The Tasting Panel magazine

September 2014

Issue link:

Contents of this Issue


Page 30 of 148

30  /  the tasting panel  /  september 2014 SCOTCH REPORT CRUNCHING THE WHISKY NUMBERS (OR LACK THEREOF) Age Matters— by Ian Buxton R ecent releases have led me to consider the question of age. There has been a lot of heat generated recently by a rapidly- growing trend among Scotch whisky brands to what are known as "no age statement" expressions, generally referred to as NAS whiskies. Where previously you might have seen the words "10 Years Old," "15 Years Old" and so on, increasingly the age statement is missing. It's a topic of great concern to whisky bloggers and on social media—in particular some strong opinions have been expressed and brands vigorously criticized for releasing these whiskies. A percep- tion has grown up—now being urgently disputed by the distillers— that NAS whiskies are "all market- ing" and a transparent ruse to get consumers to pay more for younger and, by implication, inferior whiskies. Naturally, that's strongly denied. So what's going on? The truth is, as ever, complex. Scotch whisky production slumped in the early- to mid-1980s due to a fall in demand, especially from the U.S. Prior to that, there had been consid- erable over-production that that led to a bulge in stocks, known as the infamous "Whisky Loch." Eventually markets recovered, and that whisky— with some impressive aged creden- tials—proved ever more popular and, more to the point, profitable. But the years of plenty were fol- lowed by lean years when production had dropped, and so the ready supply of older whiskies has dried up, just as more and more global consumers are crying out for it. The industry has responded with lavishly pack- aged NAS expressions, pointing to enhanced wood finishes and superior blending skills to justify dropping the age statements. Hence some of the releases that I've covered recently, such as Highland Park Dark Origins and the Johnnie Walker Private Collection: They're fine whiskies, but no one is admitting to their age. They will contain some old whisky, perhaps some very old whisky, but the distillers argue that consumers should focus on the taste, not an "arbitrary'" number. With the trend showing no sign of going into reverse, that's increas- ingly the message we're going to be hearing. All this came to mind with the release of the second edition of Bowmore's Devil's Cask (56.3% ABV, so sip with care). This Islay distillery has long been a favorite and, at its best, offers a near-perfect balance of fruit and smoky peat notes. On the nose, it's full of rich sherried sweet- ness with dates and sultanas smoth- ered in treacle toffee, pecan and maple syrup. It delivers taste notes of dark chocolate fudge infused with sherried dark fruit, sea-salt and walnut oil. As befits Bowmore's thoroughly traditional approach to distilling, this proudly bears the the legend aged 10 years. How long their stocks will last is anyone's guess (they're not saying)—I guess we'll only know if we keep buying it. But new competitors are entering the market all the time. Just last week, I was fortunate enough to attend the opening of the Cotswold Distillery, who will be making English whisky any day now, though it will be 2017 before we see any of that. Age does matter, after all! Or Does It?

Articles in this issue

Archives of this issue

view archives of The Tasting Panel magazine - September 2014