Insert Dog Joke Here
It’s not uncommon to finish off an eight-course Italian meal with a little glass of grappa. With all that garlic, onions, tomato, and cheese kicking around, and the copious red wine to wash it down, sometimes you need the bulldozing effect of a pure, high-alcohol content digestif to put an exclamation point at the end of your gastrointestinal death sentence. But what if you swapped out the pasta for hush puppies, traded tomatoes for Pimientos de Padrón, and eschewed osso bucco in favor of seared diver scallops? Wouldn’t you still want a digestif? Mightn’t you need one?
Thankfully, Jason and I secured a bottle of Buffalo Trace White Dog, the unaged whiskey straight off of Buffalo Trace’s still that, if aged a few years in wood barrels, would become their Bourbon. In a sense, it’s like a corn-and-rye brandy, perfect to end a meal. In a sense.
The truth is, at 125 proof, it’s hard to get past White Dog’s fangs. It comes in a short half-bottle that we carried like a grenade, only pulling the pin/cork once we were fully prepared for an alcoholic explosion. We deliberated a minute on the best way to taste the spirit, whether we should add water or ice to bring down the alcohol, or even make up an old-fashioned or a perfect white Manhattan, before my purist nature kicked in. I suggested to everyone at the table that we consider how most white dog would have been consumed in the past: stolen directly off the still by underpaid roughneck distillery workers jonesing for a midday fix. We had made the mistakes of paying for the bottle and waiting until after work to start drinking whiskey, and my idea to sip it out of a ladle was roundly rebuffed, but we all agreed to drink it straight, unaltered, and relatively fast.
The initial boozy cloud blows off quickly enough, revealing a surprisingly gentle, sugary nose. The mouthfeel has a good amount of smooth corny sugar and some yeasty notes, but that struggles to fight through the alcohol’s numbing effect. The finish has some spice to it, owing to the rye used in the bourbon mash, and overall the whiskey is a lot more nuanced and delicate than you’d expect from something that’s 62.5% ABV.
So does White Dog or other similar white whiskey have a future as the American answer to eaux-de-vie? Of the five Crushers who split the ladleful (what? whiskey should be drunk out of ladles!), two didn’t finish, one went home immediately after, and Jason and I felt like taking the step down, ABV-wise, to Old Rip Van Winkle 10yr Bourbon. I imagine that I’ll be taking that puppy out for a walk (DOG JOKE!!) a few more evenings, but I think this bottle has more value to someone curious to see the whiskey stork (where does Bourbon come from?) than someone looking to round out his or her home bar.