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White whiskies are good in any cocktail (such as this margarita), that is typically made using clear spirits like white tequila or white rum.

Laura Leyshon/The Globe and Mail

The Question

My son bought me a bottle of white whisky. I love regular whiskies but I hate the taste of this one on its own. I tried a Manhattan on the rocks but it didn't work. My dilemma: What can I create that will be somewhat better than palatable? Otherwise it's headed for the scrap heap.

The Answer

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Your pain and consternation are shared by many who've ventured into the white frontier.

It's whisky lacking in whisky's defining quality: contact with oak. Whisky by definition is a grain spirit aged in wood. Definitions vary. In Canada and Scotland, the distillate must spend years in barrel before it can be called "whisky." In the United States, five minutes will do the trick.

True whisky derives most of its flavour and all its colour from years in contact with wood barrels. Lately, though, many distilleries, notably craft outfits eager for startup cash flow, have been releasing raw, clear grain spirits straight from the still. It's called white dog or legal moonshine. But some just call it nasty.

Then again, few people would dismiss white rum or tequila – similarly unaged – as swill water. Those spirits can be very fine and tend to mix well in cocktails. Your reaction to the white-dog Manhattan doesn't surprise me, though. A Manhattan, two parts whisky to one part red vermouth, is designed to showcase whisky's velvety texture and rich flavour. It's a quintessential brown-spirit drink. And that, I'd say, is your problem.

I'd generally confine white whisky to white-spirit cocktails. John Bunner, bar manager at Yours Truly in Toronto, says he's had success using Buffalo Trace White Dog (from Kentucky) in a margarita. My recipe: Combine 1 1/4 ounces white dog with 1/2 ounce of triple sec and 1 ounce lime juice; shake over ice and strain into a cocktail glass.

Geoff Dillon, president of Dillon's Small Batch Distillers, a Niagara-based microdistillery with a white rye, says his white-dog margarita "blows everybody away." He also suggests using the spirit in place of rum in a mojito, the classic drink with lime, mint and club soda. Cuba meets Appalachia – a fine mutt of a white dog.

E-mail your wine and spirits questions to Beppi Crosariol. Look for answers to select questions to appear in the Wine & Spirits newsletter and on The Globe and Mail website.

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