Is George Washington's Moonshine worth $95?!?
April 13, 2012 10:47 AM   Subscribe

What can I expect from this unique unaged rye whiskey? Is this more likely to be a fine drinking experience, a cheesy collectors item, or a potential investment?

Tomorrow morning at the Mount Vernon estate in Alexandria VA, an unaged rye whiskey is being released for sale. As the press release states,"This rye whiskey is true to its historic pedigree: an unaged (and thus uncolored) spirit, twice distilled and bottled at 43 percent alcohol. Distillers used the same grain recipe , mixed and fermented in 120-gallon oak barrels, and double distilled in copper pot stills, just as it was done 200 years ago. This is a limited edition rye whiskey made at George Washington’s reconstructed distillery – 600 bottles are available for sale. Each 375 ml bottle retails for $95." As a whiskey lover, I have no idea what to expect from this concoction and am asking your advice. Will this likely be a potable worthy of the price or is this just the alcoholic equivalent of a commemorative dinner plate, i.e. more touristy than practical? Is this just historically accurate moonshine? What can I expect, and could this possibly be worth the $$?
posted by Jamesonian to Food & Drink (22 answers total)
I recently toured a new distillery in Washington state and had some unaged whiskey there. It was pretty awful and I wouldn't drink it normally. I think the idea is that you age it yourself- they sell this kit and if you can get something like that and are interested in tasting it along the way to real flavour, that is apparently worth doing (my friend bought the kit from this place a couple years ago and found it really cool).
posted by jacalata at 10:53 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've tasted Koval's white rye whiskey, which looks pretty similar (and even mentions George Washington in the copy). I'm no expert, but it was more like a weird vodka than any kind of whiskey I've had. That stuff runs about $40 per fifth, so I'd guess that the huge markup on your booze is because it's a limited-run Mount Vernon collector thing, not because it's tasty.
posted by theodolite at 10:57 AM on April 13, 2012

I haven't had unaged rye, but I have had unaged bourbon (corn whiskey, generally marketed as "moonshine," from what I've seen) and it was nothing to write home about. It's fine in cocktails, but for sipping, I prefer aged.
posted by rtha at 10:58 AM on April 13, 2012

Unaged whiskey is basically moonshine, so adjust your expectations accordingly.
posted by Oktober at 10:59 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I've had a few similar historical-recreation whiskies and a few unaged whiskies, and based on that experience I'd say it's very unlikely to be a particularly pleasant-tasting sipping whiskey. "Moonshine" is about right. There's no reason it'd be a good investment, either; you're paying for the novelty and perhaps to help the distillery, not for taste or collecting value.
posted by RogerB at 11:01 AM on April 13, 2012 [1 favorite]

I too have had Maker's Mark unaged bourbon a.k.a. white dog. It was very smooth but didn't have a whole lot of flavor which makes sense since a lot of flavor comes from sitting in the charred oak parallels for years on end.
posted by mmascolino at 11:02 AM on April 13, 2012

Some people enjoy unaged whiskey, but if you are a fan of normal, aged whiskey, I suspect you will not like it very much. The taste is very different, much "brighter" and, to me, less interesting.

There are a lot of so-called "craft distillers" these days that are selling unaged or barely-aged (e.g. this stuff) whiskies, and while sometimes they try to market its youth as an advantage, the main reason this is happening is that it is not very feasible financially for a startup distillery to launch with product that takes four years (or more) before it is ready to sell.

But this means that there are a number of unaged whiskies available if you want to satisfy your curiosity, and they are mostly much cheaper than $95 for 375ml.
posted by enn at 11:03 AM on April 13, 2012

I've had high-quality unaged rye (again, really just moonshine). It tasted a lot like grappa, but not, you know, great or anything. I'd honestly rather have a $100 bottle of grappa.
posted by MrMoonPie at 11:04 AM on April 13, 2012

There are some drinkable white whiskeys, and I wouldn't write it off just because of that. They're not my thing, they're simplistic and uninteresting, but they're not going to be any worse than a decent vodka or white rum. Read some tasting notes and reviews. Here are examples from other white whiskeys.

Here's an article on it.

Reviews and tasting notes are your friend. 95$ is a bit rich for my blood, I wouldn't pay more than about 40 for a white whiskey. You can get some very nice aged whiskeys in that price range, so I'd give it a pass. But I'm not you. Reviews and tasting notes are your friend.
posted by Stagger Lee at 11:05 AM on April 13, 2012

You can get an equally good unaged rye for $30; you'd be paying $65 for the historical connection.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:13 AM on April 13, 2012

Seconding many of these comments. I bought a bottle of Koval's white whiskey last year, and beyond the curiosity factor, I haven't done much beyond pouring tastes for friends. I enjoy sipping scotch, rye, and and bourbon, but I didn't enjoy sipping the white whiskey. It wasn't an awful purchase for $30-40ish, but I'd be mad if I spent more than that.
posted by soleiluna at 11:20 AM on April 13, 2012

As a general rule of thumb, unaged whiskey is a right kick in the teeth. That goes double for rye. And aging doesn't happen in the bottle, so don't expect it to improve with age.
posted by valkyryn at 11:29 AM on April 13, 2012

We bought some similar White Owl Whisky a few months ago. Its appeal seems to be as a replacement for vodka in mixed drinks, not as a replacement for a quality rye. Our bottle has been sitting untouched since we had our initial tasting, save for a couple of uses in baking I think.
posted by bonehead at 11:30 AM on April 13, 2012

is this just the alcoholic equivalent of a commemorative dinner plate, i.e. more touristy than practical?

Yeah, definitely, as everyone above points out. That's $180 for the equivalent of a 750ml bottle. You could buy some awesome whiskey for that. If I had $180 to blow, I'd get a bottle of Black Maple Hill 23-year-old rye and a bottle of Michter's US #1 rye and still have a $15 left over for cab fare.
posted by The Michael The at 11:52 AM on April 13, 2012 [3 favorites]

I've got a little DIY pot still, so I've played with unaged spirits a bit. They are just never good, IMO. Applejack is about as pleasant as you can get from an unaged spirit, and even that is no fun. Whiskies are a whole 'nother level of pain in the white. And rye is another step in the wrong direction. I wouldn't buy it, personally.

Fun tidbit: you can age stuff pretty quickly. A month or so under the right conditions will do it. Lots of surface area with toasted oak chips, a bit of agitation and lots of sharp temperature changes can do wonders.
posted by pjaust at 12:16 PM on April 13, 2012

and still have a $15 left over for cab fare

The rest of you have $15 bills too, right? Right? Oy.

posted by The Michael The at 12:19 PM on April 13, 2012

Another word for unaged whisky is "grain alcohol". There's just nothing to it. I don't think it's even proper to call a spirit whisky unless it has been aged in wood.
posted by mr_roboto at 12:46 PM on April 13, 2012

I don't think it's even proper to call a spirit whisky unless it has been aged in wood.

That's a fairly idiosyncratic distinction, says this holder of the Higher Certificate from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:15 PM on April 13, 2012

Sorry, that came off as far, far more dickish than I meant it to. What I mean to say is that "aged in wood" isn't actually part of the definition of whisky/whiskey as a class of spirit, though it certainly is part of the definition of certain whisky/whiskey styles (Bourbon, for instance, must be aged not only in wood, but in oak, to meet the US's "Federal Standards of Identity").
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:26 PM on April 13, 2012

Completely nothing special, is what you should expect. I'd also suggest that you can get product at least as good (I'd recommend Heaven Hill's Trybox Rye, which is rye white dog from their excellent Rittenhouse rye) for a lot less money.
posted by slkinsey at 2:29 PM on April 13, 2012

While this is un-aged, I wouldn't call it mere moonshine: as I recall, when Mt. Vernon re-started the Distillery a few years ago, they did it with two things: one was George Washington's original recipe (and the original distillery was VERY popular, producing a top-quality and highly-respected drink); the other was the input and hands-on assistance of a dozen or so of the top whiskey and bourbon brewmasters in the industry (and all of them thought Washington's original recipe would produce an excellent product). All in all, the outlook is quite good!
posted by easily confused at 5:47 PM on April 13, 2012

In some jurisdictions there is a minimum ageing requirement (3 years in a vessel no bigger than 700L) before it can even be called whisky.

$95 for 375mL seems like an exorbitant price for essentially a gimmick - it's bottled at 43% even, instead of being sold at the original proof.
posted by porpoise at 7:03 PM on April 13, 2012

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