What an April! New baby, new sleep routine, new jeans, new make...
White dog is everywhere, man. What happened?
As exhibited at whisky festivals and in the hands of mixologists across the USA, it is clear that THIS and THIS were certainly no April Fools jokes, but lord please tell me THIS was. Sku, say it ain't so!
Then God help us all.
I have always relished the opportunity to taste the new make spirit of my favourite distilleries: Balmenach, Clynelish, Balvenie, and Laphroaig stand out in my memory, but only partly due to the taste, mostly due to the excitement of being "allowed" to sneak a few drops at the distillery. Makers Mark shares their white dog at tastings, many Scotch companies share their clearach before enjoying their mature whiskies, and I know I often use new make to show folks what a great impact wood has on the final mature whisky, but selling white dog/new make/clearach/moonshine? And for more money than its matured bretheren? Perhaps cool if genuinely moonshine or illicitly distilled make, but from legal commercial distilleries? Seems totally absurd.
In Scotland, whisky is, by law, grain spirit matured in oak barrels for a minimum of 3 years. Before that, you cannot call it whisky. And, what follows, is that the name "Glenfiddich", for example, cannot be applied to a new make spirit or vodka that is commercially sold because the SWA protects against consumer confusion and "Glenfiddich" means scotch single malt scotch whisky. Glenglassaugh, a 20+ years mothballed distillery, was recently reopened and promptly released some new make which it called "The Spirit Drink That Dare Not Speak its Name" due to the above restriction. Kilchoman, a new single malt distillery whose name currently means very little to the consumer (oh, but it will in no time) has released new make under it's brand name but is able to do this precisely because it is a new distillery and has never had whisky (3 year old grain spirit) to release. An established distillery cannot do this. In Scotland.
But in Japanese whisky we have Chichibu's "New Born" releases. And in America, it seems open game. A name like "white whiskey" could never work in Scotland because immature spirit is NOT whisk(e)y. And to name the white dog after the distillery (Buffalo Trace?) and then sell it (for more than the mature stuff!!?!!) would simply not fly. Nor should it.
Highland Park, Glenglassaugh and Bladnoch now have their new makes available for purchase, as does Tullibardine, the same distillery that sells beer, water, and retail space as a part of its economic model.
Without a shadow of a doubt, this trend is an immense cash crop and is no doubt extremely lucrative from a commercial perspective. Short term.
This opinion may not be popular and may attract some flak, but as a whisky lover, I do NOT think that this is a good direction for distillers to head, least of all because it is exploitative of the consumer... and that should be enough! But also because what makes whisk(e)y whisk(e)y is the time in spends in oak casks. How each distillery's make has a unique chemical construction, nearly imperceptible to the nose UNTIL it reacts, extracts, and interacts with oak. Ask science!
Whisk(e)y contains hundreds of chemical compounds, HUNDREDS of different concentrations of flavour and aroma-giving chemical compounds such as esters, aldehydes, and phenols (although these only account for 0.2% of a bottle of whisky). Four 12 year old casks of Pulteney, Clynelish, Glenmorangie, and Dalmore, all Northern Highland distilleries, will have very distinct flavours and aromas detectable to the human nose AND to gas chromatographs and pattern recognition algorithms. If you are someone nerdy enough to read this blog, your nose could probably distinguish between these four mature spirits, right? No? Well, that's fine. Science can detect a very clear distinction between them.
But in a series of experiments done in Scotland, Spain, Japan, and England over the past 20 years, it has been shown that new make from different distilleries, indeed, from different countries, had more in common than they differed. You will agree that if we sat down and nosed/tasted mature Irish, American, and Scottish whiskies, that you could distinguish between them, right? Well this sample of Irish, American, and Scottish makes had nearly imperceptible differences that went incorrectly identified by gas chromotograph and pattern recognition.
"Oh, chill out, Doc," I hear you say. "I love drinking clearach and will spend any price tag to have some. Maturation isn't everything." Well, I have to disagree. While maturation isn't EVERYTHING, maturation IS the most important SOMETHING in Scotch whisky. Mature spirit is what separates cask from cask, distillery from distillery, year from year. It is what allows single distilleries have varied expressions that means not only do we have over 100 distilleries in Scotland to drink from, but we have thousands of different expressions from which to swill. But if you don't mind the idea of a handful of distilleries making only a handful of styles, then keep riding that white dog. Or fucking that chicken. Or whatever it is that you do.
Doesn't a trend to premiumisation piss most of us off? Isn't that what Hansell recently editorialized about, that WDJK and Malt Advocate readers and the online whisky fora target premiumisation as a large problem with Scotch Whisky? Well, isn't this trend premium pricing a less valuable product? Let's grab a bottle of J&B -6 to celebrate!
But I shouldn't get too excited, really. This trend could just be a short blip in an economic recovery, right? Or is it part of a well thought out commercial plan with clear implications for the whisky industry? If you think Bruichladdich's was wise to charge 120 bucks for Port Charlotte 5 year old, or Ardbeg was successful with their Very Young, Still Young, Almost There series, just wait. You ain't seen nothing yet.
Let me know your thoughts in comments, on Facebook, or get in the ring on the Moonshine post at What Does John Know?