A couple of weeks ago, we received a question from reader Jane B.: There’s been an flooding of moonshine on the market these days and I’m wondering what kind of cocktail can you make with moonshine? Any ideas would be welcomed.
I love this question! Because there are two ways of answering it: the really easy, short way, where I get right to the point and talk about a fun cocktail. And the much longer way, where I get to talk about all sorts of interesting things, like barrel aging and Prohibition and chemistry and history and stock car racing. So get set. – Andrew
Ok. To get right to the point for everyone who’s just interested in our recipes and Nole’s beautiful photos: if you see moonshine for sale in a store, you’re seeing a marketing gimmick. Some folks are trying to pass of regular unaged whiskey as moonshine. It’s not moonshine. It’s unaged whiskey. Moonshine is, more or less, privately distilled illegal spirits. It might be distilled from corn or sugar or wood pulp. It might be 80 proof or it might be 180 proof. It might be mostly ethanol, which you can drink, or it might be full of methanol, which could blind you. You might be able to buy it, in an actual mason jar of course, if you know a guy who knows a guy whose cousin knows a guy who makes moonshine. You can’t buy it in a store. But unaged whiskey marketed as moonshine is trendy. It’s forbidden. It’s Americana. It’s cool.
And that’s ok. There are some great unaged whiskeys for sale today. And unaged whiskey, also called white whiskey or white dog whiskey, can stand on its own as a spirit, though a very different beast from an aged bourbon or rye whiskey. Unaged whiskeys carry lots of raw flavors, like sweet corn and fruity notes, the sort of flavors you might expect form a silver Tequila, without the agave’s sour finish. I love the way white whiskey pairs with apertif wines, so here’s my contribution:
Illustration by Nicole Miazgowicsz for Oh So Beautiful Paper
Ghost in the Graveyard
2 oz Unaged Corn Whiskey
3/4 oz Dry Vermouth
1/2 oz Dry Curacao
1/4 oz Maraschino Liqueur
2 Dashes Orange Bitters
Combine the whiskey, vermouth, curacao, and liqueur with ice and stir well. Strain into a chilled cocktail glass and top with the bitters. Garnish with a lemon twist and enjoy.
Didn’t I say this was the short version? Yeah. The Ghost in the Graveyard will look like a Martini but taste completely different: sweet and fruity from the corn, with its rougher edges mellowed by the vermouth, and finishing with the citrusy and nutty notes of the liqueurs and a bit of the whiskey’s alcoholic heat. Served ice cold, it’s actually quite apt for summer, both refreshing and full of sweet summer corn notes. It’s deeply satisfying and one of the recipes I’m prouder of.
Like an unaged silver or blanco Tequila, a white whiskey is full of alcohol heat and sharp, rough edges – so try pairing two ounces of white whiskey with an ounce of triple sec and 3/4 ounce lime juice to make something like a whiskey Margarita. White whiskey also pairs really well with apple cider and with ginger beer. It’s versatile, but don’t think of it like a rich, oaky bourbon or a deep, spicy rye.
Want to know more about white whiskey and the history of moonshine? Keep reading!