White DogAmerican Whiskey

Whiskey, whether it’s made on wave-lashed Islay or in the middle of Kentucky, has to be aged in oak to earn the name. But more and more distillers are now selling their ‘new make’ spirit in a trend driven partly by the burgeoning craft distilling movement, and partly by zeitgeist-conscious barmen.

Taking the White Dog for a walk

There’s a history to the selling and consumption of unaged spirit destined to be whisky. Go back far enough into the past of Scotch, bourbon and just about any other matured spirit and you’ll find that it was being distilled and drunk with indecent haste.

As whiskey evolved, these new-make spirits were largely consigned to history and academic interest, although there have long been pockets of illicit ‘moonshine’ production littered among the backroads of Tennessee – and, following the repeal of Prohibition, distilleries including Jack Daniel’s released unaged spirit or ‘white dog’ to thirsty consumers unwilling to wait for it to age.

Crafting white dog’s return

Now it’s back, surfing the wave of America’s craft distilling boom and the possibly faddish enthusiasm of countless bartenders, eager to find something more characterful than mainstream vodka to play around with.

As small independent whiskey distilleries sprang up all over the States, they faced a conundrum: for a return on their investment, either turn their hands to making gin or vodka – or sell the new make.

Distillery character

The result has been a new sub-segment of the whiskey world, initially populated by the craft sector but increasingly embraced by the big boys, too: Jim Beam, Jack Daniel’s and Buffalo Trace have all released ‘white dog’ or similar spirits in recent years.

And at their best, these spirits offer an insight into true distillery character before the shifting influences of wood maturation, as well as a way for distillers to show off their craft. Are these spirits as complex or deep as their oak-matured big brothers? No, but they retain a charm and, in America, a heritage all their own.

Did you know?

  • Jack Daniel’s released an unaged spirit immediately after the repeal of Prohibition, but then master distiller Lem Motlow put his own name on the label to protect Jack’s reputation
  • Jim Beam’s Jacob’s Ghost release is not strictly ‘white dog’ as it’s aged for at least a year in charred white oak barrels. It’s named after the 18th-century company founder, who made ‘white whiskey’
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