Book Review: Chasing the White Dog

January 6, 2012

I recently finished reading Chasing the White Dog by Max Watman, published in 2010. “White dog” is the term used for unaged whiskey, as all distilled spirits are clear until they have been aged in wood barrels, which is when the spirit turns gold. Watman takes you through moonshine history, research, interviews, and his own attempts at making moonshine. And when I say “moonshine,” I mean not licensed for distilling.

The book is laid out in such a way that Watman takes you through a chapter with his interviews, history, and research, followed by another chapter about his own personal experience. The quality of the two is so vastly different when read by somebody who does homebrewing and makes wine and cider read it. Watman’s research side is thorough, entertaining, and sometimes even poetic. He makes an excellent history book writer. However, juxtaposed to his own personal experience, he seems to have skipped doing research on fermentation. He is so anxious to distill that it is like he learned to run before he learned to walk, and he doesn’t understand why he is having problems distilling as a result. For example, my biggest problem happens when he attempts to make hard cider to distill into “apple jack.” Wrong – applejack is cold distillation. What he is doing is making apple eau da vie. He says the cider stinks, which he doesn’t know could have been avoided with the use of yeast nutrient. He thinks he has a ruined batch after about maybe a month, and procrastinating for another two months or longer, is surprised when it becomes clear and tastes better. That’s because cider really should not be consumed before three months, and if he waited nine months total, it would be even better yet. This holds true for any wine. I will give him points for knowing that adding sugar to apple juice to make cider will not gain him any friends among the craft-distillers with that method.

However, if you can get past his trials, he does a considerable amount of research on moonshine history and how today’s perception came about. He also researched court cases and sits in one one, and tours the areas that these happen. What is kind of neat is that he also attempts to find people who drink moonshine along with those who enforce laws and do NASCAR. These stories are all very amusing and he manages to write some poetic lines, though sometimes he gets a little off topic.

If you know nothing about making beer and wine, then I think you will find Chasing the White Dog an entertaining read about modern East Coast liquor enforcement. If you do know something about making beer and wine, then I think you will find this book entertaining with a dash of annoyance.

Meme Cat


2 Responses to “Book Review: Chasing the White Dog”

  1. […] Max Watman, in closing of Chasing the White Dog, basically swears off being a distiller/moonshiner, even if he was only doing a pint at a time. He struggles with the “moral ambiguity” of being a hobbyist distiller, equating to something like a person who grows marijuana for himself and friends, which is different than someone who sets up a marijuana farm business. He did acquire some moonshine, the stuff made for pure profit, and said it was awful and needed to be regulated for health and safety. The stuff a hobbyist would make isn’t for profit, and he argues that it should be legalized. He says that with the way current laws are written, where one household can make not sellable 300 gallons of beer or wine a year (I was lead to believe it was 200 gallons, but maybe the laws changed), if you took all 300 of those gallons and distilled them at 10% conversion rate, you would have 30 gallons of spirit. He then alludes to the suggested idea that spirit sales would not decrease because people would want to test it out against store bought stuff (I have heard this to be a myth in New Zealand, where home distilling is legal, and supposedly spirit sales did not decrease). Watman thinks that if the government is really that scared about losing its tax money, hobbyists should have the option of paying $150 licensing fee a year without the ability to sell their spirits. […]

  2. […] smelled sweet and tasted a little of molasses. Thing is, even though rum is made from molasses, all distilled spirits are clear until they are colored and/or aged in barrels, so Sea Cider probably did add a little bit of sweetener to gain that color and that […]

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