By Richard Thomas
Back when premium vodka was all the rage, I never quite got into it. Rooted as I was in the mother’s milk of Kentucky bourbon, my interest in “clear stuff” quickly shifted from trendy vodka to decidedly untrendy moonshine and corn whiskey. Given that this was years before the hipsters discovered moonshine, I really do mean “untrendy,” if not “anti-trendy,” and my taste in moonshine led me to some colorful, backwoodsy places.
Even today, with popular interest in white whiskey and other clear, unaged whiskey cousins growing steadily, I continue to feel like something of an oddball among whiskey writers for having a genuine interest in the “clear stuff,” and much like the hardcore rye whiskey-lover, I stand overjoyed by the cornucopia of new brands.
Unfortunately I live in Europe these days, so now that clear whiskeys are booming, I can’t drink deep in the new diversity. So, when I get my hands on something like Glen Thunder from Finger Lakes Distillery, I’m quite pleased.
The whiskey is named for Watkins Glen Raceway, known to race fans simply as “The Glen,” a track dating to 1948. As such, The Glen is part of the post-war era when auto racing first transitioned from bootleggers and back roads to professional spectacle, and as such the name of this corn whiskey is very much an analogy for taking backwoods, illegal whiskey and making a storefront product out of it.
As a corn whiskey, Glen Thunder is unaged and has a mashbill with greater than 80% corn. Unlike some corn whiskeys, which are sometimes strong enough to run your car on, Glen Thunder is cut to a tame 90 proof (45% abv).
The nose shows it too. Strong on corn sweetness and corn husk, the scent is like stepping into an old stone-wheel mill grinding down corn into meal. The lower proof limits the alcohol to a crystal clear nip, and nothing more.
The flavor has plenty of that corn cereal quality too, with a touch of pure sugar sweetness, and a delicious, smooth, buttery texture. The finish isn’t much to speak of, but that’s what you want from an unaged whiskey. It has a slight warmth to it, but what’s there lasts seemingly forever, just a trace that never goes away.
In my book, one of the better aspects of “clear stuff” is that you can drink it outdoors in sweltering Southern summers without roasting yourself. A good one goes down flavorful, runs clear, and goes with a minimum of trace, leaving the drinker without the lasting warmth of aged whiskey or the filling quality of beer. Clear whiskey is also usually just as good on ice or chilled as it is straight and normal, a double plus on steamy summer days. Glen Thunder scores high on all counts.
Did I mention Glen Thunder Corn Whiskey is cheap? With the usual caveat to beware of local state liquor taxes, a fifth of Glen Thunder should cost around $20. In keeping with the spirit of the spirit, a 375 ml butt pocket bottle is also available (and depicted in the picture above), and it runs for about $13.