Over the last few years, we’ve seen an explosion in moonshine, white dog and white lightning. All euphemisms for the same thing – namely, unaged whiskey – this category started with illicit distillers taking matters into their own hands to avoid high alcohol taxes. The clandestine production and transportation didn’t allow for any waiting around, so this generally harsh spirit never saw the inside of an oak barrel
The authentic, backwoods stuff was known to occasionally have some pretty nasty side effects, such as blindness caused by methanol. Whereas a trained distiller knows what parts of a batch – the “heart” of the distillate – make for not only safe but delicious sipping, moonshiners were sometimes inexperienced and didn’t know what shouldn’t be consumed. And in some cases, less scrupulous moonshiners would actually add methanol or other unsafe substances to up the apparent strength of their hooch.
So, all that said, why would anyone want to touch the stuff? With a reputation as dangerous, harsh, and frankly a little gross, the appeal beyond novelty might not be immediately obvious. Well, the modern stuff that’s actually sold in stores – and has, therefore, been subject to the tax man and regulatory oversight – can be utterly delicious. Made in various grain configurations, it’s most often made primarily with corn mash. When drinking a whiskey that doesn’t benefit from the mellowing effects of barrel aging, you’ll notice that the character of the grain comes through much more clearly; corn-based whiskey maintains the sweet character of the grain off the still.
In order to be labeled a whiskey, laws require that it at least see the inside of a barrel for some time, but these brief oaky flirtations don’t do much in the way of changing flavor or color. Many excellent microdistilleries are experimenting with the stuff, as it means less storage space for aging in barrels
and the ability to bring their distillates to market quickly. Because so many of them are being made by young upstart distilleries interested in experimenting with the art, you’ll notice a surprising amount of variety amongst moonshines. Some that we’ve grown to particularly appreciate are High West Western Oat Whiskey
, Tuthilltown Hudson New York Corn Whiskey, and Finger Lakes Distilling Company’s “Glen Thunder” – tasted side by side, you’ll notice significant differences in character, but consistent drinkability. And while moonshine is only recently finding its way into cocktail culture, you’ll find it’s a fun spirit to experiment with. Try swapping it out in recipes for bourbon or other whiskies, or use it as a more flavorful substitute in vodka drinks.
This twist on an old classic is near-clear and quite delicious.
1.5 oz unaged whiskey
.5 oz Benedictine
.5 oz blanc vermouth (such as Dolin)
3 dashes orange bitters
Shake with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass