshine is to take off as a premium spirit, says Matthew B. Rowley, author of "Moonshine!" (Lark Books, 2007) and a historian of craft distillers.

Just to be clear, this may be a fine liquor but it sure as hell ain't moonshine. Another product aimed at grasping hipsters who yearn for "authenticity" but really can't be bothered with the effort reality takes. The liquor equivalent of white suburbanites dressing like gangsta rappers.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

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Just to be clear, this may be a fine liquor but it sure as hell ain't moonshine. Another product aimed at grasping hipsters who yearn for "authenticity" but really can't be bothered with the effort reality takes. The liquor equivalent of white suburbanites dressing like gangsta rappers.

Not that there's anything wrong with that.

No, it's not moonshine. It's vodka. Vodka, in most commercial cases, is made from whatever the least expensive grain that distillers can buy (I'm talking commercial distillation here-Taaka, Smirnoff, etc) and then distilled into 188 proof, damned near pure alcohol. There are few, if any, residual flavors(I mean, who wants soybean vodka?), and then cut back with deionized water to whatever proof that they want to sell it at.

Moonshine, at least the stuff made by craftsmen, is made in a potstill that feeds in to a secondary distillation unit known commonly as a thumper (or, for nerds, a retort). What's happening here is that the steam distillate, instead of being cooled coming out of the still, is pumped into another smaller, passive, container of wash (the same stuff that is being distilled) and is purified again by a steam fired (the steam for the fire is the distillate off of the pot) still and the result is a higher proof spirit that still retains much of the essence of whatever is being distilled. When done well, it's damned delicious. This is a primitive version (or, at least, low tech) version of what virtually all bourbon distillers use, though the second stage in their system is a kind of pot still with a column on top of it, but it acheives pretty much the same results, just in a continuous run rather than batches at a time. And believe me, there are guys out there, right now, running small stills getting results that will blow your mind if you are into strong, delicious, craft spirits. True artisans.

Since you quoted Rowley (a good friend of mine) I should say that if you are really interested in this subject, I highly reccomend that you pick up a copy of his book. It's a well done description of the history, the methods, and, happily, a tutorial on how to do this for your own thirsty self. If you get into it, you will discover that this is at least as fun as homebrewing and, if you really get into it, home distilling is incredibly entertaining and satisfying. Of course, I know nothing of this and would never dare to get involved in the evils of home distillation. I am a law abiding citizen at all times.

Anyway, my point here is that Catdaddy and Georgia Moon and whatever are not, at least in the classic sense, moonshine in any way. It's just alcohol. You might as well buy a bottle of Taaka.

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A friend of mine was recently gifted with some homemade Kentucky moonshine.

He's not sure what to do with it. Other than drinking it straight, do you mix it with anything? Serve room temperature or chilled?

If it's aged like the stuff we got a while back, you can pretty much treat it as you'd treat bourbon. How you treat white lightning basically depends on how good it is; some of it's drinkable straight, some takes better to being chilled and/or mixed to smooth it out a little.

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Zora's HuffPost link in another thread led me to author Max Watman's charming pictorial account of mixing with some of the unaged whiskeys (or "white dogs") that are now available. Including a reference to Derek Brown's new Columbia Room, natch.

View the article here.

I hadn't noticed that Buffalo Trace had begun bottling their white dog last year (yeah, yeah, shame on the mod). I've, uh, "examined" it on the distillery "hardhat" tour fresh from the spirit vault, and it's got a wonderful residual corn aroma. Going to have to look that one up.

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Speaking of moonshine and Derek (OK, he didn't write this -- but it is in The Atlantic).

One of the priciest spirits I’ve ever tasted was a clear whiskey poured from a green 12-ounce Sierra Mist bottle. Max Watman, who held the bottle like a Parisian sommelier, told me it cost about $120—roughly what he’d paid in drinks and meals to people who introduced him to other people up the Virginia moonshine supply chain as he went about procuring it. He poured us each an ounce or so into elegant tasting glasses. We sipped. Watman made a face that was not the face of someone having an especially good time. He described it as “bile with some simple syrup.” In my tasting notes, I wrote: “musty,” “rancid,” “Alpo.”
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Food and Wine mentions this month that historic Mount Vernon intends next month to finally begin selling an unaged rye made in the restored George Washington gristmill and distillery, using the first president's original recipes, mashed and distilled onsite. The mash cookers and stills have been operable since the restoration, but until now the gift shop has only been able to sell 3 oz commemorative gift packs ($25 including a logo shot glass) of the Kentucky whiskey that was blended at the site during the rededication ceremonies. They've been trying for a couple of years now to ready a product for retail, but indications are that the pieces are finally falling into place this summer.

I spoke to someone from their shop who indicated that the June 1 target date wasn't certain yet; their director had been searching some time for an appropriately period-looking bottle for the final product, and might still be looking. I'm not sure how they'd get final wrap approval if they're still looking at packaging. In any case, sales are expected to be through the Virginia ABC system.

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Attention must be paid to the new High West Silver whiskey, the world's first oat whiskey. (not on the High West website as of today)

Oats are more expensive than the other grains, which is why you don't see it used, and it is trickier to distill. They do taste great, though, and they make a soft, vanilla-ish, silky whiskey.

I've tried this in a couple of cocktails (a "Silver Sour", with sour mix and simple syrup, on the rocks, for one) It's really very lovely stuff, and quite useful :lol:

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Frederic Yarm (of Cockail Virgin Slut) and I ran into Robin Robinson, the US Brand Ambassador for Compass Box whisky, on Tuesday night at Drink in Boston. He asked us what we thought of white whiskeys - whether or not it was a fad.

I'm still torn. I've had some that aren't bad...but I can't help but think really this is a fad going on while distilleries build up their stocks of aged whiskey.

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Some are tasty, but almost all are overpriced.

I mean, let me get this straight...Buffalo Trace is about $25, after being distilled, aged, QC'ed, and mingled to meet a very inviting taste profile at 45% abv...yet a bunch of these white whiskeys are a lot more than $25, having had to undergo none of those processes.

The culprit is the ridiculous hurdles that US law puts in front of small distillers.

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...historic Mount Vernon intends next month to finally begin selling an unaged rye made in the restored George Washington gristmill and distillery, using the first president's original recipes, mashed and distilled onsite.

Now scheduled for official unveiling on July 1, with tastings at the grist mill between 12 and 1 PM, thanks to Virginia's new liquor tasting law which also goes into effect on that day. Gates will open at 11:45 AM and the admission fee to the gristmill and distillery site is waived for this special event.

Going forward, the whiskey will only be retailed at the onsite Virginia ABC "store" within the visitor center.

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I know nothing about Moonshine. I only know that I had the Catdaddy at Cochon on Monday and it was so good. So dangerously good, especially for one such as me, who does not generally enjoy straight liquor. I did see it's available in VA. Did anyone ever locate a vendor?

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Going forward, the whiskey will only be retailed at the onsite Virginia ABC "store" within the visitor center.

That seems to have been optimistic. Only 96 gallons of whiskey were produced over a two-week process, and roughly half of that put up for aging. Of the remainder, 400 375mL bottles of unaged whiskey were filled at 86 proof, and I estimate a similar number of people attended the unveiling. Some of that count went to the main Mt Vernon gift shop, some was opened for sample tasting, and some was reserved for people on the pre-order list. Toward the end, they were counting people in line (one bottle per) and telling new arrivals that it was sold out.

Based on one tiny sip and a lot of sniffing, it's a lot smoother and less peppery than I would have expected. Green and grassy on the nose. Not much burn at this proof.

Master distiller Dave Pickerell, formerly of Maker's Mark, was on hand for the media zoo and beaming with pride. (His other baby, a 10-yr old rye labeled "Whistle Pig", was just launched two months ago for the NYC, LA and Chicago markets.) The only modern conveniences the distillers allowed themselves were a plastic bucket, and possibly a short length of hose - he wasn't sure. Period methods were used, including boiling a miniscule quantity of hops with the water as an antibacterial agent. Both the primary and second distillations were performed onsite in the reconstructed pot stills. Some of the period tools posed a riddle, particularly the mash rake, but they decided that the trick was to lever its long handle against the side of the tun, which seemed to agitate the mash pretty effectively. The grain bill (60% rye, 35% corn, 5% malted barley) needed extra time to allow the small amount of malt enzymes to work their magic, but even so the final yield (in proof gallons) was about half what you'd expect from a modern whiskeymaking process.

One of the DISCUS bigwigs revealed that when the reconstructed site was first opened, the head representative from Mount Vernon had declared that they would never make a drop of whiskey for sale here. Obviously, that opinion has changed, and they're starting to seriously consider the possibility of positioning future batches as a fund-generating activity for the historical association.

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Attention must be paid to the new High West Silver whiskey, the world's first oat whiskey. (not on the High West website as of today)

Oats are more expensive than the other grains, which is why you don't see it used, and it is trickier to distill. They do taste great, though, and they make a soft, vanilla-ish, silky whiskey.

I've tried this in a couple of cocktails (a "Silver Sour", with sour mix and simple syrup, on the rocks, for one) It's really very lovely stuff, and quite useful :)

OMG. I love, love High West Silver. I attended a tasting during the poorly publicized but quite fun DC Whiskey Week and fell in love. High West Silver is very smooth and light. I have, primarily, enjoyed it over rocks but would love some ideas for cocktails to make with it. Also, Joe, should I keep the Silver on ice or out on the bar? Thanks!

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I know you asked Joe, but...

With the exceptions of cream liquors, there are none that I would keep refrigerated, especially if you want to make cocktails with them. Chilling liquor before using them in a cocktail means that the ice won't melt as much when shaking or stirring the drink, and you want it to melt so that it'll dilute the drink some.

If you like to drink it straight but chilled, and don't want to dilute it much, try getting one of the silicon ice cube trays that make very large ice cubes. That'll cool the drink but not dilute it as much as smaller ice would thanks to have less overall surface area. My silicon ice cube tray is from CocktailKingdom.com. (This one specifically: http://www.cocktailkingdom.com/content/ice-cube-tray )

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OMG. I love, love High West Silver. I attended a tasting during the poorly publicized but quite fun DC Whiskey Week and fell in love. High West Silver is very smooth and light. I have, primarily, enjoyed it over rocks but would love some ideas for cocktails to make with it. Also, Joe, should I keep the Silver on ice or out on the bar? Thanks!

I bought a bottle today and fooled around with it tonight...there is a recipe for a Clementine on the bottle that with the make-up of the whiskey basically tastes like a margarita...it was pretty solid. They also have a recipe for and Old Fashioned that I did not try but in the future I'm going to be pretty content with drinking it straight. I honestly don't know if I'll buy another bottle due to its nature but it was a very successful bottle that I don't regret buying at all, definitely worth a try in some way.

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I honestly don't know if I'll buy another bottle

That, to me, is one of the defining aspects of white dogs.

Even the best ones people typically say "eh, I've tried it" and don't want to keep it stocked.

The one exception I've had so far has been House Spirits White Dog that I had while at Drink.Write out in Portland last October which was just, well, fantastic. But I've got a fairly full stock of white dogs right now and none of them I'd buy again, with only one exception: I keep meaning to experiment with the Wasmund's Rye Spirit (which I consider a white dog) to make a bitters.

Well, maybe another exception: do y'all consider the Catoctin Creek Rye a white dog? That's fairly tasty, too.

But the rest...they're more moonshine-ish. Fun occasionally, usually more as shots (as many of them can overwhelm any mixer you add to them, and you don't typically want to sip them), but more novelty than, say, something aged that I'll buy as years go on to keep a steady supply.

(Okay, so I have a number of exceptions in this statement, but I think it still works, and even if it doesn't, I still have wine to drink. And maybe a couple shots of white dog to try.)

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Since he was mentioned in this thread, I thought I'd chime in - Max Watman's book "Chasing the White Dog" is an incredibly entertaining read. I highly recommend it.

I do think it helps to read Matt Rowley's "Moonshine!" first, but they are rather different reads.

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I should point out that Koval is also making a few white whiskies, in addition to some really good liqueurs and other products.

Some of these white whiskies are interesting, some less-so. I would really advise anyone looking to buy one to see if they can try it first at a good bar or restaurant which carries it, or request a bottle as a gift. I can see where some folks will find them very useful but others will have no practical use for them at all.

I'm still slightly ambivalent about these products. Perhaps they can serve as a "bridge" of some sort for consumers who never buy "brown" spirits? I'm not counting on anyone coming to me anytime soon to tell me, "You know, I was a confirmed vodka drinker until I tried (insert brand name here) white whiskey, and now I'm a convert! If I like that, what else do you recommend?"

It will be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few years, as to whether or not this is a passing fad or if consumers really take to them. I can't say that they are great values necessarily.

If someone is really keen to buy one from me to try, then perhaps I'll recommend the Buffalo Trace white mash, since it comes in a 375ml bottle and is only $15.99; as of this moment, it is the least-expensive investment in white whiskey that I have to offer.

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Ha! I've had at least one confirmed "I only drink white spirits" person that I'd tried to convert with genever - hadn't thought of white dog. B)

I still kind of feel like that the flood of white dogs actually diminishes the overall market, given the middling quality of a lot of them. I think you'd have more people buy them if there were fewer, but quality, ones out there. Right now it's too likely you're going to end up with "Oh, what the #%*! is THAT?!"

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