With 2020 marking the 100th anniversary of the start of Prohibition in the United States, we thought it seemed fitting to talk a little bit about our Cotswolds White Pheasant New Make Spirit, awarded Best English New Make at the World Whiskies Awards 2020, and its historically notorious ancestor: moonshine.
Defined as ‘unaged whisky made and sold illegally’, the term ‘moonshine’ dates back to the 16th Century, although it became especially infamous during the Prohibition era. Unsurprisingly, the 1920 nationwide ban on the manufacture, sale and consumption of alcohol resulted in a surge in the production of moonshine, with distillers operating secretly under the moonlight. To satisfy the insatiable demand of a thirsty nation, moonshiners didn’t have time to wait for the spirit to mature in barrels and chose instead to bottle straight off the still. As a result, the spirit produced was raw and harsh, often perilous, tarnishing the reputation of the spirit for decades to come.
Thankfully, unaged whisky nowadays is perfectly legal, and perfectly safe to drink! Whilst still commonly marketed as moonshine, whisky pre-maturation has a plethora of nicknames; commonly known as new make spirit in the UK, other names include white whisky, white dog and white lightning to name but a few. Made simply by fermenting and distilling grain, water and yeast, each new make spirit is truly unique. The type of grain, fermentation process, shape of the still and distillation cut points all have an influence on the flavour of the spirit, and whilst most are completely clear, some may show slight colour due to a very short period of maturation. As previously mentioned, unaged whisky has historically been regarded as impure and lacking the flavour and complexity of a fully matured whisky. Thanks to the burgeoning craft cocktail scene and curious whisky aficionados, however, new make spirits have become increasingly popular, with distilleries across the world releasing their very own whiskies-in-waiting.
In keeping with the tradition of naming the colourless spirit, we affectionately named ours ‘White Pheasant’ after the beautiful, long-tailed gamebirds that roam the fields and roads of the Cotswolds. Previously only available to sample on tour & tastings in our cask warehouse, we thought our new make spirit was too delicious to be hiding in the shadows of our barrels and decided to make it available to purchase exclusively in our shops and on our website.
Our White Pheasant begins its journey the same way as our single malt whiskies - with 100% locally grown, floor-malted barley. After the malted barley has been milled and mixed with hot water in our mash tun, the sugary liquid is fermented with two different strains of dried yeast in our steel washbacks for over 90 hours. This unusually long fermentation generates plenty of fruity flavour compounds which brings a fantastic fruity complexity to our new make spirit. During distillation, we only take the purest section of the spirit run, known as the ‘hearts’, setting aside the undesirable ‘heads’ and ‘tails’. Bottled at 63.5% ABV, our White Pheasant is remarkably quaffable when enjoyed neat, delivering a series of flavours including tropical fruit notes of banana and pear drops, toasted oats and barley sugars.
Our Cotswolds White Pheasant is certainly worth trying if you’re keen to sample our whisky before it goes into cask, or if you’re looking for an alternative spirit on which to build superior cocktails. It demonstrates just how refined an unaged whisky spirit can be, and how – starting with such a great base – we’re able to make whiskies taste so good!