Whisky is what happens when you put new make spirit into an oak cask, store it away in a warehouse, and wait. If it’s scotch, that means taking new make malt spirit and putting into an oak barrel for at least three years (often longer). But what is new make whisky? Let's take a closer look.
What is new make whisky?
New make whisky is the clear, colourless spirit that comes off the still after distillation. It’s usually 68% alcohol and has aromatic characteristics. A lot of whisky’s flavour, and all its colour, comes from the wood. But the new make flavour itself has an impact on the whisky. Peat, for example, is a flavour the whisky gets from the new make spirit. Sure, a whisky might go into a cask that used to have a peaty whisky and pick up some peat notes. But the primary way peat flavour gets into whisky is through the new make.
Changing Whisky Perceptions
For a long time, the only people who drank new make whisky were people who worked at the distilleries. Maybe the odd bottle ended up in someone’s kitchen. But that was for cleaning purposes only. Of course.
People thought the spirit was only worth drinking after it had been in a barrel for a few years. The new make, straight off the still, was too harsh to be pleasant. At least, that’s what some believed. Now there is growing interest and appreciation for new make whisky. A lot of this attention comes from geeks, who tried it for the first time on distillery tours.
Drinking New Make Spirit
Drinking new make is a brilliant way to taste the DNA of a distillery. Maturation changes a whisky’s flavour. So, you can sometimes appreciate a distillery’s character by trying their new make. New make spirit also gives a hint about what a younger whisky might grow into later.
A lot of new distilleries sell their new make whisky. There is a practical reason, of course. New make gives them a spirit to sell. Otherwise, distilleries need to wait years before they can start selling whisky. With so many new distilleries opening every year, this explains why there is a lot of interest in new make whisky.
Is new make whisky worth buying?
There are a few reasons to consider buying new make whisky.
- Buying new make spirit supports new distilleries. Starting a new distillery is a massive financial investment. Buying new make from a brand-new distillery is a great way to support a new business. It also gives you an idea about how their whisky might taste in the future.
- It can expand your whisky education. Buying new make from a distillery you know can give you insights into their flavour profile. This is particularly true for distilleries that have a lot of different cask finishes. You can do a side-by-side comparison between the new make and some of the other expressions.
- Artisan new make whisky can be tasty. Okay, maybe this should have been the first reason. New make can be delicious. But you don’t have to take my word for it, go and try some for yourself.
Where to buy new make whiskey
The best place to buy new make whiskey is direct from new artisan distilleries. The quality of new make spirit is likely to be higher. And, this is a great way to support new distilleries as they try to generate income before their aged whisky is mature. Look out for new distilleries, even better if their local to you, and ask whether they're selling their new make whiskey.
Can I make whisky at home, here in the UK?
Not legally, no. To legally distil alcohol and create new make spirit in the UK you need a licence from the UK government. But, there is still a way to experiment with new make spirit at home, without getting into trouble. Rather than distil new make, you can experiment with small batch ageing of new make whisky.
If you buy a couple of bottles of new make spirit, sometimes called 'white dog', and a small oak barrel you can age your own whisky. The oak barrel will likely come with instructions. The key is to make sure it's watertight, which is usually done by filling the cask with warm water and letting the oak staves absorb some of the water. As the staves absorb water, they will expand a little, and any small gaps between the staves will close and become watertight.
You can then fill your oak barrel with new make spirit, and let it age. As your home-ageing barrel will likely be very small, the whisky will age quickly - potentially in just a couple of months. Keep track of how your new make spirit ages into whisky by sampling your cask regularly. A perk of your home experiment!
People who worked in distilleries used to be the only people who drank new make. Now, it’s pretty easy to get your hands on it. I think that’s a great thing. When I go to a whisky tasting, and they have a new make spirit, it is always the highlight for me.
For more information about whether new make whiskey might be a new category in the spirits world, read Joe Rogers’ article about new make whisky.
While TopWhiskies doesn't sell new make our selves, we do have a great range of aged whiskies from independent brands. You can find our new whisky releases here.