We all know that whiskey doesn’t start off with a dark amber hue. Nor does it have those famed hints of vanilla, honey, and rich-oak sweetness. All of those flavor notes come from the aging and barreling processes. But distillers don’t age all of their whiskey. Some of it is bottled up right away and sold as white whiskey. AKA moonshine.
Not surprisingly, not everyone loves this un-aged whiskey style.
“Why wouldn’t you just rest that bad boy in an oak cask for a couple of years?” wonders Kyle Harlan, beverage director at Mission Taco Joint in Kansas City. “White whiskey is lazy.”
On the flip side, some purists like the “unadulterated grain” aspect of white whiskey. You’re just getting the fermented, distilled juice, nothing else. But know this: it’s hot as hell and can be pretty rough for the uninitiated.
If you’ve acquired a taste for white whiskey, 2020 is your year. There are numerous un-aged whiskey brands on the market right now. To figure out which bottles to buy, we asked some of our favorite bartenders for the white lightning they like to sip through the end of summer.
George Washington Unaged Rye Whiskey
Luke Pecoraro, director of curatorial services at Jamestown-Yorktown Foundation in Williamsburg, Virginia
George Washington Unaged Rye Whiskey (Mount Vernon, Virginia). This small-batch product is a favorite, not only because it is the official spirit of the Commonwealth of Virginia, but also given the historical research that went into determining the mash bill; 60% rye, 35% corn, and 5% barley. It can be said that this is a faithful representation of whiskey distilled in the early Republic, and the methods used at the George Washington distillery – the wood-fired stills, the grain milled on-site – are remarkable.
The unaged product has a consistently good taste and finish, and is produced in limited quantity twice a year.
King’s County Moonshine
Pete Stanton, head bartender at Ai Fiori at The Langham in New York City
I can’t say I have a favorite — I think King’s County or Coppersea are probably the most complex I’ve ever tasted, but the genre is not my thing. I feel there are more interesting examples of eau de vie or un-aged spirit like blanche armagnac.
Buffalo Trace White Dog
Jim Richard, chef at Red Fish Taco in South Walton, Florida
I’m A Buffalo Trace Fan and the White Dog with tea-smoked thyme and a splash of homemade limoncello (or zest) with one ice cube is truly special.
Death’s Door White Whiskey
Gord Hannah, head bartender at The Drake Hotel in Toronto
I think that that White Whiskey from Death’s Door is a great place to start if you have never had moonshine. Moonshine is to a distiller as a hamburger is to a chef. A humble serve that can be elevated by expertise but always best when made by people with true love for the craft.
McClintock Maryland Heritage White Whiskey
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Ian Clark, bar supervisor at Topside in Baltimore
My current favorite is McClintock Distilling Company’s White Whiskey out of Frederick, Maryland. It has great versatility in mixing cocktails and, when drinking straight, does not have the severe corn-sweetness burn that a lot of other white whiskeys exhibit.
Low Gap Clear Whiskey
Tim Wiggins, co-owner and beverage director of Yellowbelly in St. Louis
I love the Clear Whiskey from Low Gap. It’s made from 100% malted rye and made in small cognac stills so it tastes more like brandy than whiskey to me. It has a really unique grassy/funkiness that I am all about. I like using it in small measurements with gin or tequila in stirred cocktails. I think it adds a unique flavor profile that you can’t find in most spirits.
Crittenden Kiln Shine
Brandi Carter, beverage manager at Elvie’s in Jackson, Mississippi
During Prohibition, Kiln, Mississippi was considered the moonshine capital of the world. Today Crittenden Distillery in Kiln makes a great product, Kiln Shine. At Elvie’s, we try to use as many quality Mississippi made products possible in our bar.
George Dickel #1 White Corn Whiskey
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Catalina Borer, bartender at Kingsmill Resort in Williamsburg, Virginia
I like to pay my taxes, so let’s go with white whiskey. I’d have to go with George Dickel #1. It’s distilled from corn, rye, and barley. The combination of these ingredients makes it a buttery, light grassy almost floral taste rocket fuel!
This bottle is great for crafting creative cocktails.
Slow Hand White Whiskey
Kira Webster, beverage director at Indo in St. Louis
Slow Hand White Whiskey has been my favorite for a few years. White whiskies tend to have a harsher flavor without the oak influences, but Wood Hat’s is really smooth with a sweet finish, making it really easy to drink.
High West Silver Whiskey
Hayden Miller, head bartender at Bodega Taqueria y Tequila in Miami
High West Silver Whiskey — Western Oat. This whiskey really surprised me for how palatable it is while being a white whiskey. The body is smooth, the heat is preferable to many of the “raw” whiskeys I’ve tried before. The outlook for HW was to create something to sip like other clear spirits and this is it.
Ole Smoky Original Moonshine
If you’re going to sip on a white whiskey or moonshine, why not grab one of the OG brands. Ole Smoky was one of the first distilleries to legally make moonshine in the country. In the years since, the distillery has produced countless moonshine (and whiskey) flavors. But its best is its original moonshine. Made using a century-old recipe, it’s surprisingly buttery, sweet, and easy to sip.