Most of the whiskey we get from distilleries is already finished: flavored, aged, and blended to perfection. Some version of an aging process has happened after the whiskey was produced which adds components and complexity to the raw product that came off the still. We don’t usually see a “white whiskey” from established distilleries — so when it does happen, it not only gives us a look at what flavors the raw product has to offer but it also gives home whiskey enthusiasts an opportunity to try their own hand at the finishing process.
Ranger Creek Brewing & Distilling, located in a small industrial park in San Antonio, Texas, has been operating since 2010. The “brewstillery” focuses on handmade whiskey and small batch production with a heavy Texas influence, and it’s one of the only places I know of that produces both bourbon and beer in the same location.
Ranger Creek embraces their Texas heritage wholeheartedly, and names their various lines of spirits after famous firearm calibers that have been used to shape the history of the state. From their “Rimfire” whiskey to this “.36” caliber whiskey, there’s always a story behind the name.
Like I said, Ranger Creek really leans into their Texas roots. Instead of trying to make a Kentucky style bourbon whiskey, they made the process their own by adding the flavors of Texas into the mix. All of the grains used in the mash for this spirit come from their home state.
This whiskey is a true Texas grain-to-glass operation. It starts as a batch of Texas corn, which is then milled on-site in San Antonio before being toasted using mesquite wood from the local San Antonio area (the same kind of wood usually used to make the best barbecue in the state). That’s added to some rye and barley, which is turned into a mash and, again, distilled on site.
In other versions of this whiskey, the spirit is then placed into oak barrels that are charred using that same mesquite wood. However, as this version is a “white” whiskey, it skips that step and no additional processing happens after the spirit comes off the still (beyond proofing down the whiskey). It’s as close to moonshine as you can get from a distillery.
Note that while this is a spirit directly off the still, this doesn’t quite qualify as “vodka.” That kind of liquor needs to come off the still at around 95% alcohol by volume — at which point, all of the flavor has purposefully been strained out of it. Instead, this comes off the still at a lower proof and retains much of the flavors of the source material.
The bottle is pretty standard. A short rounded body, round shoulder, and short stubby neck is a classic design that really can’t go wrong. Topping off the bottle is a wooden cork to keep everything contained.
The label on the bottle is an appealing brown paper that looks and feels aged, like a ripped brown paper bag section. The distillery logo and information is printed on the label in a rather plain black font that matches with the no-nonsense style.
Speaking of the label… while it is on the larger side, that’s not really something that I’m going to complain about here. Usually the biggest problem I have is that the label is so large that you can’t see the color of the spirit inside, but given that there’s no color whatsoever to show off here… well, I guess that’s less of a problem.
The elephant in the room is the fact that this is clear as water. Which is fitting — many cultures’ names for this spirit is literally “water of life.” But you can tell from the aroma that there’s something more to the glass than just water — as even from a few feet away, those alcohol notes are unmistakable. Above and beyond the raw alcohol I also get a few whiffs of some citrus, some honey, and a good bit of raw corn.
Taking a sip, the flavors are pretty much the same. There’s that bit of raw corn, some citrus notes, and then a pretty smooth alcohol flavor thanks to the barley content. On the finish, there’s a bit of black pepper spice from that rye grain, a tiny hint of bitterness, and then just a pleasant, mildly spicy tingle that lasts a good long while.
Probably most notable from this format is what I don’t get. I honestly don’t get a lot of the mesquite smoke notes that I saw in the finished bourbon version, and the telltale caramel and vanilla tastes are absent as well. All are flavors typically imparted from the barrel, so tasting this white version really helps isolate the flavors inherent in the whiskey from the flavors that come from the finishing process.
Typically, with a little bit of added ice, we see the lighter and more delicate flavors drop out and the bolder aspects tuned down. In this case, there are no bold flavors whatsoever so all we’re really doing by adding ice is killing some of the more delicate aspects of the whiskey for not a whole lot of benefit.
I think I’ve completely lost the citrus at this point, and the honey isn’t far behind it. Those flavors just don’t seem to stand up to much force. But something that is interesting: the rye content seems to be making a bit more of a bold move here. I still get some of that raw corn note, but I also get more of the sourdough rye bread aspect that’s typical of a rye whiskey. In fact, you can say it’s more prominent than ever.
I think the ice turned this proto-bourbon into a rye.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Nope. Just, nope.
The bitters are way too overpowering for this spirit. This is a more delicate expression of their bourbon without any of the dark rich flavors that usually pair well with the angostura bitters. Since those aspects are absent, there’s nothing to balance out all that bitterness. The end result is just disappointing.
In terms of enjoyment, this isn’t great. There’s no punch. Just water, a bit of raw corn, and the ginger beer. It’s a pretty flat presentation.
But I will give the spirit some credit. The things I look for in a mule are (1) a unique flavor that’s added to the mix, and (2) some extra complexity that’s provided by the whiskey. In this case, it technically hits both criteria: the corn is absolutely part of the conversation with the ginger (but isn’t effective in balancing it out), and the pepper from the rye content adds a new layer of complexity that wasn’t there before.
That said… I would still happily never, ever drink this version of a Kentucky Mule again.
So, you could theoretically drink this whiskey straight as-is if you’d like. There are certainly some interesting flavors that come from the raw spirit, and for those doing a whiskey tasting or just trying to better understand the aspects of flavor that come from the still versus those that come from the barrel, this is a great teaching tool.
But that’s not what this whiskey is for.
Here in the United States, as a private citizen, I can’t distill my own whiskey. Thanks to the revenuers, that’s a federal crime — and I prefer being on this side of the penitentiary walls. But what I can do is age and flavor my own alcohol. Putting it in wood barrels, adding botanicals and spices, whatever my heart desires. That’s how I could make “my own” whiskey.
And that’s just what this whiskey was designed to do. It’s designed to be a solid base for home whiskey enthusiasts to take and make their own. It’s fueling that independent and experimentational spirit that embodies Texas whiskey, and for that alone I like it. But add into the mix that it’s actually a decent spirit as-is, and you’ve got a winner.
|Ranger Creek .36 White Dog Whiskey|
Produced By: Ranger CreekProduction Location: Texas, United States
Classification: Moonshine Whiskey
Special Type: Certified Texas Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $32.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
Like an alcoholic choose your own adventure novel, this is a great vehicle for your imagination.