It’s laughable how things change in whisky. A couple of years ago merely suggesting you were going to review a new make spirit would have prompted much hilarity and ridicule. Now with a rising swell of interest in anything whisky related it seems the most logical place to start.
Scotland has seen an influx of new distilleries over the last 5 years or so and the boom shows no sign of abating. These things come in clusters like little fluffy clouds followed by periods of emptiness. The distillery fixation will eventually wither and part ways but until then there’s no denying the huge appetite for anything new. I’ve tapped into with my New Bottle Order piece whilst sidestepping the prominence of new make spirits. That is until now when a recent visit to the Clydeside distillery offered the opportunity to purchase their own new make for £14.95. Thankfully bottled at 63.5% it’s the nearest you’ll come to tasting straight off the stills or indeed anything from this distillery until circa 2022. That’s a long way off in whisky terms.
The most scandalous aspect around new make spirits to date was Jim Murray scoring the Kingbarns distillery new make in his 2017 outburst a 95/100. That’s a high benchmark and ridiculous, as why bother with the wood and maturation part of the equation? We’ll settle for 95 and get it bottled quick…
Here at MALT we’ll review a new make ignoring our fair and candid scoring system in the knowledge that this raw spirit is only the basis of a whisky. Good wood and patience come next and these commodities are in short supply yet remain vital. My concern remains with many of these distilleries is that the spirit itself is less organic and regional than distilleries established in the 1800’s. Nowadays we have science to help sculpt the process of creating a spirit whereas back then it was down to experience and using the human senses of taste and smell. Yes, these remain part of the equation and process but the spirit is more by design now rather than an oddity or a tangled web of piping like Benrinnes, Mortlach or Springbank.
The downside is that everything is very well made and approved by whisky consultants. Note I’m just talking generally here rather than specifically around Clydeside. This style of spirit by design will be solid and accessible to a larger segment of the market. My fear remains – perhaps this is just the ramblings of a growing cynic – that we’ll have created in error a plateau of distilleries producing a style that could come anywhere from Scotland or further afield. Everyone wants fruits or citrus notes, many will do peated runs and a uniform style will sweep across the industry. I want to see the rugged style of Ben Nevis, the waxiness of Clynelish, the intricacies of Springbank and whether Waterford has it right by showcasing the barley and soil as overlooked fundaments in all of this.
New make is the missing part of the equation. We’ve heard about the finest wood, cleanest water, best barley and the ideal storage conditions but what about that initial distillery DNA in liquid form? Ach, naebody is interested in that! Or so it seems. Keep an eye on the distilleries that are adopting a more hands-on approach such as Ballindalloch or Dornoch. Both offer some of the tastiest new make I’ve tried in recent years including lofty names such as Macallan and the Tormore. Fill that into good quality casks and some of the big boys are going to be caught with their pants down.
Being from the north, I’ve heard a few stories over the years from a bygone era that working at a distillery would often lead to various invites around the village. These parties would often feature a drop of the freshest whisky straight from the cask via illicit means. Even more, prized by the dedicated drinker was the presence of new make spirit – guaranteed to get a party swinging. The next day would be very ugly guaranteed, but what a night. Those days are gone but the belief that new make is raw, uncouth and vicious endures although science may conquer such fears one day.
The Clydeside New Make Spirit – review
Colour: let’s skip this bit.
On the nose: very sweet and fruity. Freshly spun sugar, ripe green apples, giant vanilla marshmallows and frangipane. Very approachable and enjoyable. Indicative of the new modern distillate. You’d never envisage this is 63.5% strength as there’s no fiery alcohol kick or residue. A minty freshness with a herbal basil note. Water reveals liquorice and aniseed.
In the mouth: drinkable. Again, the alcohol only materialises towards the finish. Lemon peel, mint tea, confectionery in the form of rock candy and freshly sliced green apples. The addition of water showcases a herbal aspect, almonds and a creaminess.
A promising new make spirit with plenty to say on the nose and an enduring drinkability despite the higher strength. Well designed and well made. The clock is ticking to see what this spirit transforms into.