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Rig Hand White Dog Corn Distillate

Review: Rig Hand White Dog Corn Distillate   (80/100)
a review by Chip Dykstra (Aka Arctic Wolf)
Posted on August 19, 2017

The Rig Hand Craft Distillery (formerly Big Rig Distillery) opened their doors on October 17, 2015 and they already have an impressive line-up of spirits for sale at their boutique store within the facility. These spirits include their Premium Vodka and their selections of White Dog Distillate (not whisky for three years yet); and as well as their intriguing Sugar Beet Brum.

Additionally, they have been experimenting with an array of flavoured Vodkas some of which are bottled and ready for sale, and others which are in development. (I took a tour of the craft distillery last year and have slowly been working through the samples they gave me.)

The distillery’s White Dog Malted Corn Distillate is produced from 100 % Alberta grown corn distilled upon the company’s main still (Mighty Morley). This is a versatile still consisting of a large wash still, two columns, and a condenser. The columns are different sizes, a short 4-plate column is used for stripping the spirit (reducing the water content), and a tall 16-plate column is used for Vodka production. The Corn Distillate is distilled twice through the through short 4-plate column to produce a more flavourful spirit than if the 16 plate column had been used. After distillation the spirit is either filtered and reduced to bottling proof (53.4 % alcohol by volume for my sample) to be sold as White Dog Corn Distillate, or it is placed in re-used oak casks to become whisky in three years.

When sold as White Dog, the spirit arrives with a stick of oak which the consumer can place in the bottle to ‘flavour’ the spirit so as to glean at least a small understanding of how the spirit’s flavour profile will change do to the oak flavours permeating the whisky. With my sample I decided to go a step further by placing my bottle of White Dog into a once used 1 litre oak cask. I allowed the spirit to sit for 14 weeks in an aging simulation. This barrel had been used once previously to age the Rig Hand Barley Distillate for 6 weeks (results here).

When I had previously aged Rig Hand’s Barley Distillate, I simulated the maturation of a mid range whisky. This time however, I chose a longer term of aging in an attempt to simulate a premium well-aged whisky. As you can see from the picture I snapped of the final product (placed in a new decanter), the hue of the whisky had reached deep copper .

I thought it would be interesting to share my simulation results as a ‘Whisky in Progress Review’. Please bear in mind that this was only a simulation and all conclusions reached should be interpreted with caution.

In the Bottle 4/5

The old Rig Hand bottle in almost identical to the new Rig Hand bottle and it captures the heart of Oil Country (in Alberta, Canada) quite well. The Bottle is shaped like an oil derrick complete with ribbing on the bottle designed to look like the trusses from which such rigs are constructed. The label is simple, I like the Canadian Flag (it’s good to be proud of you home country) and I like how each bottle is hand numbered. My bottle of White Dog Malted Barely Distillate is from the very first batch, and is bottle number 80.

(Note: the newer bottlings have the same shape and design, however the Distillery’s name has been changed to Rig Hand.)

The only detriment to the presentation is the growing sentiment throughout North America against ‘big oil’ caused by the perceived negative effect fossil fuels are having on the environment and climate change. The bottle presentation, and indeed the name of the distillery, may unfortunately limit the product’s consumer base. On the other hand, it may also inspire more loyalty among those who rely upon the oil industry for their livelihood.

In the Glass 8/10

When I sampled the spirit for the first time it was immediately apparent that oak was now dominating the spirit. The alcohol content had increased as my hydrometer measured the alcohol content at 60 % rather than 53.4 %. (Contrary to our preconceptions aging does not always lower alcohol content, in dry climates the water in the barrel can evaporate faster that the alcohol.) The combination of firm wood and high alcohol caused me to make the decision to bring the whisky to a lower alcohol proof  by adding additional water and letting the whisky rest for 3 more weeks in my decanter before I sampled again. According to my hydrometer, I brought the alcohol content to 44% abv. . (The photo shows the whisky at the reduced bottling proof.)

When I poured the White Dog into my glencairn after bringing it to the new bottling proof  it was still a nice bronze colour (see photo above). The harsh astringency of the new make distillate and its firm vegetal notes had been soothed by the time in the barrel, and firm woody notes, hints of chocolate and pungent baking spice were now the dominating aspects of the whisky.

I should make it  clear that aging for 14 weeks in a small 1 litre barrel is not the same as long-term aging in a hogshead. As a result we still have some of the mushy banana aromas and the vegetal tones  of the new make spirit are still present. However, the spirit which I placed in the oak barrel has improved dramatically which is a good sign for the whisky to be.

In the Mouth 48/60

Tasting the spirit at the reduced proof was pleasant. It still had some harshness which seemed to be a result of not only the spirit itself, but also the wood spice which had accumulated. The spirit was perhaps over-wooded; but I was now able to discern some nice flavours of nutmeg and allspice along with a very light sweetness of caramel and vanilla.

My next step was to pour the rest of my sample into a rocks glass, and add both some ice and some cola. I was surprised at how the cola interacted with the woody corn distillate. The cola with its firm caramel flavour and sweetness was just what was missing. I added a dash of Angostura bitters and the resulting Buckeroo tasted fine. I may have over-oaked the spirit, but I did manged to turn that mistake into a nice summer cocktail.

In the Throat 12/15

The mid length finish was full of wood spice with ebbing flavours of nutmeg and chocolate.

I had tried to simulate long-term aging in a small barrel, but I should confess that my simulation was flawed. Much of what occurs when a whisky is maturing in a barrel is a result of chemical interactions which requires not just oak, but also time. I created a woody spirit which was not necessarily easy to sip as the wood spice knocked my throat for a loop.  I also had not been able to capture enough sweetness from the barrel probably because much of that sweetness had been imparted previously to the barley distillate I had previously placed in the barrel. I suspect I should have re-charred my small barrel before aging the corn distillate.

The Afterburn 8/10

A review such as this is almost certainly unfair to the distillate. So you might ask why I would even publish these results? The reason is that I found flavours in the unformed whisky which I really enjoyed (nutmeg and allspice along with an ever so light sweetness of caramel and vanilla). I think better oak management would bring those flavours forward.

My short (14 week) aging simulation demonstrated to me that the harsh, vegetal spirit which I tasted as ‘new-make’ has the right components of flavour to be complimented by oak aging. I am betting that the folks at the distillery will do a far better job than I did.

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Suggested Recipe

Dirty Dog Buckeroo

2 oz Rig Hand White Dog Corn Distillate (aged 14 weeks in small oak)
4 oz Cola
Ice
dash Angostura Bitters

Add ice to a medium-sized rocks glass
Pour the lightly aged Rig Hand White Dog over the ice
Add a large splash of Ginger-ale

Enjoy Responsibly!

Note: If  you are interested in my cocktail recipes, please click this link (Cocktails and Recipes) for my mixed drink servings!

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You may (loosely) interpret the scores as follows.

0-25     A spirit with a rating this low would actually kill you.
26-49   Depending upon your fortitude you might actually survive this.
50 -59  You are safe to drink this…but you shouldn’t.
60-69   Substandard swill which you may offer to people you do not want to see again.
70-74    Now we have a fair mixing rum or whisky.  Accept this but make sure it is mixed into a cocktail.
75-79    You may begin to serve this to friends, again probably still cocktail territory.
80-84    We begin to enjoy this spirit neat or on the rocks. (I will still primarily mix cocktails)
85-89    Excellent for sipping or for mixing!
90-94    Definitely a primary sipping spirit, in fact you may want to hoard this for yourself.
95-97.5 The Cream of the Crop
98+       I haven’t met this bottle yet…but I want to.

Very loosely we may put my scores into terms that you may be familiar with on a Gold, Silver, and  Bronze medal  scale as follows:

70 – 79.5    Bronze Medal (Recommended only as a mixer)
80 – 89.5     Silver Medal (Recommended for sipping and or a high quality mixer)
90 – 95         Gold Medal (Highly recommended for sipping and for sublime cocktails.)
95.5+            Platinum Award (Highest Recommendation)

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