Every time a new distillery opens up, everyone wants to know, what it’s going to be like when it’s whisky. Stills are tuned to support the style the distillers want to achieve, mashing and fermentation are dialled in to support wanted and get rid of unwanted characteristics – as much as possible. And then, after distillation is complete, there’s the choice of which type of casks to fill. Decisions, decisions – and they all influence what the final products is going to be like – a product no one can predict with 100% certainty. I was given samples of both the new make and an 8-month-old spirit, matured in a virgin American standard barrel from the Glasgow Distillery at an event during the Spirit of Speyside festival last month, so let’s have a peek at where they’re at so far, shall we?
New Make – unpeated, 63.4% ABV
Colour: Crystal clear
The nose is, of course, quite a bit alcoholic, but not astringent. On the lighter side of the different new makes I’ve had so far – almost a bit floral (no FWP!), with red berries, wee bitter bramble seeds and cereal (wet oats) in the background. A hint of what remains after distillation as pot ale is to be detected, but that’s the job of the casks to get rid of, perfectly normal! The palate is quite calm and oily on the arrival at first, the alcohol takes some time to develop. More cereal notes, slightly damp red wild forest fruits with seeds and more of what I can only describe as a pot ale character – slightly spent, malty water. Once again, nothing unusual, perfectly normal for new make, although I have tasted “cleaner” ones. The finish is quite oily and silky, never rough, that’s a very good sign. Slightly malty with cereals and, again, some dark fruits and the spent barley water.
Score: 73-74-ish (remember, that’s a separate new-make scale, not to be compared with the whisky reviews)
Let’s see how this type of spirit matures, shall we?
8-month-old spirit, virgin American oak barrel, 62.4% ABV
Colour: light amber(!)
The nose has already been claimed by the force of the fresh cask. Still fresh and young in style, but there’s already a big bowl of toffee with vanilla on top! Light charred cask smoke, a touch of sweet oak sap, oak shavings, honeyed beef jerky, a whiff of vanilla pipe tobacco and just one or two wild red berries. Quite brave and bold to try this style of maturation, but they’re probably trying all different sorts of casks – nothing beats experimentation! The palate starts off on the gentle side, just like the new make, but after a few seconds alcohol, spices and pepper kick in and the spirit takes a while to settle and mellow down again. More toffee with vanilla, beeswax, propolis, toasted oak, sweet beef jerky and a few fresh pine needles. Oh, and gone is what I described as a pot ale character in the new make – that’s subtractive maturation at work! The spirit hasn’t really settled down and found its path yet, but hey, 8 months in, that’s quite impressive! The finish has quite a bit of oak sap and a distinct dry note upon swallowing before toffee and beeswax kick in. Medium long.
Verdict: Hmmm…. wow… that’s already quite impressive for just eight months in a cask! But then again, that’s fairly aggressive and untouched virgin oak, so that’s what you expect. Eight months in, wood has already nearly taken over the distillery character, better watch these casks carefully and maybe even transfer them into 1st or even 2nd fill ex-bourbon to take the foot off the pedal. But that’s just my humble opinion, they’ve got the experts. And I might have to add the disclaimer at this point, that virgin oak isn’t my preferred type of cask for Scotch, exactly because it can get too overpowering. Nonetheless, and personal preference aside, an impressive result at a baby age!
Score: 70-72-ish (on the regular whisky scale!)
Thanks again to Liam Hughes and David Brown for taking the time to talk to us about your distillery during the Speyside festival, much appreciated!
Samples provided by the Glasgow Distillery.