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White Whiskey

White whiskey has many names. It can be marketed as white dog or white lightning, or even the yokel moonshine, although that usually refers to illicit varieties. A few things are clear, however, besides this unusual spirit. First, it is an unaged product, meaning it does not typically spend time in oak barrels. Second, because it is whiskey, it is a distillate made from fermented grains. This is where products differ. Depending on the grain used, where they are farmed, the water added, and of course, the distillation process itself, one white whiskey can taste dramatically different from another.

Traditionally, whiskey is thought of as a "brown" spirit, but all of that color and much of the flavor comes form the aging process. Time spent in charred oak barrels allows the high concentration of alcohol to extract flavors from the wood. Caramel, vanilla, smoke, fruit, spices—these are all derived from years of contact with oak. White whiskey is basically the distillate as it exists before it gets put into barrels.

This often leaves folks wondering how white whiskey is any different than other unaged spirits like vodka, or rum, or tequila. The difference is that rum is made from sugar cane, tequila from the agave plant, and whiskey from grain. These agricultural products in the "mash" each impart their own unique flavors to the spirit. Vodka is slightly more complicated because it supposed to be flavor-neutral, so it can technically be made from anything. During distillation the alcohol concentration is so high when making vodka that all of the flavorful "impurities" are more or less removed. Once diluted back down to bottling proof, vodka is basically ethanol and water, with very little of the original flavor. Yet, even vodka flavor varies from one brand to another with differences in the water source and any lingering elements of the original mash.

So, with white whiskey we have a grain distillate processed at a lower proof than vodka so that the character of the grain remains. Take, for example, Oregon Grain Growers Distillery's ACME Oregon Corn Whiskey. This 100% corn whiskey is bottled at 90 proof in Pendleton, Oregon. It is smooth and malty with a definite air of corn on the nose. It has no aging, no color, and therefore no fruit, spices, caramel, or vanilla—yet even in this pure form, there is enough complexity to make it an interesting sipper. In many respects this is a distiller's showcase of good things to come. Had it first been placed into oak barrels (which are very expensive), it would literally take years to create an aged product. Relative newcomers like Oregon Grain Growers often feature unaged spirits early-on. Not only does this make practical economic sense, but it is also respectable. Instead of buying a pre-aged spirit from halfway across the country and slapping on a label, we appreciate the opportunity to try quality products now, and look forward to supporting a local business with integrity, turning out quality products and proving they have a bright future ahead of them.

So, what kind of cocktails can you make with white whiskey? This spirit is notoriously difficult to mix, but if you appreciate the flavor profile, the answer is that you can make almost anything. For some, the malty character is reminiscent of genever, so it can lend itself as a substitute in recipes that call for that spirit. You could also use it as a sub for typical aged whiskey, but it will transform the drink you are making into something new. For example, you could make a white Manhattan using dry vermouth with orange bitters to maintain a lighter color scheme and flavor profile. There are white whiskey Old Fashioned possibilities, or improved cocktails that add liqueurs. We even found a variation on the Monkey Gland that subs white dog for gin, adding some Cocchi Americano to bring back some of gin's floral elements.

We decided to make a white whiskey original created some years back by Boston bartender, Ryan Lotz:

The Deadline by Ryan Lotz
1.5 oz ACME Oregon Corn [white] Whiskey
.5 oz St-Germain
.5 oz Bénédictine
.75 oz lime juice

Shake ingredients with ice and strain into a chilled cocktail glass. Garnish with a lemon twist.

The first few sips of this drink are a little tart, but we are glad the liqueurs are kept to a minimum as we like acid more than runaway sweetness. There is a corn aroma on the nose before the drink even reaches your lips which translates into a nice malty finish, so the spirit is definitely present, but it doesn't overpower. The combination of St-Germain elderflower liqueur and DOM Bénédictine is wonderful and unexpected. It is so easy to get carried away with the elderflower that we have found ourselves reaching for the bottle less and less in recent years, but this light-handed treatment has renewed our interest. The lime provides an acid bite for a delicious and refreshing drink overall.

Certainly, your access to white whiskey brands will vary as each distiller creates a unique product. For instance, Buffalo Trace White Dog may offer bolder corn overtones at 125 proof, and varieties that feature rye in the mash may transform the drink in other ways. Like cocktails featuring other spirits, white whiskey in The Deadline offers some room to experiment, but we enjoyed this version and plan to make it again.

We were fortunate enough to lay our hands on Ouragon Vodka as well as the ACME white whiskey. Ouragon is another "Circle G" branded product from Oregon Grain Growers Distillery distilled from 100% Oregon grown hard red wheat. It has an intensely floral aroma that is interesting and sets it apart from other brands. We look forward to trying it in upcoming recipes.


It's often a good sign when you sit down at a bar to be greeted by the bartender with a glass of water. We don't drink alcohol to quench our thirst—it's a full-sensory experience—so a glass of water not only satisfies the need for hydration, it also balances the social ritual allowing you to extend the enjoyment of your selected beverage. It sounds like an over-the-top description of simply drinking a glass of water—which it is—but we think every great drink deserves this "sidekick" and we can't over emphasize the importance of drinking water while you drink booze. Whether you ordered the expensive and obscure signature cocktail from the seasonal menu at your favorite bar or you are happily sipping beer at home, water should always be within reach. We don't often feature this unsung hero in photographs, but it is the most important beverage you can drink and serve,

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The Ferrari: a Bartender's Handshake

Often regarded as the "bartender's handshake", a shot of Fernet-Branca has become a modern fixture for bartenders visiting one another at their respective craft cocktail establishments. It is as much a nod from one professional to another as it is confirmation that, as a fellow enthusiast of the craft, your tastes have evolved to the point that an intensely herbal, bitter Italian aperitivo is a perfectly acceptable refreshment that doesn't require extra time mixing up a signature recipe.

Regular patrons can also sometimes upgrade their "bar table image" and gain immediate street credit by ordering Fernet, (or if it's not too busy, requesting a bartender's choice cocktail made with the stuff). Calling out Fernet-Branca is still unusual enough—even in better bars—that it might earn you a smile or a double-take from the bartender and occasionally leads to conversations about ingredients or recipe construction. But, sipping Fernet neat is just

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Final Say

There are a handful of cocktails in our experience that anyone reading this should recognize, or at the very least, drinks you should try. One example is the Last Word—a forgotten classic until it was unearthed by Seattle bartending legend Murray Stenson of Zig Zag Café. To the uninitiated, its bold and unusual flavor profile featuring both Luxardo maraschino liqueur and Green Chartreuse can be a revelation. The fact that it is citrus-based makes it accessible, and if you are a self-proclaimed gin hater, it is a drink that can definitely open your mind to the wonderful possibilities that a good craft cocktail can offer. Don't feel like you need to make the Last Word before you try today's feature, but if you haven't had the pleasure you are certainly missing out. Knowing one drink can also serve as a convenient benchmark for judging another.

As good as

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Cold Brew & Tonic

Normally, we don't reach for tonic when we want a cocktail. The old G&T may be a popular choice, but we think it's because people don't know what else to make with gin. It's a shame because many of the best classic cocktails call for gin—not vodka—not only because vodka was unknown in the pre-prohibition era, but because gin brings something extra to a cocktail that simply isn't there otherwise—and we don't mean juniper. It may be a requirement in gin, but not all brands choose to emphasize juniper flavor, allowing other botanicals, citrus and even spice to play the center role. Yet, even with strong, piney examples, gin is transformed by other ingredients in a way that can be hard to explain to people who think they are gin-averse. But tasting is believing.

On a recent trip to Minnesota to visit some of our former haunts, we happened

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Otoño Cocktail

Some years ago, we received a gift from a family member living in Spain. Pacharán (or Patxaran) is a sloe berry and anise flavored liqueur from the Navarre community of northern Spain. Dating back to the middle ages, homemade pacharán recipes are still followed today similar to several Italian traditions (like nocino and limoncello). To make pacharán, sloe berries from the blackthorn tree are soaked in anisette along with a few coffee beans and cinnamon. After a time, the solids are strained and the resulting liquid is bottled. Eventually, commercial brands became available. The oldest is Zoco, dating back to the 1950s using a family recipe from the early 1800s.

Similar to Sloe Gin, Pacharán Navarro production is regulated to contain no color or flavor additives, yet it boasts a deep reddish hue and an intense berry flavor alongside the expected hint of anise. While it is

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Practical Glassware

Nothing showcases a unique cocktail like a unique cocktail glass. But, sometimes practicality is more important—we are talking function over form. Not everyone wants or needs the kind of variety we like to photograph here. What everyone does need are a few different glasses to get through the vast majority of recipes worth exploring. You want to be able to construct and enjoy classic and contemporary recipes the way they were intended. We are often asked what kind of glassware to get, so we thought a simple guide might help. Once you cover the basics, you can always expand with a specialty glass here or there without going overboard. But you should at least insist on these as a starting point.

The Coupe The most basic cocktail glass you should own is the cocktail coupe. This is the historic vessel for serving "up" cocktails (shaken or stirred, then strained into

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