Age Statements. What’s the Big Deal?

Age is just a number. You’re only as old as you feel. Everything improves with age..

There are lots of expressions about age. When it comes to whisky age, the debate continues. Here are a few basic generalities about whisky aging;
– time spent in a cask is the biggest influence on whisky taste.
– the older the whisky, the smoother the taste, and
– the older the whisky, the higher the price.
But there are exceptions to all rules. And there is the great mystery of No Age Statement (NAS) whiskies that have become more prominent as demand for whisky increases.

Let’s do a quick review on whisky age requirements. Three year minimum for scotch, Canadian, and Irish. Two year minimum for Straight Bourbon. That’s it. Except that all age declarations must reflect the youngest whisky in the bottle. So why do some products have age statements and others don’t? Two main reasons. Either it’s too young to bother putting an age statement on, or there are different ages of whisky in the bottle. In this case, adding an age statement may not accurately reflect the age of the contents. Let’s say that that a master blender comes up with a great whisky that includes 8, 12, 16 and 25 year old whisky. Not really fair or accurate to label it an an 8 year old, as the law requires. So it gets bottled NAS.

Traditionally, many premium blended whiskies, such as Chivas, Johnny Walker, or Dewers, carry age statements. Remember, for an 18 year Chivas, all the whisky in the bottle, even the continuous still grain whisky content, must be aged in oak for at least 18 years. So why would anyone bottle premium whisky with no age statement?

If we look at the increasing demand for single malt whisky in recent years, demand has outpaced supply. And whisky has a horrible business model. If you went to the bank for a loan and presented a business model that indicated virtually no sales for the first 12-15 years, the bank would send you packing. So most distilleries are trying to anticipate demand ten or twenty years into the future by trying to produce the anticipated demand for their product.. If you under-produce, then it’s off to plan B – trying to come up with an acceptable product to replace the traditional 12 year or 15 year that you just ran out of. Look at MaCallan, for example, with its great core range of 12, 15, and 18 year single malts. Among the finest core range in the world. They became a victim of their own success. When stocks dwindled and demand stayed strong, they were forced to change their core range to the NAS Gold, Amber and Sienna core range until their aging process caught up.

Do I recommend age statements over NAS? Generally, yes, because it is an accurate depiction of what’s in the bottle. But, there are many, many great NAS whiskies on the market. Single malts like Mortlach Rare Old, Glenmorangie Signet, and Arbeg Supernova are examples of superb NAS offerings. And there are some great Blended Malt NAS Scotches (blends of two or more single malts), such as Douglas Lang’s Scallywag, and Johnny Walker Green Label.

Regardless of age (yours and the whisky’s), I recommend that you keep trying different kinds of whisky and that you stick with the ones you like and ditch the dogs. It’s as simple as that. And remember, with age comes wisdom.

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