I have been having a little bout of fascination with an oddball bottle recently. Death's Door came to my market with their white whisky. My feeling is that this started as a lark. They were putting spirit in barrel, but wanted to see if they could sell some in the new-state (immediate gratification through immediate compensation.) I kind of like this lark though.
This bottle has caused quite a bit of confusion amongst my staff and guests which I really don't understand. When I introduce it, I say that it is whisky that has never gone into a barrel. Invariably the response I get back is, "Oh, like moonshine." For the life of me, I cannot see why unaged spirit is immediately associated with back-country contraband, but there you have it.
Here is the long story:
It is incredibly expensive to start a whiskey operation in America. Say you are really well organized and have a solid design and building team, it will take you a year to build facility. Say you are a genius and experienced at distilling and it only takes you 6 months to get consistent spirit flowing. Say now, you want to be traditional with your aging and release a very young expression at just 2 years old (which is generally not the best use of spirit). That's 3 and 1/2 years of spending money before you can even taste you stuff, let alone sell any. A tough business model by most standards. Even tougher when you consider that the US government essentially taxes the juice as it comes off the still.
So there are 2 routes the new American distiller can go to be viable. They can work out some way to speed up aging, like Tuthiltown (small barrels and sound waves) and Wasmund's (fruitwood chips.) Or they can sell unaged spirit in some form while their whisky ages. Until now this has given us just a wide selection of vodkas (yawn) and gins (yippee.) Death's Door has opened up what I think might be a new, emerging category.
Bring on the New Make Spirits! Christian Krogstad of House Spirits (one of the most knowledgeable distillers we have and an all-around nice guy) gifted me with some of his un-cut 'barley eau de vie' along with a smaller sample of some very young aged stuff a few months ago. The new-make is as grassy as it is grainy and reminds me quite a bit of Rhum Agricole. The slightly-aged is, well, pretty much the same with some color and and vanilla starting to show. Rick Wasmund has started selling his new-make Rye Spirit and even has a DIY age-at-home scheme which is pretty outstanding. There are also a few unaged corn-whiskies out there as well which tend to lean a little more towards the moonshine side of things than the eau de vie of grain side that these rest on. Sounds almost like a 'movement' doesn't it.
As I was writing this, I started to think about Scotland and the Bruichladdich X4. My week at the now-defunct Whisky Academy on Islay revolved around the somewhat dodgy quadruple distillation of this spirit and my class each went home with a flask of it (same sort of grassiness as the House Spirits flask.) I have seen that they are selling the X4 both as new make and as a very young spirit (not old enough to be called Single Malt Whisky yet) in Europe. As it turns out, their neighbors at the new distillery Kilchomen are starting to sell some new make as well. as well Glenglassaugh and Abhainn Dearg.
So now that's 4 from Scotland and 3 from the US with more definitely on the way. I am gonna go ahead and call it, the New-Make category is born.