(Author’s note: Wow. NAS whiskies are more contentious than even I thought. Not only are there disparate views between the insiders (industry) and the outsiders (consumers), there are a crazy amount of ways to tackle the issue (or avoid it). All, though, are relevant to the discussion. My own take on the subject has more to do with disclosure and relative value for outlay; not necessarily objection to the idea of young whiskies. But we’ll get there in a minute.
Sincere thanks to all of the good folks who shared some insight below. An email asking for others’ input was sent out far and wide. It is as interesting to note who responded and who didn’t, as it is to read the opinions themselves. In the words of John Lennon: “Everybody’s Got Something To Hide Except Me And My Monkey”.
I hope this isn’t too rambling an affair. It could have been a good chapter in a book if I’d really cut myself loose. One day perhaps. Bear with me…)
Aside from the rising cost of whiskies, there is likely no topic in the greater whisky-sphere that garners more discussion of late than that of the trend towards No Age Statement whiskies. To be honest, I’ve almost felt rushed to publish this piece simply to keep up with the times. The fact of the matter is that whisky is changing. Fast. This is a very dynamic age for our choice beverage. Many of these changes are highly beneficial to the industry and consumer alike (the rise of global markets, educated and diverse consumer bases, rapid dissemination of information…though of course this last can be double-edged, etc…). Some of the changes occurring are not so symbiotic however. The only one I want to tackle in any depth here is the rising tide of No Age Statement whisky, or ‘NAS Whisky’ as it is colloquially known.
While the concept of NAS is not new, there has always been a bit of a resistance to the producers not declaring the age of the ‘whisky in the jar-o’, if not to the actual malts themselves. Let’s say this is more of an undercurrent than a true revolt, to be fair. The thing is…whiskies in this style seem to be gaining an awful lot of momentum lately and have suddenly become the new black. This is the reality of the market today. There simply aren’t the mature stocks available to support the ever-expanding market for good whisky. You can call this a lack of planning and foresight if you like, but the reality is no one foresaw a boom of such magnitude. No one. Ok. Acknowledging the trend is one thing. Accepting it is another.
I must concede to both having enjoyed many NAS whiskies, and to buying them. A few in particular immediately spring to mind: Aberlour a’bunadh, Laphroaig Quarter Cask, Ardbeg Uigeadail, Glenfarclas 105, Macallan Cask Strength, etc. Great whiskies, all. However…I want to draw attention to one thing: in no way are they made any better for the consumer by not having a number on the bottle. We know they’re young. We accept it. Big flavour drinks (sherry bombs and peat monsters) tend to do well in youth. So…having launched these brands and made them highly successful with legions of adherents, why not come clean and share the ages now? What is there to lose? We already love the whisky.
A couple recent releases have been huge sources of ignition in this ongoing debate, and for my own wading into sullied waters. Laphroaig Select, Highland Park Dark Origins, Talisker Storm, any Ardbeg in recent years and probably none moreso than the Macallan 1824 color coded range (‘The Stripper Series’, as my mate calls it, based on the rather peeler-esque naming conventions). This Macallan series seems to be sort of the ‘jumping the shark’ moment for NAS releases, wherein the brand is now using color as a measure of quality. To a degree I came out in defense of this range. Not because I supported the NAS (or color) concept, but because I disagreed with the negativity and presuppositions running rampant without most people having actually tried them. The malts aren’t all that bad. In fact the two more premium ones (Sienna and Ruby) are actually very good. In hindsight…maybe I should have stayed quiet though. I still stand behind the marks, but now admit I have to face up in opposition to the concept behind their creation.
Unfortunately, at the root of it all the reluctance to embrace NAS whisky (and essentially volunteer to put blinders on…tacitly at least, through our purchasing) is a problem that can be laid directly at the feet of the brands themselves. For years we’ve been led to believe that older was better. And that age justified high prices. And as a logical extension, that high prices were indicative of maturity, quality and placement in the elite echelons of whisky. What the industry is now asking is that we forget that decades long indoctrination and accept on faith that they will continue to put good whisky in the bottle and that the price points will be justified even if we no longer know what is in the glass.
Here’s the thing…
Most of us know there are overhead and ROI (return on investment) concerns for the distilleries to mature whiskies into their twilight years. That has always been a point used to justify the luxury pricing of single malt whisky. As an example, if we know that the greedy angels have taken half a cask over the years via evaporation, we don’t feel so bad about paying a slightly inflated price when we buy. It makes sense. What doesn’t make sense is being asked to accept on faith that the price points being levied now (especially in an age of increasing sticker shock) are fair when we are missing a part of the equation we have always used in determining what we’re willing to spend. We can easily find out what an empty sherry or bourbon barrel costs…or a ton of barley…or what the dollar to pound rate is…or what fuel and transport is running in this age…or maybe even what the average distillery worker is being paid. We’d also previously been able to make some assumptions (dangerous, I know) about fair market value by watching age-stated whiskies across the brands (i.e. the average price of an 18 y.o. is ‘x’ dollars). In short…we’ve been on somewhat solid footing to buy in an educated manner.
Now…suddenly…we find ourselves in a position where the rug is being pulled out, and we’re stumbling a bit.
The most feasible long term solution to help smooth out the booms and busts is in the industry working to correct the misconception that 10+ years instantly equates to the quality marker for drinkability. The goal being to alleviate malt snobbery, I’d think (though they’ll want to bring this concept back again in a decade or two when the bubble bursts and we’re again being told that age does indeed matter). The powers-that-be could do this by accepting the reality of some short term expenses in whisky education for their younger malts, but instead, sadly, they are taking the easy way out and opting to simply erase the digits from the bottle. Sorry, guys…but we’ve noticed. This was never gonna just fly under the radar.
One night not long ago, my good mate J Wheelock and I were sipping drams and discussing this very issue. He hit upon something that struck me as utterly brilliant. As we were excitedly hopping up and down in celebration of our brilliant tête-à-tête game-changer of an idea it occurred to me that Ardbeg had already done exactly what we were proposing. J’s idea was for the brands to put right on the label a little graph/chart/what-have-you that would speak to the percentages of the aged casks in the release, without actually committing to just one number as a statement. Light bulb moment! Ardbeg did exactly this with Rollercoaster a few years back, when they showed on the back label the proportions and ages of each respective whisky in the vatting. Brilliant. Utterly brilliant.
It begs the question…would most people not feel better knowing that while some of the whisky in the bottle is young and vibrant, it is married with enough old stock to bring out some depth and subtlety? Would it not be a perfect middle ground, allowing distilleries to use some younger stock and cushion the impact on valuable maturing barrels, while also helping consumers suspend the cynicism that they were being foisted nothing but unripe barrels? J puts more flowery verbiage to this below than I ever could. You can read his comments near the bottom of this piece. To me though, this is the ultimate win-win, short of the bottle simply stating ‘aged to a minimum x-number of years’.
Another question that begs to be answered is where the heck is the Scotch Whisky Association (SWA) in all of this? The self same organization that has turned folks like Compass Box’s John Glaser into a bit an antihero crusader? This is the uptight organization that has set undeniably rigid standards over the years (well…excepting cases where the issue at hand is contrary to their own interests). If age clarity in labeling were an SWA-mandated initiative, the playing field would be levelled. As it stands, what is the carrot that leads a distillery to buck the trend and take a new tack on this one? Nothing.
Here’s an All Things Whisky prediction for you: the distillery(s) that steps up and leads the charge by proudly proclaiming that they stand by the quality of their malts, even in youth, and will ‘man up’ (or ‘woman up’) to putting lower single digit ages on the bottles will be lauded and more than amply rewarded by discerning whisky enthusiasts.
Let’s pause a moment and go back to discussing my personal favorite distillery for a moment. Ardbeg. Ardbeg could conceivably step up as pseudo heroes in this sort of market scenario. Can you imagine if the distillery did a right turn with their marketing approach and began throwing true low age statement numbers on their standard releases such as Uigeadail and Corryvreckan? If they came out with a stance such as ‘we haven’t bottled anything over 12 years in age since the mid 2000s, and look at the awards we’ve won with our young malts. Now we feel it’s time to share the information with our fans’. Grand…slam! Game over. Instant credibility on both sides of the fence. We consumers would love the honesty and clarity, while the industry would have a successful and well-laid precedent to fall back on.
The argument has been made (I believe by our anonymous mate at My Annoying Opinions) that bloggers are the new marketeers for the brands. If that’s so, and the brands want to continue to rely on us to spread the word, then they need to put the information in our hands and allow us to speak from an educated platform, instead of culling together information, suppositions and occasionally leaps of logic. Hey…we all make mistakes when this happens.
So, ultimately why am I so opposed to the NAS trend? Simple really. Knowledge is power. Put the information in front of me and let me make up my own mind. Don’t hide the relevant details because it suits your agenda (which…again…is contrary to what the initial ‘age is better’ stance Scotch has always rested on). There really is no justification for NAS whiskies that I can get behind or align myself with. The sole purpose for their existence is to mislead the consumer. On the one hand…the brands have a blank cheque to bury youthful ‘unripe’ barrels in blending, and on the other…it shows that they take a condescending attitude to consumers by believing that we will always be swayed in our buying solely by the number on the label. This is insulting really.
This is an industry I have supported in all of its facets. I buy young whisky. I like young whisky. I’ve bought lots of NAS releases too, even though I do so with a bit of a grudge. I do this because the malts are good. No one is saying we shouldn’t sell young whisky. Just that it should be done with full disclosure, much like all other mandates for required information on consumables. I like to think I have been crystal clear in all I’ve said about it privately and publicly. The hundreds and hundreds of bottles that have crossed my doorstep have proven fidelity. My commentary comes from a place of love and intentions to hold pure, and to high standards, something we love and covet. All facets need to work towards help both sides maintain trust and cordiality, ‘cause, man, I tell ya…there’s a lot of cynicism in the blogosphere right now.
Here is my personal take on it: let’s back the industry into a corner. We’ve done it before and seen positive results such as higher bottling strengths, and a move towards natural color and away from chill-filtration. This NAS issue can be handled the same way. Speak out…and vote with your dollar. Either the brands can concede that the only reason they won’t release low number age statements on bottles is because they believe the consumer lacks the logic and rationale to accept the whisky as such, or because they want to maintain the ability to continue to pull the wool over our eyes by hiding grossly undermature spirit in large vattings, while leading us to believe it’s not as young as we fear; or…they can start having the same faith in us that we are supposed to have in them and their NAS approach, and believe we’ll buy smart and continue to give them our hard-earned dollars (pounds). I think it was Ralfy, a long while back, who mentioned that if he didn’t see something on the label, he assumed the worst (regarding coloring in this case, I believe). Hate to be contrary to my usually optimistic outlook, but I’ll reluctantly take the same approach with NAS.
I also recall Jim Murray reviewing Ardbeg Still Young in the Whisky Bible a few years back, wherein he expressed similar sentiments. And I quote: “Go on. Be bold. Be proud say it: Ardbeg Aged 8 Years”.
My opinion here is just one of many, though. I thought it would be interesting to let a few others weigh in on this one. So as I mentioned in the author’s note above, in the interest of allowing all sides to have a voice, and to make it a more balanced (and hopefully entertaining read for you), I sent out an email to many of whisky folk from all facets of the industry. Producers, blenders, writers, bloggers, ambassadors, agents and, of course, knowledgeable consumers. What came back is what you can read below.
Thanks to all for taking the time and sharing the benefit of your knowledge. We may not all agree, but I can think of no better bunch to make this journey with. Slainte!
Finally…Dear Readers…feel free to drop a line in the comments section below. You never know who’s listening…
– Curt (ATW)
Thoughts from some others:
“When we bottle a product specific to whisky geeks or connoisseurs we have no problems in listing out the age as most of them will understand how whisky matures in India. In contrary, if we got to target the main stream consumer base, we got to go for NAS route as age is the generally perceived bench mark; although not true in reality, of quality. In this case we had better to go on NAS route as educating all of them is a painstaking process. This is specific to Indian single malt whisky. It is all about our love affairs with angels of Bangalore” – Ashok Chokalingam (Amrut, Brand Ambassador and the kindest heart in the industry)
“Not Aged Sufficiently, Never Ample Stocks, Negligible Advertising Spend; Nothing Anywhere Similar, None As Supreme, Nearly Always Superior, Naturally Added Sophistication. Depends who, how and why. The tyranny of the age statement can create unreasonable – and unsustainable – price points; it can prevent optimal flavour profiles.” – Mark Reynier (former CEO…and much more…Bruichladdich)
“Some people talk about NAS whiskies as an issue because of the perceived risk that some companies may abuse it, but how come no one is talking about whiskies with age statements that suck or are otherwise poor value for money? At the end of the day, people judge whisky based on brands that are known for putting good quality liquid in the bottle and offer good value for the money. If some companies use NAS whisky as a way to compromise on quality while enhancing their profit margins, they will eventually be caught out by consumers and their brands will be tarnished.” – John Glaser (Compass Box, Founder, Master Blender and creative genius)
“NAS stands for No Aged Stock 😉 It really is what it says : It’s a means for distilleries to sell us young(er) malt, for more money, having exhausted most of their old stocks. It also means : more profit, and indeed more flexibility in creating whisky to a certain profile without having to worry about keeping enough stock of a certain age to continue a line of whiskies.” – Gal Granov (Whisky Israel and unstoppable Twitter force)
“NAS whiskies fall into two categories
1: Scotch whiskies that due to limited supply of aged stock and burgeoning Asian markets are now re-branded without an age statement. The Scots (bless em) have spent a century educating the consumer that “older is better” now slowly but surely they are repositioning themselves and trying not to lose face or credibility with those same consumers that are still largely un-educated about the true nature of whisky. Most customers around the world willingly follow whatever is fed to them by the marketing powers but it seems already that there is resistance to this change if the feedback I have been receiving from retail stores is any indication.
2: NAS whiskies that by climate and location age at a much faster rate than in Scotland. These whiskies by their nature should be NAS as the consumer would take any Age Statement and filter it through their Scotch taught knowledge that young age equals inferior whisky. Any of these distilleries that put an age on the bottle would be dooming their product to collect dust on the shelves. Angels share at 3% per annum versus 6%, 10% 12% or even a whopping 18% has a big impact on how quickly a distillery can create a delicious and balanced whisky, potentially at a much younger age.
In the long run there will always be Scotch whiskies produced that will have an age statement even if in much smaller quantities. The movement of Scotch Whisky distilleries to go NAS will really play into the hands of distilleries worldwide that are making great whiskies in a much shorter timeframe. The playing field will slowly become more level and whiskies will be judged more on their merit and less on if they come from Scotland or not. This is underlined by the prices that the Scottish NAS whiskies are still fetching. For value, consumers will slowly but surely move over to flavorful and balanced drams from climates that allow the magic to happen faster.” – Jonathan Bray (Singlemalting.com, El Presidente PVI Global)
“It’s become as contentious (and misunderstood as ‘sulphur’). Age is not a determinant of quality.” – Dave Broom (Whisky Journalist and Author Extraordinaire)
“Like acid wash or skinny jeans, everything comes back into fashion. Some are good, some are bad. NAS whiskies are no different.” – Johanne McInnis (Whisky Lassie and she of the Whisky Fabric fame)
“NAS is like any other whisky: there are good examples and bad. Ultimately whisky should be judged on what it tastes like, the age is increasingly irrelevant; and if the price is to your liking, or preferably free, then all the better.” – Ruaraidh MacIntyre (Charton Hobbs/LVMH Ambassador – Ardbeg and Glenmorangie…and Ardbeg. Did I mention Ardbeg?)
“A little research (or an aged uncle) will reveal that until the 1960’s most Blended Scotch was sold NAS preferring the use of the terms ‘Standard’ and ‘de Luxe’. We should not forget that, at that time, Blended Scotch represented over 98% of all the Scotch Whisky sold. On the other hand AS were available on Single Malts from the early part of the 20th Century.
We should all accept that Father Time is the less important part of the maturation process; Mother Nature (cask influence) has greater importance.
Both are essential but, like human reproduction the Father’s contribution is simply ephemeral.
Have the confidence to choose what you like in terms of taste and be proud of your selection. Leave the AS importance to those who need to justify the price.” – Ronnie Cox (Brand Heritage Director, Berry Brothers & Rudd, austere wit)
“With some existing NAS Whiskies, there is a “back story” of sorts that articulates the component malts in the vatting. Yes, there may well be liquid within that is younger than what would be considered an industry “standard”, an invisible cut off age that we somehow cannot dip below. Is it 12 years old? 10? Many brilliant cask strength Whiskies would fall under that magic mark, themselves.
If the heart of the argument is disclosure, why not then disclose away? If we understand an NAS malt to contain “Whisky that is upwards of 15/18/21 years old” or higher, would a formal percentage satisfy? Let’s give consumers a graph, a pie chart that tells them what they seem to want to hear – “This bottle contains 12% malt that is old enough to drink itself, 58% has more than earned its right to play on the team and the balance is to remind you that youth is to be cherished.” – J Wheelock (Brand Ambassador, BenRiach, GlenDronach, Glenglassaugh, Jura, W&M…and far too humble whisky geek)
“I think there is a lot of mistrust surrounding NAS whiskies. Some of it justified, some of it not. While there has been a notable shift towards them in the last few years, they aren’t exactly new. The Aberlour A’Bunadh, Macallan Cask Strength and Auchentoshan 3 Wood are all NAS whiskies, and have been around for a decade or more. And all three have been popular with consumers. The recent shift towards NAS whisky is the industry’s attempt to meet demand while keeping prices down and managing pressure on their stocks. Is this bad for the consumer? Not if the quality of whisky remains high, and the consumer feels they are getting value for their dollar. If they don’t feel they are getting value, then they will put their dollars elsewhere.
There will be more NAS whiskies in the years ahead as demand continues to put pressure on maturing stocks. Some recent releases like the Ardbeg Corryvreckan, Glendronach Cask Strength (released in batches) and Tomatin CuBocan have been widely accepted. Others have stirred controversy. My advice to consumers is to try before you buy. If you enjoy what you are sampling, and feel the price is fair, then who cares if it has an age statement.” – Andrew Ferguson (Ferguson Whisky Tours, Manager Kensington Wine Market, All ‘Round Whisky Guru)
“NAS whiskies are nothing new.
It’s impossible to guess how much whisky you will need in 10 or 12 years, let alone 21, 30, 40 and 50 years, and this industry is constantly moving between ‘Boom and Bust.’ Sometimes we have to much and everything has an age, at other time we don’t have enough (now) and ages have to be removed. If the industry continues to grow and everything else remains constant, you could be another 20 years before there is stock to allow age-statements to return. Alternatively the demand could collapse tomorrow, leaving distillers with surplus stock that they can’t sell, which would be left to age on until the cycle begins again.
Many distilleries were closed for long periods in the 1980’s and early 1990’s and the release of NAS whiskies like Bowmore Darkest, Springbank CV, Glenfarclas 105 and Aberlour A’bunadh enabled Distillers to vat younger and older casks, produce excellent Single Malts and hit a nice price point, despite the irregular production 10 years earlier.
For the last 25 years, the large Single Malt Brands have focussed on marketing Age-Statement as the only measure of quality (OK, maybe colour as well!)
The average consumers assume that older and darker automatically means better, and this simply isn’t the case. Whilst time in cask is important, it is just one of many variable that contribute to the quality whisky you have in your glass. Cask Quality, Cask Type, 1st, 2nd or 3rd fill, vatting ratio, peating level, bottling strength, marriage time, chill-filtration and colouring amongst others are just as important, and I’m glad that the industry is now putting more time into education on all these aspects, and not just age.
At Duncan Taylor Scotch Whisky, our Big Smoke 46% and 60% are NAS, however at the moment the youngest Islay Malts we are using is these whiskies was distilled in 2000. We also have whiskies that contain casks much older than the age on the bottle. Black Bull 12 year old currently contains a high percentage of whiskies over 18 years old, and the Black Bull 40 year old contains whiskies up to 46 years old, so there are still bargains to be found if consumers shift their focus away from purely buying based on age statement.” – Peter Currie (Global Sales Manager, Duncan Taylor and a man not afriad to share an opinion…thankfully)
So…now have your say, friends…
Thanks for putting this all together for us. This does very little for me though in moving my ass off of the fence. My favourite whisky is a 25 year old. My second favourite is NAS. I don’t tend to put a lot of weight into age statements. Like Glaser says, no one talks about the ones that suck and I can say that some of the most boring malts I have ever had are 18 years old. But on the flip side, I have never dropped over $100 on an NAS and I think I would have a hard time doing it, even if I know that the quality is great.
The odd example I like to look at is the Hazelburn 8 year old. Don’t tend to see that kind of an age statement on bottles! Yet I have heard it described as overpriced for its age, even by people who have no problem dropping far more on the latest NAS Ardbeg release.
I think it’s time for more transparency. I like the Rollarcoaster example. I would love to see that on all of my bottles. Wouldn’t it be cool if you knew how much 20+ year old stuff was in one batch of Abunadh vs another? Conversely, no one wants to tell us just how little Port Ellen we see in a bottle of Big Peat, but I would still find it intriguing even if it were only a percent or two.
Bottom line – sadly the people on this forum are not representative of the market and where it is headed. It’s the person you see at the liquor store debating between picking up the Glenlivet 12 and 15 year old and what the extra $20 or so is worth to them. Age statements matter, probably far more then they should.
A couple of references to Glenfarclas 105 as NAS. Perhaps they have changed recently but I have a couple of bottles and both state on the back label: “Aged 10 years”
Indeed you’re right. I’ve checked a couple bottles and both say 10 y.o. Good catch.
Actually, Glenfarclas ‘105’ goes beyond the 10 years age statement and also has the 20yo and 40yo (both beyond my pay scale).
It would be interesting to know the percentages of different age whiskies used in a particular bottle but I’m not too hung up on that. I love my Glendronach 15, Clynelish 14, Glenmorangie 10, Lagavulin 12 & 16, Ardbeg 10 and Buchanan 18. I also love Laphroaig CS, Glenfarclas 105, Macallan CS, Ardbeg Corryvrecken and JW Double Black. I’d really like full disclosure of ages (and sources with blends), but I doubt that will happen. And as long as quality stays up, it’s not essential.
I will admit it is nice to know that the Evan Williams SB is 9 yrs, 7 months and 22 days old and WT Rare Breed consists of 6, 8 and 12 year olds, but I still only buy them because they are quite good and a steal for the price ($20 & $32). In fact, I’ve moved more towards bourbon due to the quality and price compared to scotch (and the hot weather).
I think we should not rush to judge these NAS whiskies as if they are just one large monolithic thing. There are a lot of nuances and obviously there are some great NAS whiskies. But we must be vigilant to call out those NAS whiskies that are less deserving. It would be great if there were some required disclosure and that example from the Rollercoaster is a great solution. Wish there was a way to make that happen. Not very likely. As long as we take the time to review the whiskies and give them a fair chance then all the bad ones will fall out of fashion and the quality ones will succeed.
Good comment, John. Thanks for dropping a line. The issue isn’t about good or bad though really. This is a more a rejection of the industry hiding ages from us. To me this is an ‘all or nothing’ thing. Not something to just call out the bad ones. Good or bad…they should be willing to declare age. Just my two cents.
The reason they are moving to NAS is due to the regulations for age labeling. For example if you have a rye that is a marriage of both 16 year rye and 2 year rye you are only allowed to label the bottle as 2 year old or go with NAS, which are you going to choose? When really the taste that you are getting in the glass is really dependent on the proportion of the mix. How much 16 year old? The sad fact is that we just don’t know. Though if you could not use NAS and were forced to label it 2 year old would you even put any 16 year old in there? And yes a two year old rye could be really great, see the new Willett. So the uniformed customer base is also partly to blame. People do think that a higher number automatically means more quality.
There are surely going to be a lot of things about the industry that we are going to be annoyed with in this era of whisky shortages. On the flip side not having older stock is forcing distillers to be more creative and create whisky that tastes great at a younger age, see Kilchoman and Balcones. Are they making an interesting whisky that benefits from a blending of young and old, see a’Bunadh. Though maybe the company is just releasing a NAS to keep profits up but the end result is to help a company that still puts out some great age statement whiskies, see Highland Park. It is still up to us, whisky bloggers and enthusiasts to call out those NAS whiskies that are simple profit grabs. I do think that bloggers have been calling out NAS whisky for what it is, covering up the truth, but still the industry continues to increase the amount of NAS whisky. The desire for profit with so many out there clamoring for whisky is very strong. I think that if we keep up the pressure to not remove age labeling then there is a chance they may come back into fashion. Tricky stuff. I am going to stop now. 🙂
Curt I’m not sure your solution works with SWA requirements. Compass Box has gotten in trouble for stating the different ages of product in the bottle. I don’t believe they are allowed to do it. You can only state the age of the youngest drop in the bottle!
Yes, so I’ve heard (from Mr. Glaser himself). More idiocy on the part of the SWA in their 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations (Citation 2009 No 2890). I was holding off saying this, as I’d asked John if he wanted to point that out himself.
That inane bit of tripe and BS redtape is worth drawing attention to though.
Either way…that was just one proposal (and HAD worked in the past). I’m sure there are many other solutions. Let’s face it…there are some VERY samrt people in the whisky world…not all fighting on the side of the evil empire. Someone must be able to come up with a palatable solution.
I keep hearing the words ‘unavoidable’ and ‘inevitable’ bandied about in relation to this discussion. I take incredible exception to this. It misses the entire crux of the argument.
Use of young malts due to mature stock shortages does not equate to necessity of NAS whisky. Period.
Let me explain…
The use of younger whiskies may be unavoidable, I grant you that, but moving towards obscurity in labeling? That’s nothing more than a producers’ cheat. They can release these vattings of old and young…just put the ages on the bottle. The point is THEY DON’T WANT YOU TO KNOW JUST HOW YOUNG IT IS FOR FEAR YOU WON’T BUY IT. It doesn’t HAVE to be NAS; they’re just telling you it does it. Don’t believe it. It may have to be a mix of old and young, but there is NO reason they can’t tell us just HOW young, aside from wanting to protect their ability to bottle with carte blanche and without some preconceived idea of buyer’s threshold for age acceptance.
Speaking out against NAS whisky is not about rejecting young whisky (much of which I like!). Instead it is about not tacitly accepting the sellers’ mandate blindly. Caveat emptor = “let the buyer beware”. This age old credo only works if the buyer CAN beware and can make an educated decision.
Stop accepting the bullshit argument that the NAS trend is inevitable. It’s not, if we’re willing to challenge it.
Curt, I think you miss a couple of points in your rejection of NAS and your crusade against it.
Firstly, most consumers, 90%+, are either oblivious to the semantics of the debate or don’t care. Your solution to have a graph of ages on the back won’t fly mainly because it contravenes the legislation (the only age if any that can be on the bottle is that of the youngest whisky in the mix). Even if it were feasible, would it make a difference to more than a tiny fraction of consumers.
Secondly, I know many people are disappointed about the loss of classic age statement expressions like the Macallan 18 year. The stocks of mature whisky are finite. Facing shortages of stock the distillery could have opted for one of two options. Charge you more for the same product (which we are seeing), driven by demand and the reality that other markets are willing to pay more for them. Or try to provide affordable expressions, while maintaining the balance between quality and value. I believe this is the intent of most, and what I haven’t heard a lot of in this debate is of bad NAS whisky. To be sure there is some, but most of those currently in the Alberta market are quite good!
Finally, we live in a free market, although many on the brand loyalty, from a pure capitalist perspective the companies owe you nothing, and vice versa. They don’t need to tell you how old the whisky is or what the cask ratios are if they don’t want to. And you as the consumer, if you don’t like what they are doing you can vote with you dollars. Some large companies with well established brands don’t need to worry about the small percentage of anaracks that want to know every detail, because their product will sell regardless as long as people believe they are getting value. Many smaller companies like Springbank are more transparent and are lauded for it, but does it translate into substantially higher sales, no.
I work at the margin where distillers products and consumers meet. I am not an apologist for the industry, I’m as frustrated as anyone when I see prices go up or classic age statement whiskies disappear. The reality is, most consumers don’t seemed to be phased. Especially when give the chance to sample the products.
Thanks for wading in. Let me counter a couple of your points. Forgive any paraphrasing.
1 Your point that 90%+ of consumers being ignorant is a surprising take to hear. First…because so much of what you do is based on educating consumers. You have built a huge part of your businesses just by how damn good at your job you are. (Million kudos) I would think you would be one of the first to want to fight this mentality of ‘they don’t know any better, so let’s leave well enough alone’. Second…one of the points Lumsden just made in an interview for Miss Whisky was that the industry does not do enough for education.
2 Regarding the graph solution…already replied to here. I now know it’s not possible within existing legislation. Again…I’m sure there are other ways of making this work.
3 You mention not hearing a lot about bad NAS whisky. True. My intent wasn’t to say the whisky wasn’t good. Contrary, I want to say it IS good. Now…as part of that education process…tell us “see…it can be good AND young. This is a 7 year old.” I don’t think they’re trying to give us bad whisky at all. You’re right on the money. They’re trying (arguably) to strike a balance between quality and value. I do think they’re trying to give themselves an incredible buffer in pricing scheme though. Yes, I understand the concept of laissez-faire capitalism and letting the market self govern, but that doesn’t mean I won’t call bullshit when things are (what I would consider) off the rails.
4 You’re right. The industry owes me (us) nothing. However, they like to throw their arm around you, tell you we’re all in it together, and that their whiskies are made for people like us. If I feel they’re gonna take the approach that they’re too big for us and don’t care what the small percentage of ‘anaracks’ think, they can kindly go fuck themselves, and I will say so publicly. (For the record…I don’t believe that is what they are in fact saying or doing) I, and my whisky loving friends (you included) have invested way more into supporting the industry and these nations’ economics than the schmuck who wants Johnnie Red with coke and ice. I mean this in nothing more than pure dollars invested.
5 Your point about consumers being able to sample the wares is very poignant too. It comes back to my point above about the outlay of expense for educational purposes. Unfortunately, most of the time the consumer needs to pay heavily to attend an event, where often (in a festival setting) they are using a glass over and over. These events are a blast. My lifeblood actually, and my escape from the mundane. They’re not, however, conducive to assessing whisky quality.
Whew! Again…thanks for the post.
Slow times at work… 😉
We do our best to educate people, but even I will acknowledge we only serve a small portion of the whisky buying public. With hope this will trickle down, but I am aware that many people will buy the limited selection available at discount stores based on price and brand.
Can’t argue with your points, only the tone. I suppose I am an optimist about this until proven otherwise. I have to be or I wouldn’t believe in what I’m selling anymore!
You do a great job at educating. Likely none better. We in Calgary are richer for it.
What do you mean by the ‘tone’? Just because I’m opposed to an industry mandate doesn’t mean I’m coming from a place of anger. Contrary…as I said…I’ll buy it…review it and score it well when it deserves…and am not just pointing out problems, but actively coming to table trying to find solutions. I’m optimistic for the distant future, but cynical as to who can possibly benefit from this trend. I don’t think anyone can argue that hiding the numbers is ONLY for the brands.
As always…you add immeasurably to these discussions. Hope you’ll take the time to reply to some of the others. This thing is alive now. These comments are telling the story and represent the people. Hopefully we can have all sides and opinions weigh in.
I do think that the sellers of NAS whiskies would just like to continue to fly under the radar, and would prefer that the request for more accurate age information just go away. The question remains as to whether whisky aficionados through online or other means can generate enough influence to generate a change by bottlers toward more accurate and more detailed whisky bottle age labeling. I am certain that without a decrease in volume of sales and evidence that it was influenced by outside-the-industry critics, that the industry will remain very skeptical as to whether people raving into the internet have any real influence over sales.
I like the idea of the listing of contents breakdown: “This whisky contains 37% from Casks 12 years old; 43% from Casks 7 years old; 15% from Casks 6 years old; and 5% from Casks 4 years old. Average age= 8.55 years” old”
My concete practical suggestion: if whisky buffs can get even one major bottler to give detailed age statement labeling as a change from generic NAS labeling, it may well influence the other bottlers to eventually follow suit.
As long as whisky sales boom times continue, the distillers can continue to feel resistant to outside pressure. No boom continues forever, though. As soon as any contraction in sales looms, it will be easier to get ‘truth in labeling’ on bottles of whisky.
My take is simple…..why not focus a little more on the liquid in the bottle and a whole lot less on the number on the label. I’ve heard it all…..and every time, I’m reminded of how uneducated some folks really are about what they’re sampling. My favorite whisky has always been a NAS whisky….from the first time I tried it, Macallan Cask Strength….a big, bold, beautiful flavor. And I still love it today after trying so many age statement whiskies.
Whoa! Careful. I hate to think I’m what you consider ‘uneducated’. Do you not think I focus entirely on what’s in the bottle? That’s exactly the root of this debate. I want to know EXACTLY what is in the bottle. That way I can decide if it’s worth my money, based on the criteria I MYSELF set, not the producers. Further…if we’re to be educated consumers (which the industry pretends they want)…how does hiding this data help?
My overall point here is being missed again. Who cares if Mac CS is your favorite? I agree…it’s great. But why can’t it be Mac CS 8 year old? Why do the producers need to hide that? NAS means ‘we don’t have to tell you shit. suck it up’.
All the propaganda about ‘trust the whisky and don’t rely on age data’ is only a benefit to the producer. I WANT that information.
Kate you said, “My favorite whisky has always been a NAS whisky…Macallan Cask Strength….a big, bold, beautiful flavor. And I still love it today after trying so many age statement whiskies.”
I think its gone. No longer available. I think the Macallan Cask strength was needed for the even younger 1824 NAS series….
The first NAS victim of furtherance of the NAS mania.
Or you could look at it that the CS was just too good a value to survive; when Edrington thinks that there’s any chance it’s “giving too much away” – and it doesn’t take much, you can always hear the knives being sharpened.
Macallan cask strength started out as different offerings of 10 years of age in duty free. The NAS Macallan cask strength was the end point of the series – last Mac standing if you will.
A very, very good piece but, as is often the case, the most interesting stuff is sometimes found, not in the exposition, but in the defense.
Indeed knowledge is power and that’s what this is all about: a consumer’s power to make an informed choice. It should also be pointed out that NAS IS all about the industry’s conscious choice to withhold information, and the conscious choice to withhold information alone, because there is no such thing as “NAS whisk(e)y”. NAS doesn’t represent a production process, not even necessarily that of cask blending or multi-vintaging. Unlike an age statement expression with a minimum stated duration for the process of cask maturation, NAS ONLY represents a type of label. It takes 12 years in oak to make Highland Park 12, but it only takes a couple seconds with a Sharpie or an x-acto knife to make it NAS, and the process can be reversed with application of a new label. It can all be done by the consumer at home, but the same can’t be said of making NAS into an age statement precisely BECAUSE the consumer doesn’t have the production information to do so. Many in the industry like to talk about NAS-labeled products as if they ARE an actual type of whisk(e)y (see above) because it serves to distract from the fact that the entire “NAS issue” could be fixed, not by strenuous changes in the distilling or blending process but by, at most, some lobbied regulation changes and a couple of hours’ work by the label designer, or just by declaring the age. The industry’s cry is always “but our hands are tied”, yet producers certainly managed to get off their asses when it came to closing the Cardhu “Pure Malt” loophole, didn’t they? If these labelling regulations were hurting sales rather than enhancing them, things would be changed in short order. OK, so it’s time for sales to be hurt.
And why isn’t the SWA all over this? Because its council members are too busy approving new NAS expressions at their regular jobs at the helms of major distilling companies. The current council:
Ian Curle, Edrington (Chairman)
Pierre Pringuet, Chivas Brothers Ltd (Vice Chairman)
Graham Stevenson, Inver House Distillers Ltd (Treasurer)
Albert Baladi, Beam Inc
David Cutter, Diageo plc
Bill Farrar, Edrington
David Gates, Diageo plc
Peter Gordon, William Grant & Sons Ltd
Stuart Lowthian, John Dewar and Sons Ltd & Bacardi
Rosemary McGinness, William Grant & Sons Ltd
Paul Neep, The Glenmorangie Company Ltd
Laurent Lacassagne, Chivas Brothers Ltd
Leonard Russell, Ian MacLeod Distillers Ltd
Fraser Thornton, Burn Stewart Distillers
Paul Walsh, Diageo plc
So if consumers are looking for help from the above, they need to keep looking – and they need to look to themselves and to their buying power.
In place of actual production information, NAS has also come to mean “Nonsense Adjective Selling”. It’s no one’s business what’s in them, but instead these bottles try to keep consumers entertained with tales of the loch out back, the whirlpool out front, some boat that once passed by the distillery, and a whole pile of Gaelic. All quaint, all colourful, and all malarkey. In short, the industry thinks that consumers are stupid enough to take bedtime stories in place of actual product information and, unfortunately, some are – and many who appear to be on the side of consumers (at least part time) want those consumers to remain in the dark as well because it helps with sales. Anyone who’s on the other side of this issue doesn’t need to tell me about the “uninformed consumer”, because they’re in the very business of helping to keep the consumer uninformed.
Aside from this fairytale silliness (and that of saying colour has any bearing on quality), there is indeed cynicism out there because, while it is no GUARANTEE of quality in and of itself, age certainly has a bearing upon it (the great majority of top-rated expressions are not aged under 10 years – and again, I’m talking about top quality, not just what’s “drinkable”), and for the industry to now claim otherwise for NAS-labeled products, but STILL charge more for aged expressions, is pure and simple duplicity. We’re supposed to trust the industry, particularly about the idea that NAS is driven by demand rather than just realizing higher profit margins on young whiskies, but this is the same industry which is currently in the process of saying it may have previously supposedly “exaggerated” (read “lied”) about the importance of age to quality to help sales in the past. In short, the mantra about “re-educating” the public about quality is pure bullshit – it’s only a case of what story the industry wants (or doesn’t want) to now tell in order to sell what it now has on hand – or what contradictory messages it wants to send simultaneously. “We should all accept that Father Time is the less important part of the maturation process; Mother Nature (cask influence) has greater importance.” Sure – but we should also accept that time is a major factor in determining the OVERALL effect of cask influence. Duh. There is a lot of “innovation” in the industry these days, but far more of it is concentrated in the PR department than in the production department. Is it some wild coincidence that the industry has now “discovered” that “time isn’t really all that important” JUST as it’s running out of aged stock and also the quality casks which would have greater and more beneficial cask influence over longer holding durations in any case? Tell me the one about the whirlpool again… I like that one better. Trust absolutely needs to be restored, and it needs to be done by the industry stopping its lies and double-dealing and telling the truth about these products.
As is acknowledged above, NAS is really about burying youthful ‘unripe’ barrels in blending while not talking about age where there is none to talk about and it’s important to point out that, if it can be suspected that much NAS is young, it’s also to be deeply suspected that it’s going to get younger in the future (with no need of notification or a label change) if consumers don’t stand up for themselves. And, if they don’t, will that mean NAS will get better over time because of “how great young whiskies are” and everything the “industry has now discovered about what contributes to quality”? Guess again. If young whiskies are so good and can stand on their own merits why do most of them hide behind NAS labels and why is the MOST common comment in the review of any young whisky always something like “and it’ll be even better… in a few years’ time”? Whether it’s too little, too much or just right, age matters to the quality of whiskies and if age matters, then knowing that age also matters – and if I was previously paying enough to know the age of what I’m buying, I’m most CERTAINLY paying enough now.
There are good NAS-labeled expressions but, as I’ve said many times, none of them are made any better for having their age concealed so, if it’s all the same stuff in the bottle anyway, NAS labelling can plainly be seen to only benefit the producer – and even though it’s shocking, maybe even sacrilegious to some, I don’t consider the industry’s interests or problems to be synonymous with my own. The answer is indeed to “vote with your dollars” or, less diplomatically, to BOYCOTT NAS-LABELED PRODUCTS.
Fuck. Jeff…you just won the internet.
Great post. Sharp. Concise. And points out more in a few paragraphs than all of the previous months (years) of natter have managed to combined.
Unfortunately, Jeff has also now rendered redundant the post I was preparing for tomorrow on ridiculous marketing stories.
And the curtain is pulled away on the wizard…
One day, the Anchorman-watching masses will turn to a new fashion, and the marketers will happily run in front of them playing their pipes. What, then, will the distilleries who have essentially turned their back on the established customers do? NAS is shiny; hopefully we can follow Jeff’s lead and the fad won’t last long enough to do real damage.
Excellent stuff Curt & Jeff! I’m going a step further by boycotting most recent Scotch expressions with their ridiculous prices and tall tales of their umm….majesty. I truly feel for the retailers as they need to put on a brave face during this debacle, which is exactly what it is. As a Scot, I’m both shocked and embarrassed of the greed by many of Scotland’s distilleries & I’m shifting my purchasing away from Scotland. There are great, and still affordable whiskies being produced in our own back yard, and from our neighbours to the south. F*ck Scotland until you get your shit together.
Hey, Big Scotty.
Appreciate the courage of your convictions and the kind words. I won’t go as far as you on this one though. I want to share the word and push for change, but I still like some of these whiskies and will continue to buy favorites. In the meantime I’ll cross my fingers that the industry evolves to suit.
This issue may seem confrontational, but I think for ALL of us it comes from a place of love, not animosity. We love the spirit and want the most of it. At the end of the day we need to find balance between the business side and the connoisseur side. As it stands…one side is grossly outweighed by the other.
Thanks for dropping a line.
Let’s put it in perspective…. It’s a drink. It may be fun, enjoyable, a great hobby to learn about, but in the end, it’s a drink. It ought not to be a lifestyle.
Place of love?.. Humbug!
I’ve slowed my buying tremendously. Watching my cabinet fill with too many must try bottles….will I really miss it if I don’t have it? When will I taste it?
I remain haunted by the words of the guy who got me started on all this….he was talking about his collection, and how there were only 9 bottles of Black Bowmoreleft (he may have been wrong but that’s not the point):
How many do you have?
What does it taste like
….never tried it.
And within the year, he died, and will never taste it.
And his collection was dispersed to the four winds, possibly to be mixed with coke and ice fr all his family knew about the stuff…
I can’t take it with me, and my kids may not want it. If the distilleries don’t want to out out decent stuff, there’s always lime with tonic water…
I just tasted Macallan CS for the first time. Excellent stuff. But I wonder how much better if it had been a little more mature…
I’ve noticed the Aberlour A’Bunadh have trensded to being harsher and less enjoyable in mosre recent batches. 32,33,44 were smooth and flavourful, 36 and 38 less so. 44 was a return to greatness and I’ve read mixed reviews of others. I also wonder if it is getting, on average younger.
I have no problem with NAS if each batch is matured the same way for about the same time (with minor variations), but I do have a problem if they hook you with an older first batch and then pull back on the quality as they go forward, leaving you buying each new batch in a desperate attempt to recapture the magic…
That’s always the concern. They’ll put best foot forward for launch, but will subsequent editions/batches live up to precedent?
We have batch 47 in for the moment and am suitably impressed by it!
Sometimes newer is better. I have batch 46 and 47 and the 47 is a definite step up.
some truth in all that has been said, much of it for sure.
There was a time when whisky – predominately talking about Scotch here – was sold as it came from the stills. Clear with little standing time and stored in whatever vessel was at hand.
Even in these early bygone days somebody found out that whisky gets better if it is allowed to settle and mature for some time and one day the first oak cask was used most probably a sherry or wine cask as those casks sat empty in the docks of Leith or in the yards of sherry or wine companies surplus to requirements because their contents had been filled into bottles and nobody made the effort to send them back empty to Spain or Italy nor Madeira or elsewhere.
Along came the first Big War and Lloyd George – a teetotaller – who was convinced British ammunition workers drank to much and put the war effort back and in danger. He enforced the rule that Scotch must be matured for three years in oak in Scotland in the year 1915 AFAIK. His aim was not to improve Scotch whisky but to maroon the ammunition workers for three years on dry land and he probably thought that was time enough to win the war with plenty of well made guns and ammunition. And more sober soldiers.
He failed but the law was never taken back.
Over the years more rules and laws were made among them the rule that the youngest whisky used in a vatting to be bottled as a Scotch whisky expression defined the age oft this bottling and was to be printed onto the labels – if an age statement was used at all.
Another big stupid war came and in its wake whisky and the wish to drink it spread over the boundaries of the English speaking nations all over Europe.
In Germany after 12 years missing out under dictatorship on music art literature it became fashionable to drink whisky with the British and American soldiers and it is the post war years that created the boom in the whisky industry that picked up speed in the early 1960s and crashed 1983.
Are you still with me? Good.
We have to consider the boom and bust circle to understand the fuss about the NAS whiskies.
After the crash of 1983 in the Scotch whisky industry distilleries were closed capacities which had turned out to be to high were reduced – after several new distilleries had been build as late as 1975.
Stocks that had been put to cask in a time of full swing suddenly and almost over night had an uncertain future. For some of them this uncertainty was to last until today. They now cost us dearly.
For me the next boom began between the year 2000 and 2005. When this boom picked up speed the stocks reaching back to the 1960ies were most welcome to feed a newly rising thirst for Scotch. Not that in these early accelerating years 30yo and older whiskies were the rage of the day. No, more it was 10 and 12 yo standard bottlings. As demand was slowly picking up whisky companies had time to build their brands. In order to do this quality was paramount and so it came to pass that standard OB bottlings were issued with age statements as a sign and a means to transport the aspect of quality.
12 yo blends were called de luxe and single malts as a category gained a momentum the industry was not prepared for. Single malts had not been the rage of the boom years from 1960 to 1983 those years had been blend years. And now we come into play and we wanted single malts all of them in all variations and ever better – and ever more.
That was fine with the industry as they were sitting on a sea of whisky which had accumulated after 1983.
And the industry was only to happy to cater for our needs. With quality in mind 10 or 12 yo standard OB bottlings contained casks with an age of up to 25 or even 30 years while the bottles faithfully gave the age of the whisky in the bottles as 8 yo or 10 or 12.
Some of the few single malts with an age statement below 10 years I can remember are Balvenie Littlemill and Glen Garioch. Age did matter more and more so and so it came that the number 10 became a magic number. And if you bought a bottle of single malt wit a 10 on the label you bought a vatting of malts from one distillery with some casks of much older whisky thrown in for quality.
It is noteworthy that they never told us how many casks of older vintages and of what age were contained in a standard OB – and to be fair – we never asked.
But we noticed later that the quality of standard OB bottlings began a steep decline as soon as the show was in full swing. Standard OBs were the first victims of the new boom that still rages on. The OB bottlings lost their reach. No longer were they containing casks of up to 25 or 30 years maturing time. A 12 yo offering today has a reach of probably 15-17 years – if at all. It is no secret that the Ardbeg TEN nowadays contains just that, malt of 10 years of age and – AFAIK – nothing more. No problem with that either.
Then the pendulum swung the other way. The sea of whisky became shallow and shallower and producers and bottlers had to reach for the ceiling but to no avail. With China India Brasilia and whoever else there is just not enough Scotch around at the moment. Rising capacity is not always the best answer as the problem with predictions is that they deal with the unforeseeable future.
So here we have it. After all the progress made from the new make sold clear at its place of origin after virtually more or less all distilleries offering standard OBs of 25 30 or more years of maturing we have the counter movement which is called NAS. The rest comes from independent bottlers.
Not to forget the money, by the way. Much of the state of affairs is due to the need for money that is moving the industry more than every romantic notion of farmhouse distilling or Scotch whisky as a craft or an art ever could. When Scotch became business big business and an industry all innocence was lost. Money does not care for tradition arts and crafts nor truth or honesty in a product. These question are ours we the whisky geeks ask them.
Above I said that no one cared how much older whisky was contained in OB bottlings of lore… but in those times money was not the big issue. Money mine and yours today is as quality is reduced and the prices know only one direction.
Apart from price and quality considerations I personally find NAS bottlings dishonest. Bottlers do not make too much fuss about it but as we are not told of what components a NAS vatting is comprised – we do not know how much older whisky is needed to mask the characteristics of the NAS bottings with young malt at their core. Too young malts in some cases.
If market mechanisms are at work with the NAS bottlings then their prices lead me to the conclusion that the proportion of older and mature components in those vattings must be substantial.
I want to know why I am supposed to pay prices so high for youngish whiskies. And the industry can not have it both ways. Selling whisky quick with high margins is something every merchant dreams of. But it should be an honest product. 3-5 yo whisky fortified with older whisky to make it palatable and to mask the youth and immature nature it must necessarily have is not honest. Not at the prices that are being asked.
So in a way we have come full circle – and are about to sacrifice some of the progress we have made since the early days.
Your last line is very poignant.
I truly understand your position between the geeks and the masses, but if you already liken your whisky to Scotch whisky so much you should take the lead and fully explain the details (in small fine print or on line). It may be all about your love affairs with angels of Bangalore, but the devils in the details.
NAS……….. Not Appreciating Stance….. I wish you would explain your position further, what are you saying?
For me it’s never been about bad overpriced whisky, it’s always been about making an informed decision. In the end the consumer will decide. I like to think whisky geeks like me can bring about change by pressuring the powers that be (higher strength, no caramel and no chill filtering). Imagine there’s no SWA, It’s easy if you try, no Diageo controlling the industry and bottles with information all over them. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.
Industry exhausted their old stocks, maybe most, but not all. We can still suckle at the teat of George-Farclas and his ample stock for many years to come. I really don’t mind the industry creating a young formula limited release and charging me more for it; provide they give us a break down of its makeup. I get sideways when they NAS and don’t give a batch number e.g. Macallan dancing out their new series. Without a batch number we could taste it at a store/ festival, buy it later and go WTF, that’s not what I remember. Ever try and return a bottle once you open it.
Yes, the irony of the Irish educating the Scots, and then the Scots educating the world, about older whisky and then marketing NAS. I still think consumers at all levels should be treated with the respect of full disclosure. Is older whisky better…………………….you bet. Is really old whisky better, not always? Slow tantric maturation in a 2nd or 3rd fill cask, has a wow factor! Can the quick maturation hot houses of Asia equal the slow frigid maturation of the scots, I think not, but they are putting out an amazing product in one seventh the time.
To me sulphur is not that contentious; if you don’t like smoke, stay away from peated whisky, if you don’t like sulphur ( however you perceive it ) stay away from sherried whisky. Age may not be determinant in quality, but generally 15 – 30 year old whisky tastes a whole lot better than 3-10 year old whiskies.
I support IWOWD, I like acid wash jeans ( which have never gone out of style) and I like many NAS whiskies, but if I’m paying for the whiskies I would like to know what I’m buying.
Ruaraidh MacIntyre, Charton Hobbs
You say the age is increasingly irrelevant, only if you don’t have older stock. Most whisky geeks would choose a 1977 or a 1974 over the Ardbog or the Galileo. I love the Corry, but I liked the Committee Corry even better and would gladly pay more for it. All we are saying is give information a chance. You mentioned free whisky?
I currently have a 1972, and 1978 Glenrothes open (guess that’s makes me a social climber) and can tell you with complete certainty that they are far superior in every way over the current releases. Does time in the barrel matter, you know it. I recognize the major of Scotch whisky are still in blends, but you have to admit the blends are changing to match the more informed and discerning consumer.
As for history, when I was drinking young blends, I was listening to music on my Walkman. When I started drinking single malts with caramel & low ABV, I did so listening to music on my Discman. Now that I’m drinking older aged single malts at cask strength, with no chill filtering or caramel added, I do so listening to tunes on my MP3 player. It just seems to me that the industry has moved forward with the consumer and with no age statement whiskies is about to take a step back, which would suck as I don’t own a record player anymore.
Yes, I totally agree, this not about doing away with young whisky, it’s about information. Are you sure you’re not Irish?
Amazing, you seem to be returning to normal after your recent mountain biking accident, glad to see the helmet mostly did its job. Sage advice, try before you buy. I would just add that information on a bottle never hurts in helping make a decision and not everybody is lucky enough to have a store that lets you try before you buy.
Adore the Blackbull; it’s a great blend at an excellent price. Thanks for giving us a little more information about its makeup. You need to post more, as you have a lot to say about the industry.
I can’t even begin to explain how many small truths (and big ones) are peppered throughout this comment. MM and I have discussed this subject ad nauseum and it still amazes me how many tentacles the discussion has. Expect a few more offshoot pieces in the near future similar to this NAS discussion.
Initially I wanted to comment on each of these comments, but that’s a spiral that will just keep going. Well thought out and poignant responses to each. Cheers, ‘Monster.
MM, are you afraid of being outed? You never use you full Irish name…
I agree with: “and not everybody is lucky enough to have a store that lets you try before you buy.” But would add, that present company excluded (those posting and the Anaracks), a lot of consumers are more concerned about saving 5 or 10% then being well served by their retailer. That includes not just sampling but education and advice. And in that case you get what you pay for. Alberta and Calgary in particular are very well served by a handful of excellent stores. But there are also good shops in BC and even the LCBO has a tasting bar!
Part of this issue could be resolved by consumers asking for and expecting more from their retailers.
Good point. Wonder if the retailers would respond in kind, or flip it on the agents for not providing the product. Not saying they would, just wondering.
Either way…as you said…that’s not the case here in AB. The more we learn about the wider whisky world, the more we see just exactly HOW fortunate we are here.
Forgot to add with reference to Georgefarclas’ distillery, that even they are not immune to price inflation. Their 40 year old is now CAD$750 from $500, and their new 60 year is over $20K. True they have good stocks of older whisky, but they’re not going to give it away, and nor should they have to. The market set the price and the market is still white hot. You’ve helped me look at casks before and know as well as anyone that their prices, as everyone’s, are rising with those of the industry.
Jeff & Maltmonster: FanFREEKINGtastic, beautifully written posts.
I wish more whisky/journalism/blog writing was as good as these two posts.
Please let me know where I can find more of same – I’ll PAY for a subscription.
Yeah…we gotta get MM to get back to composing this l’il gems from the dank recesses of his man cave. One day, he promises.
As for Jeff…what can I say…his post above is the crux of this whole discussion now.
My thanks to all for their kind comments.
I agree with Big Scotty in that I think the scotch industry currently represents some of whisky’s greediest producers, and so also among some of the most vulnerable to consumer action/backlash. It is a good opportunity to point out, however, that my issue with NAS applies to the entire industry – Irish, Indian, American, you name it; I’m no happier with an NAS Amrut or Cooley product, even if they’re good quality and/or represent a better value than competing products, if these companies withhold production information that I feel is relevant.
I’m also glad for Malt Monster’s critique of the various comments which Curt gathered for writing his post, not only because of the specific critique he gave (his thoughts were very close to mine in reading some of this stuff), but because some of the defenses of NAS offered, from “production information doesn’t matter, so long as the product’s good, shut up and drink your whisky” to good ol’ “we’ve just discovered age doesn’t matter, at least for the cheaper bottles, anyway” deserved to be answered on their own terms – and they were.
One of the trickiest defenses of NAS labels, however, is recounted by John Malatino:
“The reason they are moving to NAS is due to the regulations for age labeling. For example if you have a rye that is a marriage of both 16 year rye and 2 year rye you are only allowed to label the bottle as 2 year old or go with NAS, which are you going to choose? When really the taste that you are getting in the glass is really dependent on the proportion of the mix. How much 16 year old? The sad fact is that we just don’t know. Though if you could not use NAS and were forced to label it 2 year old would you even put any 16 year old in there? And yes a two year old rye could be really great, see the new Willett. So the uniformed customer base is also partly to blame. People do think that a higher number automatically means more quality.”
But just how “uninformed” can the consumer base be about the value of age to quality when the industry itself is reaching for 16-year rye, and not 3-year rye, to prop up the 2-year rye in that bottle? Age statements can only do “injustice” to older whisky contained in an NAS-labeled bottle where older whisky is actually present and, if age has no bearing on quality, why use older whisky in the first place? Or if the 2 being added to the 16 to make the latter better:
1) just how good was that PARTICULAR 16 in the first place (are we talking about some seriously flawed casking which made it inferior to a 2);
2) why should I be at all interested in Willett 22 (particularly at price);
3) why is the industry the world over so obsessed with mothballing great new make in oak barrels when it’s ruining all that “superior youthful vitality” and when its quality as older whisky then has to be “rescued” by the addition of whisky of 5 years or less?
Or are we talking the “more than the sum of its parts” argument, that combined, the two whiskies are better than either separately? How can this be if the 2 is so good, or we dealing with two very shitty whiskies being pushed out the door and onto the shelf, their mutual improvement unproven in any case because no one outside the industry can sample those specific whiskies separately? I could better buy the idea that NAS is “the price you pay” for all the great multi-vintage whisky the industry is producing if the majority of it was truly great and not just passable; most NAS-labeled stuff which isn’t heavily sherried, peated or high ABV (or a combination thereof, and so geared to fans of things heavily sherried, peated or high ABV) falls somewhere in the 80s – not bad, and maybe an improvement over what the whisky was prior to blending (or maybe not, who knows, what WAS its quality prior to blending?), but hardly exceptional in absolute terms. Despite all the marketing hype, I just don’t see many signs of miraculous “whisky alchemy”, and not many reviewers can either; there just aren’t a lot of “golden NAS bottles” being turned out from flawed “leaden” base stock, and we know that because there just aren’t a lot of “golden NAS bottles” being turned out… period. The issue of NAS IS separate from the theory of the advantages of multi-vintaging, but I do begin to question aspects of the latter where it is used to defend the former.
Just what are the age proportions in these bottles? “Sadly, we don’t know”, but it’s the “uniformed customer base” which is partly to blame for the current state of affairs, with oppressive regulations making up the other part, and certainly not the industry which, if it was TRULY dissatisfied with the status quo, would have both the motivation and the ability to lobby to get labeling regulations changed.
But the truth is, of course, things are as they are because that’s exactly how the industry wants them to be – or wants them to be right now, UNLESS consumer action starts taking the legs out from under NAS. JW can hint at, and even convince people of, all the ancient whisky in Blue Label without having to substantiate anything and others follow suit; internet rumours and urban legends abound in place of information which the producers “can’t give you” on the label.
To paraphrase Ganhdi, we must become the change that we hope to see in the whisky world – to oppose the idea and principles behind NAS marketing makes no difference at all to the industry if you still support that marketing with your dollars. People actually need to BOYCOTT these products, and advocate that they BE boycotted, in the interests of consumers if any change is to be realized. Give up NAS. I have, so it isn’t impossible.
Again NAS is not that big a deal to me. I just tried a Wild Turkey Rare Breed (03RB code) which has completely knocked my socks off. Great whisk(e)y! Supposed to be 6, 8 and 12 year old blend, but overall great stuff and as good as most scotches. I’d give it a 92+. However, at least they give you some info on ages, although not on the bottle. The bourbon equivalent to Glendronach 15 Revival. Smooth for 54% and a long spicy palate.
My favorite scotches are Lagavulin 12 and Ardbeg Corrvrecken. One age statement and one not. What does that say? And no, I won’t boycott my Corry. But I’ll still buy Lagavulin 12 (and 16).
I would love for people to boycott NAS whiskies. It might make them easier to find…. And cheaper.
As with any situation, there are people who are part of the solution, part of the problem, or part of the landscape – and there always will be.
Forgive my friend skeptic….for he knows not (the age of ) what he drinks….
Jeff I am completely with you here, especially what you wrote in post 14.
As I said I think NAS whiskies are dishonest. Elswhere I have said that most if not all of them are fake whiskies.
I live in a country where a whisky boom set in at the same time as the general boom fired by the BRIC plus countries. Here in Germany many eau de vie producers dealing in fruit spirits began distilling grain wash into whisky.
Most of them offered pretty young stuff as their first bottling because they wanted to cash in early on their efforts and investments. Most of these German whiskies – much to young and immature – show exactly that. Why? There was no older whisky at hand to mask the youth and to make the young stuff palatable!
That is what irks me with any NAS whisky on offer. If I regard prices I can not believe that these bottlings only hold whisky so young the distillers are ashamed to tell their true age. A young NAS whisky of 5 years or so should not cost 40-50.- Euros. Especially not if a 10yo Glenfarclas sells for 25.- Euros here.
That leads me to believe that a high proportion of older more valuable whisky must be in the mix to justify the prices that are being asked. The other conclusion could be NAS whiskies are all just rip offs. Not nice to think that.
So what is a NAS whisky? It is a whisky not mature enough to stand alone in its own right prepped up by older sibblings made at the same distillery to mask the effects of the reason for the lacking age statement in the first place. Selling immature whisky fast to cash in early on your investments.
The other effect of NAS whiskies is that you save older and more mature casks for future high price single cask bottlings while maintaining a pressence in the market.
With every day in the warehouse more mature stocks grow in value and with every release of mature stocks at ever increasing pricepoints – a holder of stocks of aged whisky pushes the value of those own stocks upwards. Supply creates prices thereby pushing some of the demand out of the market because some of us can no longer afford to take part int the market play.
So as a holder of old stocks of whisky waiting will just make you richer and in the meantime you try to get rid of the age statements.
Freedom for the master blender who is so trapped and constrained by the dictatorship of the age staement!
Age does not matter…. only when the whisky is really aged and you need an argument to sell a 20yo whisky for 300.- units of whatever currency. Age matters when it matters. If it does not, then not.
Being from the US, I could have never started my Scotch single malt journey. There are plenty of NAS bourbon’s and whiskey’s in the states to choose from. The boys down in Old Kentuck just run the mash through the still and straight into the bottle. Aging takes about an hour. It would be a whole lot cheaper too.
Instead, I enjoy the provenance of Scotch Single Malt Scotch whisky. The individual craftsmanship as a work of art, the maturity of the spirit aged over a decade in barrels with their own history and individual craftsmanship.
As the Scotch distillery owners move to NAS, it is ironic that in the USA there is a fast growing move to small batch whiskey’s aged in the the barrel with various finishing casks. Who’d a thunk it? The best of which is cheaper and more available than special ordering SMSW via the internet.
As my local brew improves and Scotch lowers its standards and increases its prices – anyone want to guess where some of us over the pond will be turning for spirit with character? I love my Scotch, but the price hikes are making me rethink my habit.
Amen to the statement about price difference. Tonight I had a dram of WT Rare Breed (54% ABV) and one of Elijah Craig Barrel Proof (62%) with a bit of ice to cool them down. Both great bourbons that easily handle a little dilution (love that bit of rye spice!) and both about $30. I have done that with Macallan Cask Strength in the past, but it has gone from $55 to $85 in the last year or so. Guess where my money has gone recently.
Nothing to forgive, David – at least Skeptic does want people to boycott NAS even if, of course, it’s other people who have to do it just for his benefit. As I was saying, as with any situation…
As for many others, Heaven knows, we wouldn’t want any of this leading to any kind of action. Or at least some of us wouldn’t want that.
Barsidium and Robert are entirely correct in pointing out that scotch’s sliding game is driving consumers to North American products, but the boom in these latter products will be the proof that issues with NAS and hiding young whisk(e)y are both synonymous and universal. Whether one believes that NAS is driven by “the need for flexibility”, declining levels of aged product stock or (far more likely to me), simple greed on the part of those wanting to charge more for undisclosed young whisk(e)y while attempting to make anything with an age statement into a premium-priced product, consumers will find that dynamic (or combinations thereof) in full play as the North American boom takes off. Regardless of what “really” drives NAS, the result for the consumer will be the same: higher prices for less information and less information, in the end, driving higher prices. In scotch, it might have started with things like Glenfiddich Pure Malt, but the silliness has now come fully into its own with Glenlivet Alpha and Macallan “M”, and tolerance of that silliness DOES affect the rest of the market, even if only because it changes the landscape about what’s considered logical and reasonable in terms of pricing and value. Scotch consumers have been fed manure in direct proportion to their contentment with sitting in the dark and the product has suffered of it, and so will it be as they move to North American products, with many brands already having NAS labeling established and entrenched, and with some of the companies that own North American distilleries being the very same as those that own the scotch distilleries the consumers are running from. Don’t like what’s happening to in Scotland with Laphroaig or Ardmore, or even in Ireland with Tyrconnell or Connemara? Feel free to run to Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark, Old Grand-Dad, Old Crow, Baker’s, Basil Hayden’s, Booker’s or Knob Creek – it’s all the same to Beam Suntory; it owns ‘em all.
I don’t think skeptic was being serious. I know he agrees that the NAS trend is troubling.
But to be fair, some of the more established NAS expressions like a’Bunadh are good. Why punish aberlour?
Perhaps we should just boycott the limited edition or one off NAS expressions.
What has been touched on several times in the need for discretion when passing judgement. NAS is usually a poor level of whisky, but that does not mean that there are many excellent and fairly priced examples which deserve their due respect, such as a’Bunadh.
I would actually go the other way and suggest the need to boycott regular or constant-production NAS malts over their limited counterparts. Often special editions are heavily marketed and promoted better than average malts with somewhat unjustified price points. The annual Ardbeg and Glenmorangie releases, the “Decades” concept from multiple distilleries, higher strength anniversary releases. Compare that to the year-round NAS choices, the recent years bringing a number of distilleries to put out a “starter” to their usual range. I know that I’m cherry picking my evidence here, but I feel that most companies put out better limited edition NAS than standard.
It’s not about “punishing Aberlour”, or anyone else that puts out a good product; it’s about a consumer’s right to know what they are paying ever-higher prices for and opposing a form of marketing/labeling which is designed to allow products to degrade and get younger without notice. The good products, if they ARE good, will survive anyway with any label – but they are neither made better for lack of an age statement, nor does the fact that they are good justify NAS marketing as a whole. Aberlour’s a’Bunadh could easily survive with an age statement; Octomore does. By the same token, revealing the content information of superior limited edition expressions, with superior price tags to match, shouldn’t be any problem to anyone truly proud of what they’re making – and obviously willing to charge for it.
And let’s be perfectly frank: the industry has a problem with low age statements because it thinks that they scare away customers – and it’s right in thinking so, but the main reason for that situation is that the industry keeps talking about “how great young whiskies are” but, in the vast majority of cases, is simply unable to prove it. The cash flow problems of start-up and re-boot distilleries aside (sorry, it’s just not a consumer’s problem), a lot of this young product just ISN’T that good, which is why, despite the addition of older product, the age of which we’re told is irrelevant (but, importantly, ONLY for the purposes of marketing in NAS, and NOT in aged expressions), most NAS is mediocre at best and overpriced because of it. The “re-education” of consumers about age isn’t really about informing people about what contributes to the high product quality which the industry is increasingly failing to provide so much as trying to brainwash consumers into thinking that the industry is still providing it by lowering standards and changing definitions of quality. Everyone in the industry knows that age, while not a guarantee of quality, is a factor in its creation, and consumers outside the industry know that as well, which is why they should be demanding to know the age of what they’re buying and boycott NAS.
allow me to agree with you in principal, notwithstanding my previous sarcastic remarks. If I could offer a similar opinion in a different context…
Let’s say your kids have do something like put on their seat belts. Theoretically, you don’t have to check up on them because you expect they’ll do it. But then you notice one didn’t do it right.
So now you insist on checking. They complain that you don’t need to, but the consequences of you missing something (however rare) are so great, you have to. So because of one child’s mistake, they all have to have their belts checked. You simply can’t take the chance.
Now let’s apply this logic to something absolutely less important…whisky. For the most part, the established NAS expressions like A’Bunadh are pretty good. People accept there is good juice, young and old, in it.
But now the NAS trend is being adopted by a lot of producers, and they are being inconsistent or just bad in the quality of presentation. So basically we are no longer able to trust the integrity of NAS as a whole, and given the paucity of try before you buy opportunities, especially in the travel retail where a lot of this is dumped, “educated” consumers are left wanting.
So a few bad apples have tainted the NAS concept, and that’s why I think it should be abandoned.
Another example…Kosher food. if you keep Kosher (I do not) and you go to a restaurant or grocery store, you look for the certification that the food is indeed Kosher. These people want your money and you need verification. But if you keep kosher and someone has you over to their house, you don’t ask to see the labels. In fact, when I offer something to a person who keeps Kosher and knows me, they don’t ask to see the label because they trust me.
I DO like the idea of knowing what is in the bottle. If whisky were a craft and not an industry, I would be satisfied with NAS as long as I trusted the producer.
So industry, please let us know what’s in the bottle. Besides, for the “academic” whisky enthusiasts, we buy according to taste and smell but we thrive on any extra whisky info and trivia…makes it more fun.
I agree with you in principle as well although, like the industry itself, I don’t regard age information as trivia (see above), and I think that it’s going to take far more than just asking nicely to get age and other content information on these bottles; I have no reason to think otherwise. The people pushing NAS understand money, if not principle (the supposed “discovered” importance of age with NAS vs. that with highly-priced age statement expressions), and we’re going to have to make the message clear IN their language. Consumers ARE going to have to take action, or the status quo will remain and consumers will remain in the dark – and, as I think we agree, that situation hasn’t helped the product as a whole (and I don’t think it will help the products that consumers are running to when the cycle repeats itself there either – also see above). People are content acknowledging, and even bitching about, the situation far more than they are comfortable coming to the realization that they need to take action which might slightly inconvenience them, but the only real answer is to boycott NAS.
This being my third comment on this thread which is loaded with comments by persons much more experienced and further on their Scotch journeys than I, is a reflection on how strongly a small potato ill-informed Scotch drinker feels about the subject. I am thankful the website author took the time to address this topic. Thank you.
I was informed by my US supplier that Bruichladdich was discontinuing my favorite Bruichladdich Laddie Ten. I’m not so upset by this, as I think the quality of this great drink has gone down over the years since 2011 when it was first issued (near the anniversary of our Sept 11th)….
But upon research, it appears the Laddie 16 and Laddie 21 are also on their last legs. Instead, the newly bought Bruichladdich Distillery is going to concentrate its main lines on the NAS Port Charlotte, high priced Octomore, and for us blue collared low life buyers, Bruichladdich unpeated lines.
As a USA guy, I first special ordered Bruichladdich because it was so much fun to pronounce correctly and appear smarter than the average US Joe drinker (who frankly don’t give a ratz azz about Scotch, Scotland, or the terroir or provenance of the spirit.). I liked the thought of the new owners bring Bruichladdich back from the mothballs and restoring the brand to the rich heritage of the Islay malt.
But they sold out and shortly (suspiciously) after the new multi-national buyer acquired the Bruichladdich Brand – they are discontinuing their age statement products.
I’m disappointed to be losing one of my favorites. Two of their lines are not commonly available readily to me in my US State (Octomore and Port Charlotte) and no matter – both are beyond the amount I will spend on a bottle of anything. I am not inclined to pay tribute to their remaining lowly peasant offering of an NAS to me.
My hard earned dollars will instead go to a simple, low rated by everyone Glengoyne stated 10 year old bottled at a nice US export 43% ABV….
I’m frankly tired of chasing the advertisers “hot” annual NAS release which might taste like it was on the International Space Station, came out of a whirlpool, or tastes like a Brazilian Soccer game.
I don’t know how this observation fits – but I am afraid all the old distilleries of Scotland are falling for the NAS fever and we will have all lost what we’ve been taught for decades is the quality of a spirit aged long in an oak cask.
Well said, and I’m sorry I snuck in a spare “r” in referencing you above – and your words about Bruichladdich alone disprove any claim of being “ill-informed” about whisky; I wish more people told even a fraction of that truth. Cheers!
is our discontent that is beeing noticed or is it a pill thrown to calm things down?
Interesting it is.
Starting to see a couple of these fluffy little pieces out there. Keep banging the drum. We gotta be louder in order to get noticed.
I threw this on Dramming as well – sorry for the length, but there are some damn hilarious NAS defenses in that Spirits Business piece, and these are the brains of the industry. As Dee Snider said, “If that’s your best, your best won’t do.”
“Having taught consumers to seriously value age and regional identity in single malts, can the whisky industry really change its tune?” – Well, goodness, yes, I think it CAN because it’s in the process of doing it – but the real, and unasked, question is “does changing its tune make any sense, or reflect any truth about whisky or is it all just about sales?”
“With age statements discreetly dropped, the message is now more a case of “don’t look for the number”. By doing so, Ken Grier, director of malts at Edrington, owner of The Macallan, believes producers are able to improve the quality of the liquid. “I’d argue that in some ways you have greater flexibility to vat up products with a wider array of spirits that may give you greater balance and complexity than if you were simply restricted to products over a certain age,” he explains.” – Very true, Ken, but WHICH liquids “may” you (or may you not) be improving? First-line single malts that you’ll otherwise hold to make expensive age statements, or second- and third-rate casks that are better blended away anyway? And why does using “products of a certain age” mean that you’re “restricted” from placing an age statement on it?
“According to Grier, 1824 has allowed the firm’s whisky maker, Bob Dalgarno, to look at their inventory of 160,000 different casks and “cut it a different way”. He explains: “Once the colour decision was taken it would have been illogical to have age constraints, because you need to have casks of different ages to get to a colour.” – Sure, but even more illogical is how colour is so important for the 1824 Series when it’s evidently irrelevant to age-statement whiskies sold in age/price steps ascending from 18 years.
“For Ronnie Cox, malt whisky is an organic substance that matures at its own pace depending on the quality of the wood. He says: “Just being a 12-year-old is no guarantee of quality if the whisky was filled into exhausted, third-fill casks.”” – Fair enough, but who decided to use crappy casks in the first place, and how does not talking about age with NAS remedy that? Isn’t the message here that, if age statements don’t always carry authority on the subject of quality, it’s not because of any flaw in the theory of age maturation, but because of the industry cutting corners on casking?
“(Nick) Morgan believes the trend for dropping age statements is partly down to “the relentless drive for innovation in the single malt category where every week there have to be new offerings”. He adds: “Frankly it’s less about running out of stock, than running out of numbers. The only one yet to appear on a label is unlucky 13.””- So NAS is about… RUNNING OUT OF NUMBERS? I just about pissed myself when I read that. There are quite a few numbers that are, quite intentionally, left rather largely unused, Nick: 3,4,5,6,7,8 and 9. Morgan needs to get a mathematician on staff.
““Age came in with a vengeance with the launch of the Classic Malts in 1987, and since then we’ve had about 25 years of ‘age, age and more age’ as people tried to establish the category and differentiate their products from others in consumers’ minds,” he (Nick Morgan) laments.
Thus if the industry now feels constrained by age statements it has only itself to blame.”
“But, as Paterson says: “Many consumers are still hooked on a magical age – that’s the way whisky’s been marketed. So it is up to the industry to convey the message that age isn’t everything.””.
Now, no matter what you personally think about the importance of age to whisk(e)y, if you consider the subject as it’s just been presented above, as simply a marketing point to aid sales, you’re left with three possibilities:
1. Industry experts were formally lying about the great importance of age just to sell product, or
2. Industry experts are currently lying about the irrelevance of age just to sell product, or
3. Industry experts have never really known the significance of age, but it’s never mattered what they say about it anyway – so long as they can sell product.
Now, tell me that you can trust the industry’s message (take your pick) about age.
I never…EVER…want to go up against you in a formal debate, brother.
Couple key points above I want to draw emphasis to:
“And why does using “products of a certain age” mean that you’re “restricted” from placing an age statement on it?” – This has been the entire crux of my exception to the NAS thing. Followed closely by the pricing concerns that inevitably fall out when you consider the distillery’s ROI now. Of course you’re dead-on accurate. There is no restriction, excepting a rather skewed view that the buyers shouldn’t be trusted with the information which would allow them to make their own decisions.
“…but who decided to use crappy casks in the first place(?)” – An inherent danger in NAS. These less than stellar casks have likely ended up as mere blend fodder in the past, wherein the vattings were so huge, and the desired end product not really affected, that it all tidied itself up nicely without dragging the good name of ‘single malt’ through the dirt. Now…?
“There are quite a few numbers that are, quite intentionally, left rather largely unused, Nick: 3,4,5,6,7,8 and 9.” – Precisely! I look forward with excitement to seeing this actually happen. (It’s inevitable that someone will latch on, if for no other reason than a marketing gimmick. i.e.”look how good we are even at half the age of the others”)
And the industry’s message? Pretty clear, methinks.
Again, Jeff…appreciate your articulating my thoughts better than I can. 😉
A Diageo-sponsored panel trying to prove a point. Oh please. Are you f*cking kidding me? It’s almost insulting to be treated to such a transparent sham. Shows you just how stupid they think we are. Anyone can tailor a tasting to suit their agenda. “Here…let me show you the worst old over-oaked malt, and the most well-made NAS bottling”. Of course we’ll lean toward the latter. Utter idiocy.
Have a read: http://www.alcoholprofessor.com/blog/2014/08/04/blinded-by-the-truth/
As Oliver Klimek pointed out in his comparative review of Macallan’s 1824 Gold, Amber and Sienna: “Well, how to put it in a friendly way?… With their new range Macallan has indeed succeeded to make color an indicator for quality. But of course this is because it was designed that way.”
And we see the same thing here: age might not be any indicator of quality in this Diageo tasting, but it’s a tasting of a stacked deck of whiskies DESIGNED to supposedly prove, through a very specific sample, a very general – and unsubstantiated – point: that age doesn’t matter.
And why do many whisky drinkers care about age? For two reasons, the first being, as the Alcohol Prof. article points out, that the industry has taught us to:
“The panel asked us, given that age statements have really only been a thing for the last 20 years, and given that 75-80% of the whisky on the market already doesn’t have an age statement, why are we so obsessed with having age statements on the bottles. To which, my reply would be, “I learned it from you, dad! I learned it from watching you!” The whisky companies taught us to be this way. It wasn’t consumers who put the ages on bottles then made a big deal about it. Companies bashed us over the head with age statements, older and older and more expensive premium whisky. And now they are trying to convince us that we have always been at war with Eastasia.”
Yes, we got it FIRST from the same industry that, having now sold much of its older whisky, DOES currently want to pull an Orwellian “reality shift” on the subject. How can this be so? The sad reality is that, to the industry, age is just a marketing point to be manipulated to suit its own ends. Either the industry was formerly, and knowingly, lying about the importance of age or it is currently, and knowingly, lying about the importance of age, or the industry has never really known the importance of age but feels comfortable, even in its ignorance, of saying whatever suits its fancy at any given time.
The second reason that many people care about age is that they know that, all other things being equal, yes, it DOES matter. For all the recent trumpeting of youth, the vast majority of top-rated whiskies DO have an aged pedigree that extends beyond 10 years (and frequently farther) in oak. It’s true that age is not a GUARANTEE of quality, but that’s also largely where “all other things being equal” comes in. A properly casked 9 can beat an improperly casked 20, but how can the whisky in the older one possibly benefit from 20 years in a substandard cask – and, more to the point, who put it in that cask in the first place? It’s also true that age is not a panacea to quality: it IS possible to have too much of it, just as it is possible to have too much of virtually anything in a dynamic process. But if a stacked blind tasting of 7 Diageo products supposedly shows that age is somehow irrelevant, what do 10,303 Malt Maniac blind scores of 865 whiskies show? To see, check out http://www.maltmaniacs.net/E-pistles/Malt-Maniacs-2010-04-Does-the-age-of-Scotch-whisky-matter.pdf.
But even if were impossible to show any correlation between age and quality in general, that’s still a VERY different thing than saying age doesn’t have an impact on any INDIVIDUAL whisky. Producers KNOW that whiskies change between the ages of 3, 8, 12, 15 and on up – they, in fact, COUNT upon the influence of oak TO transform whisky. Producers AREN’T putting all that whisky away in barrels, and losing at least 2% per annum in the process, because it DOESN’T affect the product. And if it affects the product – certainly enough for producers to keep careful cask records and continue to sell expensive age statements – then age is, evidently, PROVEN as fairly important information, which is why, as a consumer, it’s important to me and I support the boycott of NAS.
Oh, and the most telling thing from the article:
“So as not to seem like they were totally clubbing old whisky over the head, we ended on another whisky whose identity was never revealed to us beyond the fact that it was old, it was rare, and it was expensive. And it was fabulous.”- so, once again, great aging is irrelevant through non discussion of it – until you taste it.
Thanks for posting Serge’s e-pistle. While I couldn’t get him to weigh in with a comment in the article above, this is much, MUCH more telling.
In response to Ian Buxton, writing for Whisky Advocate: “Has the Scotch whisky industry stood years of received wisdom on its head, with its newfound enthusiasm for NAS whiskies? To judge by some of the vitriolic commentary on the Web, you might think the world had come to an end.”
No, the world has not come to an end, but people have very legitimate criticisms to level against NAS labeling, a form of marketing which is of no benefit to the consumer whatsoever, and the professional whisky media could simply not be depended upon to make these points or to defend consumer interests in this area – and, indeed, in many other areas as well, but this is not surprising. After all, the title of the magazine Mr. Buxton writes for is “Whisky Advocate”, not “Whisky Consumer Advocate”.
Since I also drink bourbon, especially in the summer, I’m used to NAS. My go-to bourbon, Wild Turkey 101, is NAS, but I really enjoy it. Rare Breed is a blend of 6, 8 and 12 YO, but I really enjoy it. Other favorites, though, are Weller 12, Elijah Craig 12 Barrel Proof and especially Evan Williams Single Barrel, which states both the distillation and bottling dates. What I’m saying is I find it really doesn’t matter as long as i enjoy it. Just my 2 cents.
Oooh…I see a response to that pending…
NAS is simply an unnecessary form of marketing which does nothing for you, or for other consumers, and the fact you don’t mind it doesn’t change that. I can’t make people care about knowing what’s in their glass, but I only ask if their not caring will help, or maintain, the quality of their whisky in the long run?
I think Robert brings up a good point, and Jeff, you gave a thought-provoking answer.
I won’t take a side in this post but consider this:
How many people really care about the NAS controversy? Most people who drink whisky, even if they don’t (gasp) throw a few ice cubes in the tumbler, don’t think too hard about the whisky they buy and drink. After all, if it tastes good, as long as it is safe, it doesn’t really matter what’s in it.
I don’t really care how long my spirit has matured as long as I like it. What I mean by that Jeff, is I’d take my Bladnoch 11 year old over a JW Blue. It doesn’t mean I don’t want to know what’s in it. If someone I trusted gave me something NAS and said, this is good, and I liked it, I would trust them the next time.
That being said, I have experienced the batch variation of A’Bunadh. But I’d rather be told “this is a good batch by someone I trust than it’s 12 years old. Because age statements have batch variation as well.
So to sum up the thoughts provoked in this recent exchange:
1. not enough people really care about the NAS to matter to the industry. If we all stopped buying they wouldn’t notice. However,
2. Making a fuss is important, because without one no one is aware that there ARE people who care. And without those voices I do believe the golden age of whisky will be behind us, not to rise again for a long time, as long as sales remain strong.
But on the bright side, I have enough good stuff to keep me (and many others) satisfied until the quality is back up there….
Here’s a question for you…how long till being told “this is a good batch” means something different than it does today? It’s all relative. If quality continues to slip due to immature casks being vatted then sooner than later we’ll find ourselves pining for the a’bunadh of old. At that point what we would NOW consider a mediocre a’bunadh will indeed be a good batch. But only through comparison against what will likely be its lesser quality contemporaries. We won’t be holding it to a ‘standard’ of excellence anymore.
I’ll say it again…we are tacitly allowing opaqueness on the part of the brands. I will NEVER be behind this concept. As Jeff has said just above (and I have said repeatedly) this does NOT benefit YOU in any way. It only benefits the producer.
Older does not always mean better (though usually it does!), but what it does guarantee is that the whisky has had ample time to allow the wood to do its part in knocking off the rougher edges of the feisty young spirit. I can form some sort of INFORMED idea as to what I can expect in terms of mouth attack from an 18 year old. Or a 35 year old. Or a 4 year old. And if there is a certain flavour characteristic I prefer in my whiskies, you better believe I’m going to want to know a few details about the malt ahead of time in order to help aid me in my buying decisions before I start laying out my hard-earned cash.
Here’s a fact: Age statements don’t determine my buying decisions, but they absolutely influence it. And should.
I think that there’s a key point made here in that the NAS trend, in moving toward youth, while removing frames of reference beyond labels and adjectives, is very much interested in RE-DEFINING whisky quality as belonging to products which the industry can provide both quickly and cheaply with whisky of less than 10 years. The “excellence” of new NAS products, and young whisky in general, is reaffirmed time and again through descriptors and hype, yet no one rules out the strong possibility that this “excellent” whisky somehow can’t or won’t be improved upon “in a few years’ time” (for those who will be able to afford it then), and no one claims that the latest semi- or demi-whisky from Glenglassaugh is going to make anyone forget about Black Bowmore. No one will say that whisky quality is, in general, on the upswing as a result of all the industry’s many moves, only that whatever the industry is interested in promoting at any given time is “excellent”, but only while largely removed from the context of the majority of what came before – it’s relativism at its finest. As this applies to age, it’s impossible to judge its potential importance or influence without having experienced it (and, importantly, actually knowing what that age is) and current trending in whisky production, marketing and pricing are making access to high-quality aged products ever more difficult for consumers to readily HAVE that frame of reference, even as they are being assured that age doesn’t matter anyway, so it’s immaterial in the first place.
The industry’s goal, it seems, is to a make every new 80-something NAS product seem like a major event in whisky history, and this is only possible in a world of sliding standards.
By the way, this post is in reply to Curt’s, while my other one was in reply to David, in case that’s unclear because of how they fell.
There are a couple of interesting points made here, but I’m not sure we entirely agree on them. The first is about who cares about NAS and to what extent. The issue hasn’t really come up before, but I’m really talking about NAS as it applies to single malts and vats, not blends (where NAS has had far wider sway for quite some time, although I don’t support it there either). Of single malt drinkers, I’m not convinced that the majority don’t care about the NAS trend, or that not enough care to change that trend, although I acknowledge it might take some time to muster support and to even convince many that anything can be done about it – but, to me, it all remains to be seen. As for who’s not noticing, articles in defense of NAS have recently appeared in The Spirits Business and now in Whisky Advocate, both staunch supporters of the industry line, so this issue’s now on somebody’s radar; people don’t bother mounting defenses against attacks which they feel are inconsequential. Personally, and sincerely, I think it’s about stopping a widespread boycott before it begins; the industry, through its media marketing arms, has ALREADY taken notice, all while we’re still far away from dumping NAS en masse, so if that did actually happen… who knows what could be achieved?
The issue about substituting age statements for personal recommendations or product reviews is, of course, fatuous: knowing the age of what you’re drinking has never been suggested as a guarantee of its quality, any more than being ignorant of that information enhances that quality. A’Bunadh might generally be a great cask strength, but it is not improved by having its age withheld. The argument here is only for more, rather than less, product information going forward, leading to more consumer empowerment and, hopefully, better ability to choose products founded on a level and logical playing field as to what qualifies as relevant data, which the consumer can then judge the importance of for himself. If it’s accepted that whisky is indeed casked TO BE improved, and that this is a continuous process but with the limitation of potential overcasking at the high end, it’s pretty obvious age does matter. Regardless of how many bottles the industry is willing to put on the shelf without an age statement, producers keep careful track of product casking times, even with supposedly “lost casks”, on every run they make. That being the case, it’s simply an insult to consumer intelligence to be told that such age information suddenly becomes “irrelevant” at bottling of NAS expressions, but that it’s of vital importance when it comes to explaining the high quality, and price, of a 20 or 30-year old whisky.
Lastly, and most vitally, the only importance which can really be attached to making a fuss comes, not from anyone’s moral support while taking an inventory of bunkered bottles and assuring the world that “luckily, I’m going to be OK”, but in taking action. I find it strange that, in the same post in which you acknowledge that it’s important that voices speak out to help preserve the Golden Age of whisky, you consider it important not to take sides. In short, you could help row instead of yelling “stroke”. Yet, beyond that, those who say that they would appreciate more, rather than less, production information have to realize it’s going to take more than talk TO bring it about. It’s going to take a boycott of NAS.
There is lots of wisdom in the points you make Jeff, but I really think that as a percentage of total sales, those who care enough to boycott won’t make a dent.
There are too many people who want their favourite Whisky, and who will buy it anyway, and many others who are oblivious to this whole argument.
What I see more likely is that as prices rise for increasing mediocrity, people will slowly drift toward other spirits in general. Or, to their health, maybe they’ll drink less. Then the Whisky bubble will burst, prices will drop, and cask time will increase.
At that point, an age statement will once again be a marketing advantage.
My statement that I’m going to be ok was a more frivolous comment. But in a way, I’m well positioned to join you in a boycott, and can probably support a few people along without running out.
My only reservation is that there are some NAS expressions that I LIKE. But when I think about it, my favourite A’Bunadhs are older ones, and it’s silly to buy a batch so I can drink it when I turn that age, if it isn’t as good.
The others are older and not in production either, and I’ve got a supply (grabbing 8 Macallan CS in Calgary in August for $73 each when the Whisky exchange charges £125 was a coup! – if only six were not for a friend…).
So ok, I’m inclined to join your Boycott, to an extent.
I still have reservations about boycotting something like Forty Creek special releases which I can try before buying and are consistently good. And until I find an Amrut I consider to be shoddy I can’t boycott it, though some of the single cask releases have been too pricy for me to participate in.
And therein lies the problem. Many won’t have a problem joining you to boycott Macallan Amber or Mortlach Rare Old, but many won’t want to give up their favourite one. And since everyone’s favourite is different, the effect is diluted.
So, how shall we proceed?
Thanks for the reply, but I don’t think “we” can proceed with a boycott until it’s understood that the issue is with the use of NAS marketing itself, as a whole, and not simply with expressions that you don’t like or have no interest in buying in the first place (I’ve always boycotted those all the time myself from day one, NAS OR age statement, simply by leaving by wallet in my pocket).
As has been said many times and in many ways above, the issue with NAS is simply with the withholding of relevant production information to which the consumer should rightfully be entitled, not dispensed at producer fiat, but by virtue of product purchase, full stop. Thus the problem with NAS is the marketing itself, independent of the quality of the product that marketing is applied to. If the effect of a boycott is therefore somehow diluted by unwillingness to give up favourite drams, it’s because people simply don’t understand the idea of a boycott in the first place, or just aren’t willing to forego some good whisky in order to see it through – and this is a legitimate point and possibility. The stand here, if it to be made, is on principle and, yes, that means it’s sometimes going to sting. As an example, my one, and now only, defunct bottle of Ardbeg Uigeadail was one of the best whiskies, let alone best sherry/peat combos, I’ve ever tried but, as a result of boycott, it, like A’Bunadh, Amrut Fusion and others (most now long gone), won’t be replaced. I’m not pouring NAS down the sink (the damage is already done on those bottles purchased before boycott; the distilleries have my dollars), but I’m not buying any more, of any description or quality, high, low, or indifferent – favourite or not. And, yeah, I miss the Uigeadail and the A’Bunadh because they were good, and if they get age statements or distilled/bottling information, I’ll buy them again – but in the meantime, that’s just how it bounces.
So, if age statements do matter to you and that’s the sort of thing you’re willing to do to show it, then do so and advocate that it be done and we’ll see what can, or can’t, be accomplished. Personally, I’m optimistic – I’ve never seen so many people evidently nervous of just the IDEA of a boycott, let alone the reality of one, in my life.
we should not ignore blended Scotch.
The term luxury blend is not defined by law but usually refers to blends matured for 12 years and more. For this category age matters.
The Arthur Bell blend in Scotland is a 8yo old and proudly wears this number in times of bust. In times of boom it loses the 8 on the label on a regula basis. Guess where the number is at the moment?
Dimple or Pinch as you might know it upped the age from 12yo to 15yo some time ago and has announced that it is to drop the age statement alltogether. Will it still call itself a de luxe blend in doing so?
As for the like or dislike of NAS whiskies… you can never be sure what you like in a NAS whisky if you like one.
Do you like the young parts in the whisky and the contribution older and undisclosed casks domake to the ipression? Sure you do if you like the whisky as a whole.
But you do not know what you really bought. Is it 70% of young malt and 30% of old malt in the vatting? Is the ratio 80 : 20 ?
What would the 70 or 80% percent part taste like on its own? Or the 20 or 30% component? Which of the components would you like more if you could taste them sperately on their own?
I know of no NAS malt where the young components work as a stand-alone whisky and are all young and good – and proud of it in their own right.
If it were all so young good and proud whisky in the NAS bottlings the industry could tell us. That they don’t tell is a sure sign that not all the marketing around the NAS whiskies is pure and honest.
I think bringing in blends (whether appropriate or not) does complicate the issue. Look at some blended malts like Compass Box’s Peat Monster. A consistently good product from what I’ve read (I’ve only opened one bottle and have one waiting for the right time) but no age statement.
Some companies like Compass Box have built a reputation for putting out good products, regardless of age. I don’t think they ever insisted that age mattered. It almost feels like with a boycott we’d be punishing them for the sins of others.
I think that this is where I differ with other on this thread (no names because I don’t ant to misrepresent someone else). While I fully support the idea that we have a right to be told what is in the bottles we buy, I don’t see it as a necessity in the case where someone has built trust.
I don’t ask my local restaurant chef to tell me how long the beef was aged or what brand of vinegar he uses. If he keeps making good food I keep going. I’ve been to a restaurant where my friend new the staff and we were told to “try this, it’s good”, and left the food up to them. And it worked. In another case where the restaurant hadn’t developed my trust I tried it and wouldn’t do that again…
I think it’s important to differentiate between the price gauging of some companies who put out new NAS expressions named after jewelery and charge a fortune, bring out NAS OBs named rare and old to the detriment of IBs, or established NAS expressions that are slowly substituting younger stuff to maintain volume with a resultant decrease in quality, and those (on the other hand) who blend casks carefully to achieve quality presentation consistently, and happen to be NAS.
I guess my point is that while I do support transparency, and the inclusion of blends in the discussion, it’s because of the sins of the larger companies that it is necessary. And I feel like a boycott will have the unintended consequence of hurting some of the smaller companies that have thus far upheld quality.
I would be in favour of expanding the “try before you buy” option for NAS. Let a large organization like the LCBO make tasting available at more stores and applicable to all NAS expressions. Then you can see for yourself if you like it.
Blanket boycotts, if effective, can get the job done. But beware the collateral damage it may cause.
I would agree with Kallaskander that blends should not be ignored with regard to NAS – the same age information should be available for blend drinkers as well, but I guess my point is that if single malt drinkers, who have a reputation (deserved or not) of being fussier about what they drink than blend drinkers, won’t take a stand against NAS, it’s probable that no one will. I also agree with his point, and said so somewhere above, that NAS makes it impossible for the oft-quoted argument that “NAS makes for a combination of whiskies that’s better than the individual whiskies alone” to actually be proven, because no one outside the industry gets to try the whiskies that are ACTUALLY put into NAS on their own. Sure, an NAS might have some 8, 12, and 16 in it, but WHICH ones – the same product that would otherwise be held for age statements, or product which needs its flaws blended away to make it more sellable? This also ties into the issue, of course, of just “how great” most young whiskies are – if they ARE so great, why are most of them being blended away and hidden behind NAS labels?
Again, a boycott punishes no one for the QUALITY of what they produce, only for the production information which they withhold from the consumer, and which the consumer should have. So does this mean that Compass Box should be punished? Well, yes, because as good as some of their products are (and I’d still rather be drinking Uigeadail and A’Bunadh in most cases), John Glaser (nice guy, genius, whisky god etc., etc. etc., that he is) is just as comfortable keeping consumers in the dark on this issue as any of the bigger (and smaller) producers. If I can trust John Glaser, why can’t I be trusted with relevant production information? Instead of that, Glaser decides what is, and isn’t, important for consumers to know and, nice guy that he is and all the rest, he’s simply wrong on this point and whisky politics be damned.
Related to this, NO bottles “happen” to be NAS – the producers currently, and intentionally, DECIDE what the consumer should know about any given expression and one can tell me that age is not valid and relevant production information about what I’m drinking, with ALL expressions, when the PRODUCERS carefully track this information themselves. As for the “collateral damage” a boycott will cause, I really don’t see the argument; no one’s asking anyone to change the whisky, just the label, because NAS IS only a type of label, NOT a type of whisky. It could, and likely would, be the same whisky, just with age information added. Getting rid of NAS ISN’T a headache for the stillman or blender; it’s 30 minutes’ work for the label designer and, evidently, even smaller companies have these people too.
I think David currently vacillates between the positions that nothing can be done about NAS and, now, that nothing should be done in the first place because of all the “harm” it might do; they are two different positions but they amount to the same result when it comes to what action he should take: none – which is what the industry wants in any event. I do have to question whether this shift in position isn’t made with that result in mind, so even if he understands the issues, and would like more transparency and production information (if someone else brings that about), in the end he won’t have to give up some whisky he likes to make a point. This is too bad, but, again, I can’t make people care about knowing what’s in their glass, I only ask if their not caring will help, or maintain, the quality of their whisky in the long run. Some people honestly can’t see an issue, and I accept that, but I also honestly think that they may someday regret not taking action.
And by the way, if you think you “care” about this issue, but you’re not taking action, you really don’t care.
Again, Jeff, some very interesting and valid points. I get the impression though, that you don’t ascribe as much validity to other points of view.
First off, whisky is a (usually) flavourful liquid. It has an interesting history and chemistry. But it is a drink, not a necessity. So ultimately, if the industry goes south (at least quality-wise), no consumer will suffer permanently. Do I care about NAS issue? From the standpoint that it makes for interesting discussion, yes. Do I care more that people are dying in violence around the world, or that there are millions of children living in poverty in Canada, absolutely.
I neither suggest that nothing can be done, nor that nothing should be done. I see my position in this discussion as looking at what everyone says and pointing out interesting facts. If those facts support different viewpoints, that’s OK.
It’s ok to advocate for a Boycott. Look, it helped end Apartheid in South Africa. And sure, if you manage to get enough people to sign on (and it’s OK to be skeptical that enough people would) it could eventually prompt the multinationals to change. But there’s no denying it would also hit the smaller groups like Compass Box that have put in honest effort to provide good product. The question is how much collateral damage are you prepared to accept, and ought you to be the one to decide that?
And I have to say that it’s OK not to say what’s in the bottle. “Secret recipes” abound in all walks of retail. It’s why Coca Cola is not duplicated and is able to continue dominating the market. If Compass box said we have 30% 4 year old Caol Ila and 40% 6 year old Ardmore etc…, people could make it themselves. Or worse, the distilleries could cut off the taps and reproduce it themselves, making more money and putting Glaser out of business.
So I’m ambivalent about a boycott, whether it is doable, whether it is needed, whether it would work. And that’s OK.
The alternative to a boycott is for those who are not happy to cut bait and do something else that they enjoy more. I worked in an an environment I tried to improve for a long time, without success. When I gave up and moved to an organization that respected and valued my contributions, I became much happier.
I respect other points of view in that I recognize that other people have a right to have and express them. The degree of validity of those viewpoints in expressing the truth about a subject, however, has to be earned and demonstrated by the strength of the arguments presented. It has been an interesting discussion, and we do still have points on which we disagree, but that, to me, is the nature and purpose of debate: not to assign or assume validity, but to arrive at it.
One of these points of disagreement, for example, is that I’m still at a loss to what “collateral damage” there can be for any producer, big or small, by changing a label. If providing an age statement is so lethal to commerce, why hasn’t it destroyed Black Label 12, Octomore, Ballantine’s 17 and a host of others? Far from revealing precise blending recipes no one is asking for, would the appearance of an “8” on Spice Tree or Peat Monster put John Glaser out of business or would he be commended, and his image enhanced, for being honest and forthright?
As you and Collegiate point out, whisky is not a necessity and so there are far more important things than getting rid of NAS. I don’t understand how this is really relevant to the topic, however, as a boycott of NAS doesn’t prevent simultaneous pursuit of any other issues of political, social or economic justice. These issues simply aren’t mutually exclusive, and so the fact that there are “bigger issues out there” is no more a justification for NAS than anything else I’ve read. If whisky’s not a necessity for the consumer, then it’s also plain that consumer tolerance for NAS marketing OF whisky isn’t a necessity either as it does nothing for the consumer whatsoever. If it’s not somehow “excessive” for producers to keep people from knowing what they’re drinking in the first place, then it’s not “way over the top” to work to end that practice.
On the subject of boycott itself, you’re not really just ambivalent about it; you stand in opposition on a personal level, having already eliminated yourself from participation based on whiskies you’re unwilling to give up. That’s OK, but that’s the way it is. You “neither suggest that nothing can be done, nor that nothing should be done” about NAS, yet you’re now in the territory of asking who one “has to be” in order to push for reform, and finding no answer to that, your alternative to a boycott for those who don’t like the status quo is for them to leave whisky. It’s an elegant “love it or leave it” approach to the issue, which does solve the problem – for the industry – but, like NAS itself, does nothing for the consumer.
Ummmm, I think Jeff misses David’s point here (correct me if I misrepresent you D).
David points out that an effective BOYCOTT, not a change in label, would cause collateral damage to smaller craft producers.
I have no problem with Glaser saying “secret recipe” to me. His stuff is good. I do have a problem with the watered down caramel coloured &%$# offered by others.
As for supporting a boycott, as long as it doesn’t include my favourite NAS (PC diet tonic water) I’m good to go.
So whether or not it’s intended, a boycott punishes producers of good NAS stuff at the same time it punishes that bad guys….collateral damage.
oops, somehow the last two paragraphs were revered. Looks kind of weird this way. should have read:
So whether or not it’s intended, a boycott punishes producers of good NAS stuff at the same time it punishes that bad guys….collateral damage.
As for supporting a boycott, as long as it doesn’t include my favourite NAS (PC diet tonic water) I’m good to go.
To all the people worried about Compass Box suffering due to this boycott, please remember the issue at hand: labeling of age statements. Although whisky quality is another issue (there are plenty of “watered down caramel coloured &%$#”s being offered WITH an age statement), what this boycott is targeting is the producer’s refusal to provide consumers with information that we feel entitled to. All John Glaser has to do is put a single, little number on his labels, and the boycott of his products can end. We’re not forcing him to bend over backwards and change his recipes and formulas, just spend a few seconds on a word processor.
Also, I don’t think anyone has yet demanded that blended malts divulge their proportions of different whiskies, just (for the last time) state the age of the youngest product in the bottle. And even if Glaser was forced to reveal his recipes, I wouldn’t worry about big companies going and automatically ripping him off. Diageo owns a quarter of all the distilleries in Scotland, has more barrels of whisky aging than anyone else, teams of PhD flavour scientists in state of the art labs, and some of the best blenders on the planet, not to mention billions upon billions of dollars at their disposal. If they wanted to make their own version of Spice Tree, they already would have, and gotten P-Diddy to promote it in his clubs.
I am finding this whole idea of boycotting way over the top. If that is your thing, fine. But come on. It’s not like we are talking about animal testing or child labour abuses or something. If you truly want to do some good, start with boycotting meat consumption.
I love whisky, don’t get me wrong. But if you are that incensed about NAS whisky that you feel the need to boycott it, than you really need to think about how much a drink matters in your life.
I thank Skeptic for the attempt at clarification. Like Skeptic, I’m not sure that’s what David was driving at but, if it is, it’s still based on an incorrect characterization of the boycott. “Collateral damage”, of course, means damage to unintended targets, but can be no “collateral” damage to craft producers of “good NAS stuff” because ALL NAS products, good, bad and indifferent, are being targeted BECAUSE they are NAS. Again, the issue is with the labels, not anybody’s quality. I have no problem with the bottle contents of Uigeadail, only with a label that has room for a story about a whirlpool but not enough for (at most) a two-digit number – and if Uigeadail were somehow twice as good tomorrow as it is today, that still wouldn’t change either the label or the problem with it. Will a boycott hurt craft producers unwilling to provide age statements? Well, yes, which is why they’d better call their label designers too because, if they withhold production information from consumers, they’re just as much the target of boycott as anyone else, and should be – but they have the advantage that, if their product truly is high quality, it will survive a label change.
Another possibility, that what’s being said is that putting, say, one-digit age statements on bottles places producers at a disadvantage on the store shelf is, however, more interesting. As per the study done a few years ago by Chivas (http://pernod-ricard.com/4892/press/news-press-releases/press-releases/the-age-matters-chivas-brothers-launches-global-consumer-campaign-on-the-importance-of-scotch-whisky-age-statements), age statements DO matter to the average consumer, even though he’s slightly confused as to what they mean (“only 10% understand that it refers to the youngest whisky in the bottle, nearly half (48%) believe an age statement refers to the average age and 35% believe it signifies the oldest whisky present”).
Now, could a craft producer be hurt by a consumer’s idea that “older is better”, as apparently some 93% believe this? Sure he could, but the problem is, as Curt says “older does not always mean better (though usually it does!)”, and also see Serge Valentin on this point (http://www.maltmaniacs.net/E-pistles/Malt-Maniacs-2010-04-Does-the-age-of-Scotch-whisky-matter.pdf.), so the consumer’s FAR from out to lunch in considering age in looking at a purchase in any case. Furthermore, if there IS some mass prejudice against young whisky which is based on something OUTSIDE of whisky quality, it IS the industry itself which previously created it in order to clear out its older stock at premium prices. So if craft producers are hurt by the low quality of something they put a “7” on, they have themselves to blame, and if they’re hurt by brainwashing that prejudices consumers against numbers under 10, they have Diageo, Edrington and the other big boys to blame, not consumers for wanting information about what they’re buying. Yet I would argue that many whiskies, good and otherwise, have survived with relatively low age statements and, if it’s any consolation, the industry propaganda machine is currently set for “age doesn’t matter/young is good”, so the easily swayed will soon be looking FOR young whisky to replace the older stuff they can no longer afford in any case.
In this age of mass whisky media and review, good quality, like small companies, will survive. It is, in fact, the mass whisky media which allows these companies (like Compass Box) and good quality products to flourish, and mediocre operations and products won’t, and shouldn’t, be saved by their labeling in the end anyway. If there’s unintended boycott fallout which would tend to put pressure on producers to mature their products longer, I really don’t think that’s a bad thing anyway, as a lot of junk currently resting behind NAS labels COULD use more time on it. Would that result in higher prices for lower stock levels? Possibly, but I think the industry is dedicated to an agenda of higher price levels in any case, explainable or not (and NAS, if left intact, is a GREAT way to explain the premiumization of pricing for remaining age statements isn’t it?) – and I’m still waiting for my price break from the bust in the Asian market.
All told, the above has no impact on whether consumers SHOULD have age information, however, and I think it is important to remember that the boycott is directed at defending consumer, not producer, interests. If your first thought in considering the boycott is worrying about how it will hurt a producer who thinks it’s fine that you’re kept in the dark and fed shit as a justification for it (we’ve gotten to the point of being told they’re “running out of numbers”, people!), the industry might well have a job for you. Those who support the idea, but not the personal practice, of a boycott also play into the industry’s hands: Nick Morgan doesn’t care if you’re content to buy his bullshit if you’re content to buy his whisky on his terms – and it’s pretty clear what he thinks of your intelligence anyway. The real target demographic for quality distillers is people who know whisky, and people who know whisky know there is reason for consumers to tolerate NAS – and those people will take action to end it.
Oh, and sorry again; Uigeadail’s the one about the loch, Corryvreckan’s the one about the whirlpool – I sometimes have a problem keeping these irrelevant stories straight.
Sorry – I should have said: “Collateral damage”, of course, means damage to unintended targets, but THERE can be no “collateral” damage to craft producers…
Wow! Skeptic was right (for once)! You guys need to mellow out! I’ve read most of Tolstoy’s works, including “War and Peace”, and your replies are up there in length (and boredom) to any Russian author of 1000+ page novels. At least you didn’t get into Free Masonry and land reform. I’ve always said Tolstoy would have been a great writer if he had a good editor. Maybe you guys need one also.
Thanks, I think…..
(was that too long?)
Other people’s comments do take longer to respond to, Robert, because they have interesting things to say that are actually about the topic, rather than just about how people write, but I’d be lucky to be as bad a writer as Tolstoy… and so would you.
I think there’s something to be said about the style as well as the substance… Sometimes the medium IS the message.
Sure, but in the absence of substance there can be no discussion of style, which is why, when some people’s level of actual topic content contribution is low , the only writing style which is possible of criticism is, somewhat conveniently, that of someone else. Sometimes less is more, more often less is just less, but, almost always, less is safer; people who don’t write have nothing to defend.
And people who write less may have less to OFFEND.
I’m not offended, David, I’m just saying that, with a frequent scarcity of whisky Spillanes, much less Tolstoys, complaining about other people’s writing styles doesn’t make much sense – particularly if there’s no interest in, or case to be made against, the substance of what the writers are saying (and on this point, I’m speaking in general, not about our recent debate, which I thought was useful and added to the scope of the topic even if we still have our differences).
Months late to this discussion (forgive me, I’ve only recently found the site and am busily backfilling my exposure) but I didn’t see any of the comments pick up on something. This quote:
“We should all accept that Father Time is the less important part of the maturation process; Mother Nature (cask influence) has greater importance.
Both are essential but, like human reproduction the Father’s contribution is simply ephemeral.
– Ronnie Cox (Brand Heritage Director, Berry Brothers & Rudd, austere wit)”
Struck me as hilariously ironic. With due respect to Ronnie Cox, it’s an observation that’s grossly oversimplified. I work (and get paid!) in the biological sciences, so maybe it hit me a wee bit more readily but it should be pointed out that while the analogy is not entirely unreasonable it misses the mark rather badly. Once Mother Nature has the seed, if she continues to ignore father time and spits something out too soon, it won’t survive. Perhaps we’ll be lucky enough that this is the trend for NAS whiskies.
Yes, it’s a point that I remember raising years ago with a gentleman representing Glenglassaugh, I think, when he was putting forward a similar idea that “age doesn’t tell the whole story”:
Age might not tell the whole story, but it’s strange how something previously thought so fundamental could now become the forgotten chapter of a process that is complicated, in part, because it’s dynamic and time-sensitive. It’s difficult to argue the relative importance of source water, barley, peating, cask type selection, and maturation environment without giving at least some important consideration as to how long these factors have to make their effects felt and/or interact with each other.
If “age is only one element in a very complicated mix”, it’s funny that it has always served as the industry’s primary pricing factor if it has little or no bearing on quality. Yet just as demand has outstripped the ability of many distilleries to restock age-statement introductory expressions at past levels, these distilleries are suddenly “discovering” that age doesn’t have the previously unquestioned relevance always assigned to it. But, despite the recent de-emphasis producers place upon the importance of product age for the consumer, distilleries continue to meticulously catalogue the ages of their casks, and steps in pricing still faithfully coincide with steps in age in the great majority of product ranges. I’ve yet to hear about a bottle of fifty years offered at NAS prices because “age doesn’t matter.”
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