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The Best White Whiskeys To Chase Down This Fall

White whiskey — or moonshine, if you will — is a broad category that stretches back to the very origins of whiskey. White whiskeys are basically un-aged, though some do spend a short spell in oak. For the most part, this is a spirit made of grains or cereals (or potatoes even) that are fermented, distilled, and then bottled for drinking. It’s a simple expression that doubles as the pre-barrelling base of every great whiskey out there.

Now, we get it, this sounds a lot like regular vodka. The difference between a white whiskey and vodka is very narrow. Vodka is distilled and then filtered and cut with water to bring it to proof. This gives vodka a unique edge. Some white whiskeys are filtered, while most aren’t; some are cut down to proof with water, some aren’t. The highlight of a great white whiskey is the ephemeral spirit of the grains used. You want to feel the corn or rye or potato when you take a swig.

The ten bottles of white whiskey below are the perfect bottles to start your experimentations with the style. Be warned, aging whiskey mellows it significantly and adds sugars from the barrel’s wood into the booze, giving it distinct flavor profiles on top of the mash. The fiery whiskeys below are… not mellow. They’re bold. Yet you can find a great deal of refinement in expressions this straightforward. There’s no barrel to hide behind, after all.

POPCORN SUTTON TENNESSEE WHITE WHISKEY

Story:

Marvin “Popcorn” Sutton was a legendary bootlegger and backcountry moonshiner in Tennessee. He was also a celebrity of sorts while he was alive and beloved by Tennessee’s country music scene — Hank Williams, Jr. and Willie Nelson counted Sutton among their friends. Sutton died as he lived, skirting the law. He decided to commit suicide at age 69 rather than go to federal prison for moonshining. He made his own gravestone that read “Popcorn Said Fuck You!” as a final jab at those feds.

After his death, his family carried on Popcorn’s traditional ‘shine and opened a legal still. The white whiskey carries on Popcorn Sutton’s recipe for the whole world to drink.

Tasting Notes:

Buttery notes come through upfront. There’s a sense of an Appalachian forest it the waning days of autumn as the leaves fall to the damp earth. The whiskey carries notes of warm oats and earthy bark. The final note is a bold burn that’ll cause your head to involuntarily shake. Then, after the burn settles, you’ll want another go around from the jar.

BUFFALO TRACE WHITE DOG MASH #1

Story:

Buffalo Trace is one of the best whiskey distilleries around. So, it tracks that their white whiskey would also be a stellar example of the style. This White Dog whiskey has a corn-heavy mash bill that lets the grains shine. They also do not cut this whiskey down to proof with water. Instead, this one is ready to set the world ablaze at 62.5 percent ABV or 125 proof.

Tasting Notes:

Corn is front-and-center on this sip. You get a real sense of a rye and barley fields supporting all that sugary, rich corn with wisps of vanilla. Hints of rye spice carry the taste, with a distant echo of saltiness. There’s a note of florals that fill out the sip. The finish is big — with the corn-fueled sugars rushing back in to bring a subtle burn that’s never overwhelming.

OLE SMOKY TENNESSEE MOONSHINE

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Story:

Ole Smoky’s Tennessee Moonshine is a 100 proof corn whiskey that has become a straight classic of the style. That corn comes from local east Tennessee farms and is mashed and distilled according to a 100-year old ‘shine recipe from deep in a Tennessee Holler.

Tasting Notes:

Butter and corn unite on the opening of this sip. There’s a clear sense of vanilla-forward corn and flourishes of wildflowers on a sunny day. The heft of the corn spirit carries through as an almost brown butter kettle corn nature comes through. The finish is warm without overpowering your senses.

GEORGE DICKEL WHITE CORN WHISKEY

Story:

George Dickel’s Tennessee whiskey is burning up the scene at the moment. Their un-aged corn whiskey is a great gateway to get a sense of the high level of craftsmanship behind their signature Tennessee expressions. The corn-heavy mash bill (84 percent corn, eight percent rye, and eight percent malted barley) allows the spirit to have nuance and depth. Interestingly, this is the same mash bill as the Tennessee whiskey George Dickel ages for their No. 8, No. 12, and Barrel-Select expressions and still includes the maple charcoal mellowing, making this a true Tennessee whiskey, albeit unaged.

Tasting Notes:

Corn greets you here. Hints of black pepper from the rye cut through the heavy and buttery corn leading towards a note of ripe apple. The stiff alcohol burn is drawn back into the sweetness and vanilla of the corn, making this a very easy sip considering that it’s white lightning.

GLENDALOUGH MOUNTAIN STRENGTH POITÍN

Story:

Irish Poitin (pronounced “poo-tcheen”) is the original whiskey that dates back nearly 1,400 years to the monks who brought distilling to Ireland. This is what whiskey was born as in Ireland before aging came into play and serves as a great place to start an un-aged whiskey journey. The triple distilled spirit of sugar beets and malted barley touches oak for a moment to impart an extra layer of flavor but retains its clarity. The final product is cut with spring water to bring it to a more palatable 60 percent ABV or 120 proof.

Tasting Notes:

There’s a lot going on in this sip. The sugar beets add a vegetal nature to the drink with clear hints of tart berries with a base of cracker malts. There’s a healthy viscosity but not overly so. Imagine a gin without the botanicals. There’s a very distinct echo of smoke on the end as the fiery alcohol kicks in and warms you to your soul. Don’t be afraid to serve this one on the rocks.

JIM BEAM JACOB’S GHOST

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Jim Beam: Jacob's Ghost White Whiskey! @jimbeamofficial

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Story:

When Jacob Beam starting making whiskey in the U.S. 200 years ago, this is what he was making. The mash bill on Jacob’s Ghost is legit the original recipe the old master distiller used. The whiskey touches new oak for less than a year, allowing it to take on the slightest tinge of wood while remaining a white whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

Corn and vanilla shine through on the sip. There’s a slight hint of sweet caramel corn with brown butter edge. The oak comes through as a whispering ghost, far in the background. The vanilla and corn come back into play and drive towards a subtly warm finish that feels more like a classic bourbon than a fire-bomb white whiskey.

KOVAL WHITE WHISKEY RYE

Story:

There’s been a lot of corn talk on this list. Let’s change it up with a 100 percent rye white whiskey. Koval Rye comes from one of the best whiskey houses in America right now and their hand-crafted nature is on full display in this white whiskey.

Tasting Notes:

You get a clear sense of rye with a capital “R” in this sip. There’s a strong sense of freshly cracked black pepper alongside sharp chili peppers and wafts of wildflowers. Notes of fresh lemon zest cut in as a hint of fresh-cut grass pops. The finish is delightfully mild with a warming hug that begs you to drink more.

LOW GAP CLEAR WHEAT WHISKEY

Story:

This is a special whiskey all around. Bavarian Hard Wheat is used in the mash. The whiskey is fermented with wine yeasts and then distilled in an antique Cognac still. The hot spirit is brought down to proof through cutting it with rainwater. Then, as a last flourish of brilliance, the whiskey is aged for exactly 357 minutes in oak. There’s nothing else like this expression out there.

Tasting Notes:

Stone fruits and citrus greet you on this one. There’s a lingering sense of the grains that leans towards a sweet cracker with hints of wheat pepperiness. Herbal notes flow alongside a slightly tart berry feel. Finally, the sip finishes on a strong yet velvet note that’s as warm as a hug on a cold day.

DARK CORNER DISTILLERY WORLD’S BEST MOONSHINE CORN WHISKEY

Story:

Dark Corner’s Moonshine Corn Whiskey is South Carolina in a sip. This is a grain-to-glass experience from folks who deeply care about what they’re putting in the bottle. The corn comes from local, non-GMO farms and is cut with red rye and malted barley to complete the mash bill. Then the spirit is hand-distilled in small batches to assure quality in every sip.

Tasting Notes:

This is the white whiskey that errs closest to a high-quality vodka. The spirit opens with a svelte texture that’s bolstered by notes of spice and sweet corn. There’s a wisp of vanilla with a very distant fruity nature. The end is a mellow return of the spice that finishes strong with warmth but doesn’t linger.

BIG SPRING SPIRITS SILVER FOX RYE WHISKEY

Story:

Out in Pennsylvania, Big Spring Spirits is crafting a masterful 100-percent rye mash bill white whiskey. The un-aged spirit is made by hand in what used to be a match factory. Does that make a difference? We don’t know. But we can tell you there’s a real sense of place with this expression.

Tasting Notes:

Notes of deciduous trees full of green leaves and peeling bark open this one up. There’s a clear sense of grassy earthiness that gives way to a moment of freshly bloomed mushrooms. Finally, that rye spice kicks in and heralds a warming finish with a hint of grain sweetness.

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