Whiskey Book Review: Chasing the White Dog

Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine
For some whiskey aficionados, myself included, the renegade, outlaw spirit of whiskey is part of its overall appeal. It's as if we think that by drinking a product that has gone through various stages of legality and social acceptability throughout its history we can ourselves become just a bit more bad-ass, in that James Dean, John Wayne sort of way.

The book Chasing the White Dog: An Amateur Outlaw's Adventures in Moonshine, by Max Watman explores this rebellious side of whiskey lore and also delves into the world of curtains-drawn kitchen experiments in home-distilling. To anyone with an interest in whiskey or quirky Americana, this book is absolutely intoxicating. I found myself unable to put this book down - it is so well written that even the later chapters, chronicling the tedious details of a modern-day Virginia moonshine trial, draw the reader in like the best TV crime-dramas.

Part of the book's appeal is that it covers a wide swathe of moonshine lore, but is told almost completely through the author's first-hand experiences and encounters. He develops characters that are at once larger-than-life and completely familiar, and he reveals the human side of even the most grizzled back-woods moonshiners. Chasing the White Dog reads almost like you're chatting with the author over a drink and hearing story after excellent story from the life of a true whiskey rambler. The author is in fact relatively new to the world of whiskey production and 'scholarship', although not to whiskey drinking it seems, which lends his writing the excitement of someone learning about the world of whiskey for the first time. This excitement comes through full force as the author describes his unease at purchasing home-distilling supplies from a leery shopkeeper, and the anxious thrill of waiting in his car in the middle of nowhere for a new-found friend to bring him a bottle of hooch from a backwoods nip joint.

The book jumps back-and-forth between a few general story-lines, all of which approach the world of under-ground American whiskey from a different angle. This approach keeps things interesting as each story winds its way throughout the entire book and allows the reader to make the complex connections between backwoods southern moonshiners, inner-city hooch consumers, hipster home-distillers, and entrepreneurial craft-whiskey makers. If there's one fault with Watman's book, it is that by sticking largely to first-person experience and research, he limits the discussion of moonshine to the experiences he was able to conjure up for himself over his few years of research - although he did make every effort to experience a broad sample of the renegade whiskey world. For example, Watman delves deeply into the moonshine culture of his home state of Virginia, but leaves me thirsty to hear similar stories from other locales. As I wrote above though, this 'in-person' writing style is what makes the book such an enthralling read, so maybe it's best to look elsewhere for comprehensive whiskey scholarship, and enjoy Chasing the White Dog for what it is - one man's very well written account of his experiences as a twenty-first century whiskey outlaw.