Grab a spoon. Let’s start stirring it up again.
There has been a marked increase in dissent against the ever-growing trend towards Non Age Stated whiskies. We’ve been diligently speaking out against it here on ATW (here, here, here and here ad nauseum), but so have several others in their own capacity. Dom Roskrow has recently written two pieces on this (here and here). Serge, on Whiskyfun, has been taking shot after shot at NAS malts and blends in many of his recent reviews, and others such as The Malt Desk have spoken out in recent days as well. Let’s not forget the plethora of brilliant commentary by readers here on the site and beneath many of the other articles posted about this subject on various other forms of social media.
I think things really came to a head last week when The Whisky Exchange blog posted an interview with Diageo’s Nick Morgan. I’m not sure I’ve ever read such a condescending load of tripe from someone within the industry (Morgan, that is, not TWEB). Morgan managed to offend nearly everyone out there that writes about and buys his spirits. Perhaps we should thank him, come to think of it. He probably singlehandedly turned more people to militant opposition by his offensive candor than others have been able to do with rational argument and pleas. I was going to post a couple of his full quotes regarding our ‘hot-headed ignorance’ and ‘ill-informed’ stances, but I honestly think it needs to be read in its entirety. Just follow the link above.
With the rising tide of discord I felt it was time to have a chat with one of the gents out there who has always seemed to fight the good fight for the best interests of Scotch Whisky. Ralfy Mitchell – he of the down-home, candid video entries on Youtube he refers to as Vlogs – has been a supporter of much I’ve done over the years and immediately agreed to take part in a discussion on NAS whiskies. I sent him a bunch of questions a few weeks back and his replies came back yesterday.
Without further ado, let’s turn the spotlight on Ralfy…
Ralfy Mitchell: Hello Curt, and hello to all you ‘merry malt-momenters’ wherever you may be. I hope you’re keeping it quality and not quantity with your malt-missions and remember to trust and enjoy your own whisky experiences without other people telling you what to like and not like. Taste is a personal thing and should remain so.
So now to question time!
All Things Whisky: In late December you posted a Vlog in which you addressed the issue of No Age Statement (NAS) whisky and the inherent issues that come with the industry having embraced this concept to the extent it has. Can you discuss the trend as you see it, and share what you think are the central issues with NAS whiskies to which we should be taking exception?
Ralfy Mitchell: It was my end-of-the-year Vlog, where I sit by the fire and just say what’s on my mind about the year that’s just past and, despite buying and enjoying a number of NAS malts over that year, I could see less-appealing, and importantly, costly under-matured malts appearing which a quick bit of detective work online allowed me to identify and avoid. One of my strengths as an online reviewer is the fact that I buy my bottles from retail using the adsense google-ads revenue to fund the purchases. It is therefore in my interests not to buy disappointing (and often expensive) malts. Recently NAS malts have generally (there are some good exceptions) grown increasingly avoidable as ‘young’ superficial wood-influence flavour-blankets of clean anaemic barley spirit lacking character and quite simply a proper matured full flavour ‘event’. . . especially for the price charged.
NAS malts are happening because:
A – less maturation reduces production costs and improves profits.
B – the less time some distinctly mediocre casks spend ‘maturing’ malts the better in all honesty!
C – when demand grows, supply shrinks and NAS is a way of un-shrinking!
D – during the last whisky downturn in the 1980’s, costs were cut to maintain profit margins, especially production costs so now all these years later there’s simply not enough volume of good wood in warehouses making the magic happen in line with current demand projections.
E – People buy them, these are very customer-tolerant times we are in with marketing over-influencing what sells.
As is always the case, if you want to know what’s going to happen next, follow the money!
ATW: Was there a catalyst that made you finally say ‘enough is enough…we have to do something’? A decline in quality or rising prices, as examples?
RM: The catalyst was simply that the increasing chances of aged malts being of better calibre than NAS malts (and often cheaper too) is now increasingly self evident as we browse the online retailer options, and options have never been greater. Availability (depending where you live), especially of Independent aged bottlings, is at an all-time high. The internet is increasingly useful for whisky buyers who buy intelligently rather than slavishly! Online auctions can be a real boost for yesterday’s quality at today’s prices and I include blended whiskies in that bracket!
ATW: The boycott is your way of taking up arms against this issue, but do you believe the industry can be beaten on this one?
RM: I really don’t care. I choose to boycott NAS malts this year as I have plenty of better options, not that I am being a malt-militant, and I share this situation in my Vlogs to help whisky fans feel more confident about being in control of their spending money. The Industry will be beaten by effective global competition providing better options, combined with the Industry’s own inertia and increasingly detached leadership.
ATW: If change does come about in relation to NAS whiskies, do you believe it will be one or two of the brands making the decision to take a stance for age statements again or will it be something more resounding, such as an amendment to the SWR (Scotch Whisky Regulations) of 2009 or a mandate by the SWA (Scotch Whisky Association)? Are the latter simply pipe dreams?
RM: It will be all about the money! As the trend grows from passive consumer to proactive customer, where and on what the customer’s cash is spent will determine the future direction of Scotch (and everything else). The biggest card in this game of poker is the customer’s decision to buy. That’s why marketing budgets can often appear to be so extravagant! Sponsoring polo teams and football personalities does not come cheap! In my opinion the Scotch Whisky Association is not responsible for Scotch whisky, it is responsible to those who control the Industry. Effective regulation on intrinsic quality long-term would need to come from National Government.
ATW: In 2010 Chivas launched its ‘Age Matters’ campaign, in which they provided stats speaking to consumers interests and how they were branding their products in response. One number they mentioned was that 89% of consumers who were polled look for an age statement when making purchases. They’ve been decidedly silent about this concept in recent days. One of the associated brands is, of course, Glenlivet. The new Glenlivet Nadurra NAS and Founders Reserve speak volumes about the company’s current stance in respect to age statements. This is just one example. How are we, as educated consumers, to engage with these brands going forward? It seems like a case of ‘either you lied to us before or you’re lying now, so which is it?’
RM: We, as educated consumers, will continue to share and educate new and less-experienced drinkers as to what’s what with quality. The quality of what we consume directly influences the quality of our lives and as and when quality goes down hill, we take responsibility in closing our purses and refusing to participate. We then share this with others who care to show an interest online. . . . So the whole wide world of tomorrow’s literate malt-fans can learn from our experiences. Bless them, big Corporate Institutions can often lack the decisive, foresightful leadership and vision of a genuine entrepreneur, (think Steve Jobs and Apple) and thus decisions get blown around in the winds of fleeting expediency.
ATW: There are some folks out there who are getting very passionate – even heated – about this issue, seeing it as the industry ‘duping’ the consumer in some respects. Is that a fair assessment, or are the consumers at fault for ever thinking that Big Business had the same interests as they do?
RM: Love&peace, malt-mates, love&peace! No need for heated rants when a well focused non-sale is intimated! ‘Boycott’ is always a frightening sound to businesses, especially when visible online.
ATW: A lot of voices speaking on behalf of industry interests are saying that buyers should ‘let their taste buds be the judge, and not ignore good NAS releases’, but that negates the fact that NAS isn’t a type of whisky; it is a type of marketing. While some releases like Uigeadail, a’bunadh, Valinch, etc are indeed great and may bolster their argument a bit in regards to there being good NAS releases out there, it does little to assuage our doubts about the pricing schemes. How do you feel about a) their arguments in general and b) the current ideas as to fair market pricing which the brands are levying on this recent spate of NAS releases?
RM: I agree with the Industry voices, let the customer decide, and if the cupboard is stocked with good or bad whisky, it’s all down to the customer’s motivation. Simple market forces prevail.
ATW: Who do you feel are the brands leading the charge in the right direction? And at the risk of making enemies…who are the worst offenders?
RM: Independents tend to get malts right, corporations tend to get blends right. If integrity is transparent in the bottle, that will do for me! The worst offenders are gullible and lazy consumers.
ATW: The industry has been decidedly evasive or silent when it comes to one particular question levied at them: ‘why is it that age doesn’t matter when it has to do with young whiskies or NAS vattings, but it becomes relevant again when they want to sell a 25, 30 or 40 year old’. Thoughts?
RM: I think that’s a great question, and the answer is ‘money today before profits tomorrow’!
ATW: Where does the NAS issue stack up in respect to the arguments against caramel coloring or chill filtration? In your opinion is one or the other more detrimental to whisky in both its current incarnation and in regards to what the future will bring?
RM: These things all contribute collectively to a trend growing internationally relating to ‘consumer awareness sophistication’ and having (creating) the choice to buy intelligently. The future will bring great challenges to Scotch whisky as the overall integrity of the commodity is successively reviewed by customers over time.
ATW: This is an issue that has gained a lot of traction in the less professional media (i.e. blogs, vlogs and forums). But we’re still seeing a lack of overt discussion by professional writers and publications. Do you think today’s professional whisky writers are balanced in talking about the industry?
RM: The professionals do a professional job and I commend them for dealing with the challenges they face. The ‘hobby’ media have added some real colour to the whole scene, something the industry will continue to tolerate! And so the drama continues. That’s alcohol. Always has been, always will be, a vehicle of human drama, comedy and tragedy; a comedie del arte!
ATW: Your own boycott is focused primarily on Scottish Single Malts. Do you think Irish, American, Canadian and world whiskies should be held to the same standards, even without falling under the jurisdiction of the SWR and SWA? If not, why?
RM: No. Scotch enjoys a top-ranking reputation, so standards should be maintained as top-ranking. Other Countries have different spirits and different circumstances, so I stick to boycotting any reviews of NAS Single Malt Scotch Whiskies during 2015! …Just to keep things simple and transparent!
. . .thanks everyone and may your malt-moments be malty and many!
Sincere thanks to Ralfy for the time and efforts. And thanks to any out there challenging the status quo and letting the brands know we’re not behind this endeavour. It’s about doing the right thing. It’s about trying to protect the integrity of the drink we love, and if the industry would open their eyes, they’d see it is about protecting the very lifeblood that forms the foundations of their own lives and livelihoods.
So many views and no comments. Surprising.
While I do understand that today is April Fool’s Day, check out what Serge over at Whiskyfun has posted: http://www.whiskyfun.com/#010415 Brilliant.
I hope it’s not an April Fool prank. Though I worry Serge could find himself in some legal trouble if the big brands go after him. Of course, if it went to court, they would have to disclose the age of their NAS expressions to prove he wasn’t telling the truth.
So far, his is the best way to shame the industry, in my opinion. Very direct.
As for why it took a while to get comments…probably because they’ve all been made.
Alas, it was a joke, sort of.
Unfortunately, the people with the most clout to make change are always the ones with the least incentive (or the greatest risk of losing something of value) to do so.
As punters, I guess, we should be happy the likes of Ralfy and Serge are being critical of current industry practices, even if they are both pulling punches.
While I don’t have thousands of social media followers and virtually zero clout, I WILL be avoiding NAS whisky and calling it 3 years old (4 in the case of Americans). I will also not hold any punches when I see fit.
My critics will say I can afford to rock the boat because I get ZERO benefit from the industry and because I hide behind anonymity. I don’t care. My WALLET will be the ultimate judge of industry practices.
Serge may have been doing a l’il bit of leg-pulling with his post yesterday, but the message was loud and clear. I guarantee it sent waves through the industry. As would his follow-up today. His point was well-made and his insightful solution to combat the problem will likely be engaged by others as well. I have a feeling that we’re not far off from a brand or two saying something like “ok…you’ve spoken. We’ll listen. But…” (wherein the ‘but’ will be something along the lines of ‘we’ll give you what you want but it’ll cost ya’)
You’re right, Serge is doing it his way.
He took another swipe at NAS (and “expert” bloggers) today in his “Pete McPeat and Jack Washback” comic strip.
Yeah, I saw that. Love it.
Always worth hearing what Ralfy has to say. He seemed quite reluctant to answer some of the questions though, especially when asked to name names or to actually directly dispute the industry claims, i.e. call them liars or take them to task for trying to dupe consumers. I’m referring to Questions 5,.6,7,8,9, and 11. Apparently it’s all down to the consumer. Let’s keep in mind that not all consumers are as knowledgeable as us geeks, they need more information, and that information should be on the label. Here’s an odd thing: a while ago Talisker Storm was $99 and Talisker 10 was $89 here in BC. Now those numbers are reversed. Obviously age matters (also Storm is almost universally considered to be crap as compared to the 10).
There is nothing “foolish” about what Serge is saying. We know for sure all Scotch whiskies are at least 3 years old. Safe to assume that if any NAS offering was much more than 6 or 7 they wouldn’t be so reluctant to put it on the label.
Keep fighting the good fight Curt.
Of course you’re right, age matters. The thing that I’ve struggled with through this whole thing is how flimsy the rationale is for why we should buy into the NAS design. You’d think there would have been a little more foresight on the part of at least a few of the brands in coming up with a couple of sound defenses.
Actually I prefer Storm to the 10. Never been a Talisker 10 fan, but love the DE.
The 10 is certainly not what it was 10 years ago, The DE is a bit variable from year to year, but still a good one for the price. I just wish I could get hold of the 18. The last time I had that one was about 4 years ago and it was superb.
I’ve got a Talisker18 bottle yet to be opened. The reason I’m not fond of the 10 is I prefer my pepper (like my cowbell) in moderation.
As Ralfy points out, the intimation of a “well focused non-sale” is a deadly, and attention-getting, economic weapon; as per Nick Morgan’s latest attempt at damage control, people in the industry are taking notice. But “love & peace” and no need for heated rants? Sorry, people simply aren’t moved to action without strong arguments to do so (trust me, I know). We’re taking on vested economic interests here and, in all seriousness, nothing is going to change by singing Kumbaya and hoping for the best. It is a matter of degrees and, yes, sometimes tone, but success through sitting back and coasting is only an option for those who have others to do the work, and the arguing, for them.
Given his influence and large role in whisky education, it is a little disappointing to read that Ralfy “really doesn’t care” whether or not NAS is actually defeated on not, particularly if he agrees that it’s a form of marketing which is so harmful to single malt scotch and could endanger the economic health of the spirit by tarnishing its reputation. On the other hand, I guess I really “don’t care” whether the boycott of NAS produces reform, either – in the sense that, while I’m hoping for success, I would, win or lose, still oppose NAS anyway because it stands against my interests as a consumer and just doesn’t make any rational sense. In terms of transparency, as I’ve said before, I don’t understand why it’s important for scotch to have its age declared but not other whisky because ALL whisky IS casked to be improved and so age is valid production information relating to all whisky.
In the end, quality and the consumer WILL decide the direction of the market, but I find that to be quite beside the point in the context of the current industry position that it arbitrarily gets to decide when and where age matters to whisky (which, as per its own internal recording of cask age information, MUST mean that age DOES matter), and those who call them on it are just to be dismissed as cranks. Consumers should decide for themselves, but they should also do so with as much information as possible, not just only as little as the industry wants to provide to serve its own purposes. Ralfy might be right in that NAS will be somewhat self correcting, but I think that’s so only in the very long term, and with a lot of damage that can otherwise be minimized if consumers choose to act now.
Overall, a very good interview with some very direct questions which, I have to admit, I sometimes wish had more direct answers. Two beautiful exceptions, however, were the breakdown of the factors contributing to the spread of NAS and the point about the SWA, which was one of the most candid, and accurate, comments I’ve read about whisky this year.
So, while I do disagree with Ralfy on some of the above points (so I guess the pot is stirred some in that sense), I do thank him for all he has done, and is doing, in opposing NAS; he has acted while others, still, have not. He is a great whisky educator and one of the leading voices in the hobby today. His support, like that of others working against NAS, means a lot.
As for Serge, his is one of the strongest pieces against NAS that I’ve read yet, and I think that it will carry a lot of weight with people.
Jeff, I’d be remiss here if I didn’t ask you to copy and paste your comment from beneath the Nick Morgan debate here as well. You had some biting sound bites yourself. Some, while not necessarily voiced for the first time or anything, were almost poetically delivered.
“A lot of the comment is driven by hot-headed ignorance”, coming from a guy who, just recently, DENIED that NAS was born out of necessity and, instead said it was about “running out of numbers”? It is to laugh!
“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.” http://www.thespiritsbusiness.com/2014/07/will-consumers-embrace-no-age-statement-scotch/2/
As many want to point out, age isn’t a “guarantee of quality”, but neither is ABV, non-chill filtration, natural colour or single casking, so that’s no more an argument for leaving the age off the label than it is for leaving all that other information off as well. Apart from some idea of the level of industry investment in bringing a product to market, what age information provides is a frame of reference for those who have tried many other whiskies of various ages and know that any of them would be very different in character at a very different age, and the industry’s desire to remove that frame of reference for its own purposes of profit making isn’t more important than consumers’ right to know what they are buying. Age doesn’t matter to a whisky’s development? Very well, show me 5 whiskies, aged 5, 15, 25, 35 and 45, which are otherwise all identical in character.
Whisky is casked, not just to store it, but to improve it and there is simply no argument to be made that age isn’t valid production information, as shown by the fact that distillation dates are still kept on every cask the industry itself produces. It’s not up to the industry to pre-empt consumers’ opinion on how, where or when age should be judged important by removing age information with NAS, and only where the industry itself doesn’t want to use age as a marketing point. What else don’t consumers need to know and why is the industry the arbiter of that when it’s changed its mind on the topic itself in the past so that now age is, paradoxically, BOTH important and unimportant; age was formerly considered important and now it isn’t, but ONLY where the industry doesn’t still want to discuss age with age statements to premiumize prices?
The above is abridged, and hopefully somewhat corrected. Chris made a great comment which bears repeating:
“Mark, I think you’ve totally missed the point about NAS whiskies. First off, I don’t know of anyone who is seriously suggesting some sort of grand conspiracy, but it does make a nice straw man for the pro-NAS side. There are several problems with the NAS trend. The first is that pretending that NAS whiskies give producers “more flexibility” is clearly a response to a lack of fully-mature stocks. When they had lots of mature whisky, they were happy to tell us how much age mattered. Secondly, an age statement gives the consumer a rough idea of how much the whisky in the bottle cost to make. The only reason to avoid adding an age statement is if you think the youngest whisky is so young that people won’t buy it. SO the producer tricks the consumer into buying something they wouldn’t otherwise. Perfectly legal, but also a factor in breaking the “‘bond of trust” Mr. Morgan is so concerned about. And finally, no one is arguing consumer choice doesn’t exist, but choice is being diminished, with Macallan and Glenlivet doing away with at least some of their age statement bottles. In addition to an actual loss of choice on the shelf, with more whisky going into NAS bottlings (which for the most part are mediocre at best), that means less is going into bottles with an age on them. The frustration you don’t seem to understand is that this is being driven by companies determined to squeeze every penny out of the consumers. I don’t know anyone who enjoys being seen that way.”
Love this: “Whisky is casked, not just to store it, but to improve it and there is simply no argument to be made that age isn’t valid production information, as shown by the fact that distillation dates are still kept on every cask the industry itself produces.”
Some very good points. I think I was most impressed with Serge’s piece and I hope he follows through with it.
Hi, Athena. Nah…looks like he won’t actually proceed with it, but that does nothing to undermine the impact which his words carry. That post needs to be shared around as much as possible.
There must be a few executives in the big multi-nationals with their panties in a knot these days! Although I’m still not quite prepared to completely quit the NAS bandwagon just yet, I’m very particular about what I purchase. I also refuse to purchase ridiculously over priced age statement whiskies. Cough…..Dalmore, Mortlach etc……cough.
I tend to live by the ‘do no harm’ credo as much as possible. I’m not out to actively hurt anyone, but I do believe in liability and acceptance of responsibility, and I hope some at the top are as uncomfortable as you suggest. This is a situation created by industry disingenuousness and they need to be willing to own that, not simply throw our rejection of it back in our faces as ‘hot-headed ignorance’ on our parts. No…we’re simply not swallowing the Kool-Aid. NAS is not the panacea to solve whisky supply problems and market conditions. Instead the push should be towards educating what whisky is like in youth. Brand education that a 7 year old is ok sometimes.
Thanks for the article and comments. I only stumbled on ATW a few weeks ago, so very happy to see this.
I’m not opposed to certain aspects of NAS whiskies, when they seem to be additional products that don’t interfere with a core range. Aberlour seems to be an excellent example of this with the seeming continuation of the 12/16/18 age ranges, though they are hard to find locally. But the a’bunadh is a reasonable enough whisky all on its own. Glendronach’s cask strength releases and Ardbeg’s offerings are other examples I’ve supported. That I’m happy to support.
I’m also fine with, to an extent, the assortments that appear in duty free locations. I think Highland Park’s Warrior series isn’t such a bad thing, if only a bit of novelty. I suspect that’s mostly a personal lack of irritation because I’m usually looking to pick up something unusual given most duty free selections tend to stink a bit.
I have a lovely little hard bound promotional booklet from The Macallan in which are described the Six Pillars upon which The Macallan is founded. It describes the Fine Oak and Sherry Oak ranges, all with age statements. At one point in the booklet, discussion the casks for the Fine Oak it states: …You need huge amounts of patience and experience. There are no short cuts…” Now I’ve always taken that to mean that you can’t rush the malt, hence the importance of age statements. Apparently, as we’re now told, this simply isn’t true. The booklet is only about six years old or so. How times change.
On Ralfy’s reluctance to comment on specific distilleries, I don’t blame him at all. I imagine he’s already experienced significant backlash from segments of the industry and they have significant $$ and lawyers behind them that could easily make Ralfy’s existence rather uncomfortable.
As Ralfy and this and other blogs have stated, I’ll simply vote with my wallet. My current favorite is Glendronach and will likely remain so as long as I can find their core range of age statement whiskies and single cask bottlings with commensurate age statements. If they move away from the age statement approach I’ll simply find another distillery. Not quite so easy to find smaller distillers in Canada (outside of Alberta) but it can be achieved. I’ll be sad if they do but life will go on.
Hi, Brent. Welcome aboard. Thanks for the comments.
Your point is taken about periphery releases. Historically I hadn’t taken too much exception to the NAS releases that were out there (though now I have a more defined stance against the principle itself) as they were oddballs, one-offs and didn’t seem like fleecing tactics. The current trend sees these not as the distilleries creating desired profiles anymore (which I WOULD actually argue brands such as Ardbeg were doing) but as stop-gap measures to smooth over supply issues and take advantage of economic loopholes that keep the consumer in the dark.
I don’t plan to campaign until all NAS malts are eradicated, but I do want to dig my heels in until there is an impact. I struggle daily with how to proceed, to be honest.
Where in Canada are you, mate?
And that is one of the differences between you, Ralfy and Serge and I on this issue: I could understand only temporary or market-segment specific opposition to NAS if someone could provide me with an argument that NAS was only nonsensical and/or compromised consumer interests in some temporary or market-segment specific way. In the absence of that argument, however, I’m now only left with permanent opposition to NAS wherever it appears – unless, again, someone can show me where, and under what circumstances, age doesn’t matter to whisky.
Seriously looking at that prospect, however, Sherlock Holmes comes to mind:
“You will not apply my precept,” he said, shaking his head. “How often have I said to you that when you have eliminated the impossible, whatever remains, however improbable, must be the truth?
And your stance is incredibly admirable. I think I’ve made that clear.
I’m going to make a comment here that may seem offensive, but it isn’t meant to be so. I would argue that Serge, Ralfy, Dom and even I, to a degree, will have a greater impact via our actions – however long/short or tempered – than others brandishing full on indefinite boycotts but lacking a public outlet will. Simply due to possibly influencing others to not support this nonsense.
We’re all but drops in the water, though. Hopefully we’ll make some waves.
Hi Curt, thanks for the welcome. I’m in Winnipeg so face a completely provincially run selection of whisky with a 13% kick in the pants at the end. Selection is often weak/mainstream with only occasionally pleasant surprises (we actually got a Glendronach single cask release specifically for Manitoba last year). So I look longingly west towards whiskytopia that is Alberta, if only for selection (and let’s be honest, price too). I was happily stocking up in Minneapolis but with the tumbling CAD that’s ceased to be economical. When I fly to the west coast I tend to try and get a stopover in Calgary or Edmonton because the liquor stores beyond security have better selection and pricing than we do locally. I know the prices are worse than the good Calgary stores but hey, I’m in an airport right?
I completely agree with you that the major thrust of the NAS movement is to fill in stocks and maintain sales quotas with the rapid expansion into the east Asian and Indian markets where demand has reportedly exploded. That’s the problem with it, no question in my mind and the issues to argue against NAS whiskies have been covered far better than I could. My comment about the peripheral releases was only to clarify that some are ok, notably when they don’t impact the core line. But I do draw the line at anything called amber, sienna, fuschia or chartreuse (can the latter two really be that far behind?). It makes me sad to hear that Glenlivet 12 is going away even though I never drink it – I had my first sip of it over 30 years ago (oh that I knew then what I know now).
With respect to Jeff’s comments that appear below yours I don’t think anyone can meet his criteria in showing that age doesn’t matter. I think we can all agree that there are decent NAS whiskies out there, a’bunadh being the prime example in my mind. I agree with you as well that the one-offs or oddballs (duty free releases) were initially harmless. Unfortunately they appear to have only been masquerading to some extent as the thin edge of the wedge for NAS coming on full stream. So from that perspective I can certainly understand Jeff’s adamant stance.
I’ll merrily carry on stocking up on age statement whiskies for the next couple of years when I can (Calgary in May!) be it in Alberta or when I travel to the U.S.
Macallan Fuschia? Hahaha. Awesome.
Jeff is our Rage Against The Machine. Love it (and him, for that matter). He adds an articulate perspective that sits outside the comfortable bell curve that the rest of us tend to sit in. In many ways I think I’m quite left of center, but the courage of his convictions puts me to shame. I fight…I kick…I scream. I will never knuckle under to pressure, but I will do things on my own terms. I have some opinions still on all of this that I keep to myself, simply because there is only so much blather before it becomes noise. In other words: Keeping the shades of grey private.
My goals are to make an impact (hopefully for the better), but not to punish myself. If self-flagellation was my thing, there are better ways to accomplish it.
Anyway…I re-read my last comment back to El Jeffe and realized how no matter what words I chose it was going to come out wrong. I wasn’t meaning to imply that I was DOING more than others in any way (in fact I’d suggest Jeff’s option is the harder one), merely that I could probably have more impact.
Shutting up now. Mouth open…foot firmly inserted.
I didn’t intend any offense either and I’ve clearly thanked people many times for their support, whether their potential impact is greater than mine or not. Related to that, I’m also always grateful to you for hosting these discussions because I always feel free to speak my mind, not without fear of challenge, but without fear of reprisal. Truly. You can’t do this kind of thing over at Whisky Advocate.
I’m glad that you find my stance admirable (and I’m SURE that, in the moment you wrote that, you REALLY did – too funny!), but I honestly only arrive at it by default, not out of virtue or claims to it, or to offend anyone. Although you could well be right that my position is somehow too extreme for many to embrace, I’m not “brandishing” a full-on boycott or trying to trap anyone into one. I just don’t see the alternative. I can’t square the circle that NAS makes sense there but not here, then but not now, and that applies to my thinking as much as it does the industry’s. Maybe others will figure it out. If they do, I hope they share, but people will do what they want to do in the meantime, regardless.
And many people clearly do have their different takes on this, perhaps, as Ralfy has indicated, based on how much harm NAS is presently perceived to be doing, where that harm is, and what is needed to stop it. You and I, for example, differ over whether a temporary boycott might be enough, just as Ralfy and I (and you, I think) differ over whether NAS is harmful to single malt scotch, but OK for blends and other whiskies, so it’s clear that we can appreciate each other’s contribution without totally agreeing on positions. I wasn’t trying to start a war over it, but it isn’t something that’s really been discussed at any length either and the topic came up (although you, like Ralfy, were clear, from the outset, that you weren’t committing to swearing off NAS forever) – and, sure, it can be a raw nerve. It’s just as well that a united front isn’t needed on this, because we’ll never get one anyway, and it’s early days yet in any case.
Best Regards Always and Sláinte!
I’m with Ralfy on this one when it comes to singling out Single Malt Scotch. Not necessarily for the reasons he states, though.
Who really cares how old JW Red is? It’s a bottom shelf mixer that is crap. If you told me there were 3 YO whiskies in it, I would believe you. if you said there was some 20 YO, I wouldn’t care, it’s still crap. Entry level blends have been NAS forever, and no one complained before. It’s expected they are younger.
Canadian whiskies are produced differently. The older ones ARE labeled and we can assume the other ones are young. When Canada produces something worth drinking above 40 Creek special releases and AP 30 YO, then we can worry about age statements. I would prefer to know what ELSE is going in besides whisky and water.
US whiskies, I don’t know enough about to speak to, but the bourbons I have had have mostly had age statements.
As for other spirits, distilleries like Amrut operate under such different environments that an age statement would essentially be meaningless, you can’t compare a 4 year old Amrut and a 4 YO Scotch single malt. As long as they continue releasing stellar stuff, I see no reason to compell them to put a meaningless number on the bottle.
This is not to say that age statements are the panacea. Knowing what kind of barrel is as important if not more, and I personally would like to know how much water was added to bring down the ABV. Very different if you start at 48% and dilute to 46% or if CS is 56% and you bring it down.
One can make the argument for inclusion of information though. A number may be meaningless, but if it’s available why not let the customer decide?
I’m with Skeptic here. I agree with Ralfy that you can’t generalize to everything. Should we ask Newmake producers how many seconds old their product is before it’s bottled?
If you want to accomplish something it’s good to focus on achievable goals. What do you want? Personally, I want reasonably priced, good quality single malts. A good measure of that is how old they are (and what kind of wood they were matured in). So give me age statements on my single malt scotches, none of this (neither) rare (nor) old stuff. I will know enough to identify a quality young malt to buy (like a peat monster).
Blends are of minimal consequence to me. I don’t buy them (except the occasional vatted malt) so “not buying” NAS blends is meaningless.
Amrut gets a “provisional pass” from me. I don’t mind that it’s NAS as an age would not tell me anything or influence my decision to buy. What does 4 years mean in Amrut terms? I say “provisional” pass because I’ve noticed the prices creeping up. Could just be the LCBO, but they seem to be releasing a lot of single casks at higher prices than the same bottles would go for had they been a vatting of a few casks. The quality is good, but is the reputation starting to affect price?
As for North American, I don’t drink enough of it to comment, but I haven’t seen a lot of weird named releases going for high prices, so maybe it’s not as big a problem.
my 2 cents worth.
Interesting discussion. I’m new to this site.
Why does Ralfy command so much attention and respect? Have you seen some of his vlogs?
His March 2009 Tasting and Awareness video is a clinic on how NOT to screen for alcoholism. Good thing he’s an undertaker because he digs himself in deeper and deeper.
And his famous MOVEMBER vlog in which he advocated self-screening for prostate cancer? My only hope is that no one took his advice!
And he either has the most sensitive nose and palate in the world ( smelling muscovado honey and barley citrus, whatever that is) or he is extremely constipated (FOS, as we say).
And he is extremely paranoid, if you haven’t noticed… Conspiracy theories, anti-government.
And he does 1-2 reviews a week and each bottle is at least half finished. I have to ask myself, what happens to those bottles? And he alludes to other drams he has offline. It’s one thing to preach moderation, another to practice it.
This is a very odd fellow. Entertaining, I will freely admit, but very odd.
I agree that if I was going to single out only one segment of the whisky market for boycott in order to encourage age statements, it would be single malt scotch, because that’s where NAS is probably spreading quickest and where its reversal would have the greatest effect on the rest of whisk(e)y overall. If that’s what some people want to do, I’m certainly not against it, both because I see the argument and because any tangible effort against NAS helps.
I don’t personally care about blends much either because I don’t drink them as often, but I don’t find that an argument against providing age information on them; I hardly drink Japanese whiskies at all, but that doesn’t mean that time in cask doesn’t have an effect on them and this also applies to other whiskies. “Canadian whiskies are produced differently. The older ones ARE labeled and we can assume the other ones are young.” – we can make the same assumption with scotch single malts, age statement vs. NAS, but does time somehow matter more with scotch?
Many bourbons do have age statements, but there’s a strong trend toward NAS in that spirit as well. Here’s a list from Sku on American whiskey which has lost its age information in recent years (and apparently this list isn’t complete) – (http://recenteats.blogspot.ca/2014/02/the-bourbon-fountain-of-youth-dropped.html):
1792 Ridgemont Reserve 8 yo
Basil Haden 8 yo
Benchmark 8 yo (now 3 years old)
Evan Williams Black 7 yo
Evan Williams 1783 10 yo
Jefferson’s Reserve 15 yo
Johnny Drum Green 8 yo
Johnny Drum Black 12 yo
Johnny Drum Private Stock 15 yo
Kentucky Vintage 8 yo
Noah’s Mill 15 yo
Old Bardstown 10 yo
Old Charter 8 yo
Old Fitzgerald 1849 8 yo
Old Overholt 4 yo (now 3 years old)
Old Weller Antique 7 yo
Pure Kentucky XO 10 yo
Rowan’s Creek 12 yo
Sam Houston 10 yo
Very Old Barton 6 yo
Weller Special Reserve 7 yo
I agree that you can’t compare the ages of “hot house” whiskies, such as Amrut and Kavalan, on a year-to-year basis with scotch, but that doesn’t make their age irrelevant – it’s just that there isn’t a large baseline WITHIN those two whisky distilleries to provide the context for the meaning of age, so the logic becomes circular: we don’t need age statements because they would be meaningless and they are meaningless because we don’t have age statements. Amrut’s 4 tastes no different than its 6? How do you know unless you have the ages? It doesn’t matter anyway, so long as it tastes good? Again, quality is no excuse for not telling the consumer what they are paying for unless it can somehow be shown that hiding the age makes it taste better, which is impossible. Age statements aren’t going to correct everything “wrong” with whisky, and they don’t tell you everything, but no single piece of information could or does, so there’s no more reason to withhold a whisky’s age than to withhold any other information (and if I can’t get an age statement, it’s unlikely I’m going to get detailed information on barrel sizes or dilution history). People who, ideally, want full disclosure on production information (and this WOULD be ideal) just aren’t going to get it by giving producers a pass on providing age statements; the trending on information is simply being allowed to go in the wrong direction. You want more information, but you’ll settle for less? Sorry, you just blinked.
To follow up on another good point raised in Curt’s interview with Ralfy:
“This is an issue that has gained a lot of traction in the less professional media (i.e. blogs, vlogs and forums). But we’re still seeing a lack of overt discussion by professional writers and publications. Do you think today’s professional whisky writers are balanced in talking about the industry?”.
I’d agree that, just as consumers haven’t been well served by the reduction of age information through the use, and spread, of NAS, they also haven’t generally been well served by the professional whisky writers who have, by and large, either sat out the debate or, worse, acted as industry apologists.
Yet, to be fair, this wasn’t always the case, even as recently as two years ago. To see a very surprising knock-down, drag out, on NAS, check out “Age statements: how important are they?” by Whisky Advocate’s John Hansell (http://whiskyadvocate.com/whisky/2013/04/09/age-statements-how-important-are-they/).
Jeff, thanks for the WA link.
Whenever I read a glowing review of a new whisky I always have a similar thought:
“…be sure to get a bottle of the first batch because I don’t have enough stocks in my warehouse to maintain the age and quality level of the brand going forward.”
While this is true of most new releases, whereby reviewers may get samples not necessarily equal to the retail product, I think it especially relevant to NAS releases!
I guess Ralfy spends the money we all pay in tax, on whisky. #WishILivedInATaxHavenToo! 😉
not only Diageo bashing but life writes the best satire….
“Ivan Menezes, Chief Executive, Diageo says: “Diageo puts the consumer at the heart of everything we do. We are committed to ensuring our consumers have the best possible information from which to make informed choices about our products: this includes alcohol content and nutrition information per typical serve. Currently, there is no obligation to provide such information in markets worldwide, but we know that consumers are increasingly discerning about what’s in their glass. We want to provide alcohol and nutrition information that consumers can quickly understand, instead of expecting them to do the maths.”
So we are at the heart of at least one of the drinks giants. And we thought it was just our money all the time.
When it comes to the age of whiskies… we leave our dear customers in the dark more and more. Let them do some maths… that keeps them fit.
At the moment the plot that Talisker 10 will be replaced by any Talisker NAS is thickening here in Europe.
But it is one of the iconic Classic Malts Collection I here you say… some say the whole Classic Malts Collection will follow – agewise. But that is only a wild rumour… yet.
Oban is another of the classic malts, yes?
I’ve seen Oban Little Bay has hit the stores now as an NAS whisky. I’d heard rumblings that Oban 14 was on it’s way out and it would seem that the Little Bay is the replacement product. I rather enjoy Oban so I do find it concerning it may go away.
Yes, aside from the changes/potential increased youth in the products/replacements themselves, which can be developments that nobody wants but may or may not be inevitable (depending on who and what you believe – and exports are down – http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-scotland-scotland-business-32129903 ), what’s definitely leaving is any assumption that the consumer should know what they are paying for.
Malt Activist recently posted an interview with the Glenfiddich global brand ambassador (Ian Millar) in which he advocated (his personal opinion) that all whisky should have age statements.
He said the company line is that they put ages on about 90% of their bottles. The company feels if it develops a trust with its customers they will be accepting of the occasional NAS bottling.
Personally, I’ve not enjoyed the age stated expressions from this distillery. But what he said was quite open and frank.
Thanks for the post, and it is an interesting interview – particularly where he talks about other, non-fiddich, whiskies that he likes. Ian Millar’s statement on NAS is surprising, but I find it little consolation that people knowledgeable about whisky within distilleries can personally believe age statements are a good thing, but brand policies don’t change (and if Millar believes age statements are important, who IS Glenfiddich listening to?). This, to me, is the essence of the doublethink within the industry itself: people who know whisky know that age matters because that’s why it’s matured in the first place, but they’ll defend the lines set out by the marketing people to the degree that they can without looking like idiots – and the same dynamic’s at work for most professional whisky writers as well. Dave Broom will say that Macallan’s “colour series” is “controversial” – no guff! – but he won’t say it makes sense.
The industry’s new concern with “trust” seems as prevalent as the subject itself seems ill defined. Trust who to do what? Trust distillers to guarantee an NAS is good (as opposed to just “drinkable” or “tasty”)? Trust distillers that, once established, an NAS expression won’t be made younger without notice? Trust that age only matters to the whiskies which the industry selects, even as it’s in the midst of admitting that it previously lied about the importance of age to boost sales? If trust ever existed, it’s gone now, a development which Nick Morgan calls “unfortunate” – as if it was some unlucky accident or happenstance, instead of the result of a premeditated marketing campaign – but the industry has only itself to blame.
An age statement is no guarantee of quality, but it is a legally binding piece of product information that can be provided with every bottle sold, and I trust that. If you haven’t enjoyed Glenfiddich’s age-stated expressions, that just means they could/should be better whiskies; they weren’t substandard in any way simply because they had age statements. The question for Millar is “if, as he believes, age statements are important, why SHOULD the consumer be accepting of any NAS bottling?”.
You have a way of cutting through the sh*t and articulating what so many others struggle to get out eloquently. I think I’ma hire you as my propagandist from here on out, mate.
Propagandist? Bite your tongue! The reasoning and the specifics really do matter here; I could never argue the other side of this, not just because I don’t believe in it, but because I can’t find any reasoning which would lead me to believe in it. Assign me the pro-NAS side? Not likely, but someone would have to provide me with the arguments as well in any case – and I’d love to read them.
P.S.: I’m not sure if it’s true for everyone else, but your first three “(here, here, here and here ad nauseum)” links at the top of this thread appear to be broken.
Please let me begin by saying I don’t disagree with anything you say in this post. I want that clear to start off.
I want to say a few words about trust. I think that there CAN be a trust relationship with big business. The reason is that big business is owned and operated by humans.
For example, a large multinational drug company, in 2007, decided to stop producing a non-patent drug used (many years ago) in psychiatry and (without their realizing) palliative care. PC docs all over Canada were up in arms and some contacted the product manager, who arranged for a Canada-wide conference call. After this call, he brought the message back to the company and they decided to bring it back. This is a niche drug, cheap, and likely not even a blip on their bottom line. but the human factor, established by interpersonal relationships, worked to save that drug for people who need it most.
In contrast, the whisky industry is not as important, but does affect more people. Now I don’t like Glenfiddich 12 or 15 and I stopped tasting the others. But I respect Millar.
In terms of trust, Amrut ranks high there. I have met Ashok, and he came through on his surprising promise to bring me a sample of Greedy Angels. That goes a long way. The distillery has always produced good stuff. The prices are rising, but I would argue that value for dollar is good and the price before was lower than similar quality other malts.
So would it be nice to know the age of what is in the bottle? Sure, but because of their track record, I don’t care so much.
I really have no problem with any given industry. I know of altruistic works from many that are routinely villified for any variety of reason.
With respect to the Scotch industry, it is entirely up to the various distilleries themselves as to how they want to be perceived. They worked very, very hard to convey the message that aging whisky matters and that an age statement is, even if not quite directly, a guarantee of some degree of quality. This is not to say it’s the only measure as it’s not and that has been amply covered here, there are other factors.
But the whisky buying public in many respects is what you made it – age addicted. There’s a phrase I’ve hated for years because it seldom actually applies when you know all the facts (there Diageo, I handed you a counter-argument). That phrase is:
perception is reality.
The whisky industry is guilty of its own success in marketing. If it wants to maintain a relationship and have its consumers trust them, well, give them something to trust. Not marketing ploys, not fancy names. Give them a quality product. People keep buying A’bunadh simply because it’s a generally good product. People bought NAS Macallan cask strength or the newer Glendronach Cask strength bottlings. No age statements that I’m aware of but good whiskies one and all. But none replaced any of a core line with a marketing line reading “trust us, we know what’s best for you” or something to the effect. Now if Glendronach’s cask strength bottling #4 is a dog, then the sales going forward will slip. As with A’bunadh, not every batch will be a home run. But if you set yourself up to let your product slide, well, you be gettin’ what you be askin’ fo. And that’s less of everyone’s money. Of course if your marketing department is looking only at gross sales in emerging markets, maybe you’re happy. Until the next shiny, new toy comes along and steals your market share (bourbon? rum?). Then your money is gone from both new and traditional markets. But then we’re only really out for short term (<10 years) it seems anyway, so who really cares.
As before, my money goes to distilleries that care enough to keep me aware of what they're doing. It's a pretty simple standard, maintain what you've been doing for years. If you move away from that, I move away from you. No hard feelings but someone else will get my money. If the Scotch industry itself wants to bugger up the whole thing (I highly doubt I won't be able to find any distilleries to fill my need) then I'm quite certain the rum industry will be happy to court me for a while.
the beginning of your post
“With respect to the Scotch industry, it is entirely up to the various distilleries themselves as to how they want to be perceived. They worked very, very hard to convey the message that aging whisky matters and that an age statement is, even if not quite directly, a guarantee of some degree of quality. This is not to say it’s the only measure as it’s not and that has been amply covered here, there are other factors.”
shows one of the problems with the “industry”. Destilleries themselves have little influence on how they are percieved anymore.
One look at any Who-owns-what list will show that the decisions are not made at the distilleries but in meetings of marketing departements or boards of directors.
A collegue of mine visited Talisker distillery in 2014 and asked them for their Talisker Port Ruihge NAS matured in Port casks. After a lot of shaking of heads someone called somebody at the owner Diageo and the distillery was told, yes we made that here at the maturation and bottling complex on mainland Scotland and you will get it eventually to sell it in your distillery shop.
That is the state of the money vehicle whisky.
A nice piece of illustration is this 1st April piece by Sku.
My favourite quote: ” Oh, I’m sorry, did I accidentally walk into a meeting of the quality control department? I thought this was marketing.”
Though it is not true it is well made up.
Please feel free to exchange the company name and to substitute Scotch for bourbon.
The Talisker story’s a big wake-up call: you can’t blame the people at the Classic Malts stills for what’s being made, much less how labeled, because they don’t even know.
To follow up on that marketing meeting –
Nick: How do I fit in?
Don: Nick! Sorry, I forgot you were there. You go out and explain how all of these unique boubon offerings are suddenly hitting the market in the middle of a “product shortage”.
Nick: But didn’t Whisky Advocate already say there was no whisky shortage (http://whiskyadvocate.com/whisky/2015/02/20/there-is-no-whiskey-shortage/)?
Come to think of it, didn’t they follow that up with saying there WAS a bourbon shortage (http://whiskyadvocate.com/whisky/2015/02/27/there-is-a-bourbon-shortage/)?
Don: I know; Minnick’s piece was brilliant, right? A bourbon shortage “in perception” is the same thing as a real one if that’s what you believe – first thing I learned in marketing: keeping people confused is just keeping the truth fresh. Freshness sells and it gives people a choice, which is what democracy’s all about.
Peggy: … and “new” always tests higher in importance than “improved”.
Roger: It was a great piece – and people love being told that they are in control of their own reality. I love telling people that.
Don: Right – P.T. Barnum.
Peggy: Not sure about that, but the Buddha might have said it first. I doubt they ever met.
Don: Just as well; what did the Buddha ever do? Anyway, Nick, that’s your role going forward.
Nick: OK, but I’m not sure I’ll completely pull it off.
Don: We’re depending on it. Get out there and just say whatever comes to mind. There’s bound to be blowback on this anyway; so long as some of it focuses on you, it will look like people have some personal axe to grind – helps keep the truth fresh. Pass the scotch.
It’s certainly possible to trust big business if someone wants to, but in the end, it’s all one sided; consumers can trust who they like, but businesses trust legal teams (the GM ignition switch scandal proved that very well). Even with David’s illustration of returning the drug to market, it didn’t come about because anyone could sit back and trust that the company would do the right thing for the people who needed the drug – it happened because “PC docs all over Canada were up in arms and some contacted the product manager”, which got the wheels moving, and I have no doubt that the docs did the right thing or their patients wouldn’t have access today. Some corporate citizens are ethically better than others, no doubt, but, on NAS, the last of companies to formally endorse the importance of age – Chivas – has recently reversed itself, so there isn’t really much to choose between them on this issue: age matters where it’s discussed, irrelevant where it’s not.
I can’t trust NAS marketing because, again, I’m not sure what I’m being asked in terms of trusting who to do what but, more importantly, because I can’t find anyone who can make NAS make sense as anything more than a concealed way to push young whisky. I’d agree that interpersonal relationships can have an effect on business, but my trust – or even my personal liking – of any brand ambassador doesn’t mean that they can defend NAS any better than anyone else (so far). I like Millar in the interview because he seems frank and takes a personal stand, but that doesn’t amount to a defense of NAS; after all, if I’m to trust Millar’s personal judgement, age statements do matter, and largely for the reasons argued on this website.
I don’t really think that David’s position and mine are that far apart on most of this, but I don’t see the need for an exemption for Amrut. Amrut’s quality/value is good? Sure, but that’s completely beside the point when considering whether or not a whisky is time sensitive when matured in a climate which can remove more than 50% of volume in only 8 years, and no one can argue that they taste better without an age statement or would taste worse with one (and this applies to Glenfiddich and every other distillery as well). I accept that I won’t change David’s mind on this issue with respect to this one company, but the lay of the land is what it is.
Brent’s right in that the industry painted itself into a corner over the importance of age, and all the more so because age is important. Producers went too far in presenting age, and age statements, as any guarantee of quality because age is far from the only factor influencing quality (and there are some bad old whiskies), but maturation is the process under which most, if not all, of these other factors (such as source water, barley, peating, cask type/size selection, and maturation environment, etc.) interact and make themselves known, for good or bad, so it’s impossible to argue that time in cask doesn’t matter to a whisky’s development, but that other factors do, or matter more; the entire process, from distillation, to immaturity, to maturity, to being overripe/overoaked, is time sensitive. If it weren’t, no one would lose even 2% per year to get results they could have had in half the time (or no time at all).
some of you might not be aware of things like this.
I think it fills the picture a little bit more….
(one of the uneducated and ill-informed whisky lovers out here)
Diageo splashed out and sponsored itself some medals….
Click to access Diageo_SF_Spirits_Competition_release_FINAL_4_7_15.pdf
After reading the first part I came to this
“Within Scotch, Diageo’s non-age declared whiskies fared extremely well this year, winning nine medals for brands including Oban Little Bay, Talisker Storm, Mortlach Rare Old, Buchanan’s Master, Buchanan’s Red Seal, Haig Club and Johnnie Walker Double Black, Gold Label Reserve and Blue Label.”
Made me think of a well orchestrated campaign on all levels and chanels…. sorry it really did.
Pingback: Non-Age Statement Scotch: Yay or Nay? - Scotch Club YEG
it has been a while ….
Interesting things about trust and brand even if the reason is corruption.
But some truths are universal, don’t you think so?
It is all very relevant in that whisky producers, whether out of necessity or simple greed, or the simple necessity of greed, have attached themselves to the idea of NAS yet continue to use age statements as premiumizing selling points and all you hear are crickets when the contradiction is pointed out. How do you ever trust these whisky “experts” again when the truth about maturation is, evidently, determined in the marketing department as needed while people who know whisky (including respected reviewers/commentators) either pay lip service to this silliness or, at best, play dumb and look the other way? But, then again, most whisky commentary is just marketing under the guise of objective opinion, which is why the majority of it is clearly broken in terms of serving consumers.
I noted this week that Glenlivet Founders Reserve seems to have shown up in Winnipeg. Unless I’m off base, this is the Glenlivet NAS that was rumored to be coming out. I’ve read suggestions that in “certain markets” it is to replace the standard 12 year old release. Any word on whether Canada is one of those markets?
It’s not that I buy a lot of Glenlivet 12, but I do seem to receive it more often than not as a gift. I don’t love it but I do enjoy it, especially when free. It would make me sad to see the 12 y/o go away in favor of an NAS. Fairly surprised and disappointed that Glenlivet would follow this route, given they’re one of the top three in overall sales – surely they cannot be running short of age statement whiskies given their vast production.
Not to mention the Founder’s Reserve is virtually undrinkable. And the ABV is too low to use it as hand sanitizer. A’Bunadh, on the other hand, is at the right ABV. And you could lick your fingers after…
I do not know about Canada but the rests at retailers are sold off in the UK and Germany at the moment and there was news from Australia that the cancellation was announced.
Probably if Canadians start drinking the 12yo like water….
I predict that 90% of Scotch exported will be NAS at some point in the future.
In 2015 they exported 1.26 billion bottles of Scotch. As an industry, it’s huge. I saw a guy talking about Talisker on youtube and he stated that the distillery saw a 100% increase in sales from 2009 to 2012. With that kind of increase how do you meet demand? Did they know 30 years ago that this would happen? I want to know what happened from 2012 to 2016. Talker obviously is big on NAS whisky, and they have some pretty good ones. What is actually in that whisky? Who knows? But honestly, what is actually in their 30yo? I have my doubts…
Think about the risk of saying, ok, lets do double the barrels of 30yo, or maybe triple, when the industry was actually in decline in the 80’s. Wouldn’t have made a lot of sense. In fact the more I thought about it, I realized creating 30yo whisky for the modern age might be very difficult. So say demand for 10yo hits a peak, and you have to meet demand, how do you do it? Do you open barrels set aside for older whisky? With the obvious result being you harm future availability of the older whisky? Or do you water down the current generation of whisky as NAS?
I think you make NAS whisky. Logically, one can’t respond to rapid changes in demand when the product is on a decades long timer.
Personally I think 1.26 billion bottles is insane and it probably represents a peak of sorts. But I have no doubt that in the future it will go higher and higher as new markets emerge around the world. The only thing that makes sense to meet that rapid change in demand is NAS whisky.
I’m pretty sure they’re already lying about whats in the bottle, at least with NAS the truth is out there.
Hm. Respectfully disagree. Perhaps vatting older and younger whisky is the answer (or AN answer, as I refuse to accept it is the only solution to ANY problem), but not declaring age is not linked to this, aside from marketing perspectives. NAS is a nothing more than the industry’s method of vatting older with younger while still charging you prices you should only be paying for older. And in many cases, more.
Let’s not forget that single malts are only a small proportion of the 1.26 billion. At least 90% of those are cheap, run-of-the-mill blends. Likewise, 90% of the 90% NAS bottlings are also blends. Single malt Scotch whisky is still a relatively small segment of the Scotch whisky industry. Most of the money, as I understand it, still comes from inexpensive blends.
What, no David, Bob, Veritas, Skeptic or “Athena” (that name still cracks me up!) swooping down on this? I guess I’ll have to say it, then:
Whoa! Enough with the NAS bashing, boys; people just don’t like it, but I guess there won’t be any illogical objections or piling on when you do it. And remember, just like ABV, age doesn’t matter to whisky unless you think it does.
Then again, if the only problem with spurious whisky commentary is found in denouncing it too often, and too loudly, to suit the taste of those who do not denounce it at all, then all pretension to honest inquiry here is dead anyway – so it is a bit of a tightrope isn’t it?
And, of course, cue the crickets. The issue isn’t with what is said, it’s with who says it.
I don’t know where it ever follows that the industry’s logistical problems allows it to re-design/suspend cask physics with some bottles but not others by labeling alone; either age matters to whisky or it doesn’t, but don’t ever say that too loud. By the same token, I’m not sure how age somehow matters less to blends than single malts, or, without age statements, there’s any real assurance that many blends are only three years old. The idea that NAS, in effect, largely currently stands for multivintaging and/or young whisky, is, by definition, unproven and (intentionally) unprovable, but the theory’s probably sound in that a lot of current “close to new make” wouldn’t perform so well if just left on its own – and simply as a result of someone inventing the buzz term “wood management”. To admit that the addition of older whisky has a real impact on the final product completely undermines the entire idea that age is somehow so “irrelevant” that consumers don’t need to know it in the first place, but I’m sure that everyone realizes that.
I’ve never bought the whole “single malts are just really a sideshow to whisky” spiel, if only because there are currently so many people lying about them that, by implication, what happens to them must matter to somebody.
I have to admit it, though, some of you guys are right: sometimes whisky is just about the fun you can have with the company you’re in!
Maybe I am in the minority but it doesn’t matter what the age, if the age doesn’t taste great. So I asked myself, how is whisky made? How do they know for sure what is happening for 30 years? I decided they don’t know for sure. They know well enough given experience, but the end result is always a bit of a surprise, sometimes good, sometimes not so good. So maybe if they mix a little more of the good from one age, to the good of a younger age and make a NAS, maybe it’s a better result than mixing a little bit of good with some not so good of just the older whisky… just so they can put a number on the label.
If you change the age, you change the whisky. That’s why it matters. Multivintaging is entirely based upon the idea that age matters to whisky.
hi Shawn – it is true that the bulk of that 1.26 billion bottles is blended whisky. Single malts have worked up to about 9-10% of the world Scotch market but that is only peanuts for the drinks giants.
Of the blended whisky sold most of the stuff is only 3yo anyway. If you look at Johnnie Walker the best selling blend from Scotland the brunt of its sales is the Red Label.
Most of the other Scotch blends are not much older than 3 years and some of them which carried an age statement like Dimple 12yo and later 15yo or Bell’s 8yo have lost it.
I do neither think nor believe that there is manipulation with whisky that says 12yo or 30yo. If they catch you you can close shop because it is against British and EC law.
As to NAS whiskies… there you have a wide field of speculation. I do not believe that many of these NAS whiskies are stand alone whiskies at a young age. If at all.
I think that almost all NAS youngsters are blended with older and maturer whisky to make them palatable. That is why I call NAS whiskies a double betrayel.
You have to buy the pig in a poke with no information of the mixture you buy when buying NAS. If it were only say 5yo whisky it would have to be much cheaper than the prices they ask for an ordinary NAS.
If you buy at these prices without knowing what for you pay you are to blame that it just will not stop.
Just my opinion, but I don’t think anyone can prove the age of the whisky in the bottle. So how can they be found guilty in a court of law?
I have had experiences with whisky that led me to believe that age might be more wishful thinking than an actuality…
It’s true that NAS might not be worth it by the standard of age, but by the standard of taste, could it be better value?
I don’t doubt that age statements will continue to exist, and they’ll probably make a comeback at some point. But I would bet that NAS will end up being good for consistency, and as a result, good for sales.
For me it’s all about consistency. Consistent, reliable, goodness, if NAS delivers that then for me NAS is worth it. It might even turn out that NAS results in better whisky for less money.
We humans tend to see the dark side of change, but I think NAS is more good than bad.
Love this thread, was just reading this and thinking about boycotting NAS as well. Only thing stopping me was how much I enjoy the Macallan Edition 1,2,3 and Classic cut as well as the Aberlour Abunadh. But I don’t like the direction these NAS are taking. There are some great malts with age ststment and higher Strength that give me great satisfaction. Springbank 12 cask strength for example. Or Edradour 8 Oloroso cask strength. All these YouTuber Whisky of the years , half of them are NaS, it’s becoming ridiculous. I don’t think I’m going to be using my money to support Nas any longer. You guys still fighting the good fight with Nas ?
NAS continues to be a major strike against any whisky I consider buying, but it’s not a deal-breaker.
The closest thing I’ve ever seen (or come up with) as an argument for NAS is “these whiskies wouldn’t be any better if they had an age statement”, which is absolutely true – but which sometimes gets morphed into the “age doesn’t guarantee quality” argument, as seen below:
Industry: “You don’t need age information where we don’t want to give it to you because age information doesn’t guarantee quality.”
Consumer: “OK, so what information does ‘guarantee’ quality.”
Industry: “No information guarantees quality.”
Consumer: “So, by extension, I don’t need any information about anything then, because none of it ‘guarantees’ quality, except where producers want to render information to help with their sales? Sounds legit.”
Industry: “Now you’re getting with the program. Congratulations, you now, officially, know more about whisky than silly people who just want to know what they’re buying but who also already know that no product information can read their minds on the subject of quality… and that the latter doesn’t invalidate the former. You’re exactly the kind of smarter consumer we’ve been trying to create for decades. Can one of our affiliates show you something in a used car or some swampland?”
No, age does not guarantee quality, but nothing guarantees quality – or can anticipate what your idea(s) of quality are – so I guess it follows that all we “need” on labels is the word “whisk(e)y” and just let the buyer beware in an era of endless product cheerleading. It’s this kind of thinking that makes me thank God everyday that ABV is already written into law.
That said, it’s again absolutely true that “these whiskies wouldn’t be any better if they had an age statement”, but the question is “would we be seeing these whiskies, at these prices, if they did have an age statement?”. The age metric wasn’t removed so that the industry could “discover” how to multivintage products or have the “freedom” to do so – it’s been doing that since whisky was invented – it was removed so that more and more could be charged for whisky that’s younger and younger while the majority of whisky consumers are told to “find the quality in youth” – which can’t be measured but which is all most of them can afford now anyway.
Did it have to be this way? Did the industry “have no choice” about marketing younger product? Maybe not, but it DID have a choice about lying about age – age currently does matter, doesn’t matter and/or does matter, but not as much as wood (or colour, if you’re Macallan). All horseshit, of course, but many who did know better, both inside the industry and outside of it, let it slide and kept buying into this marketing even as most could see the endgame. If the “good NAS” justifies the “bad NAS”, even though none of the whisky is good or bad because it’s NAS, then there’s little hope anyway. Once whisky becomes vodka, there’ll be little choosing between them and maybe the majority will make the jump to Smirnoff – which should still be cheaper. I don’t think the fight is necessarily lost… but it needs people who fight.
NAS was/is not enough.
More cuelties are prepared. Remember all those talk about the need for innovation in whisky?
Now we know who payed for it.
the genuine article – from another source?
Many thanks for this!
That the push comes from Diageo is altogether too predictable, too fitting, and it all certainly puts the lie to any shallow corporate noises about dedication to tradition. Talk about the “need” to do this nonsense and make scotch into flavoured vodka to attract hipsters, all for fear of “scotch becoming obsolete” is reminiscent of all the discussion of “the end of history” created by Fukuyama, rendered fairly quaint now as liberal democracy, far from producing “centuries of boredom”, is now challenged from without and shows signs of imploding from within. Scotch must somehow have the potential to be all things to all people or it’s the end of Diageo’s world, and what I think what Diageo should realize is that what it should be talking about is “alcohol”, not “scotch” – and Diageo already sells huge amounts of alcohol in many, if not always premium, at least hipster-friendly, forms. But it’s all about making a buck, and I’m sure someone will come out of the woodwork to defend that, wrapping it in the flag of freedom, just as they wrapped NAS in the guise of “unshackling” blenders to somehow use, or at least premiumize, young stock that was simply “impossible” to multivintage before anyone learned how to omit age information from a label.
I think it’s true that the SWA might well be overreaching in its overall influence, given that it’s just a cabal of self-interested producers anyway, and was never the Justice League of Scotch, but it’s also just as arguable that Diageo has been a major influence in the lowering of standards, both physical and intellectual (NAS is about “running out of numbers”), concerning scotch and is far too big a player in the game for the health of the category.
“One idea was to finish aging Scotch in old tequila barrels instead of the sherry, cognac or port casks traditionally used. Another was to create a “Scotch whisky infusion,” a new category of flavored or low-alcohol blends sold under existing Scotch brands.” – yep, they need the “freedom” to fuck with ABV too, folks, because it’s pretty obvious from the overall indifference shown over NAS that there’s no number that can be put, withheld, or changed on a label that can reflect anything to do with a product’s actual performance – the difference between a 3 and a 30 is a 0. This is, unfortunately, exactly how stupid we’ve become.
Happy Robbie Burns Day and Sláinte!
So Scotch is losing market share and Diageo is looking for ways to make it more attractive to consumers?
What about making it ….. BETTER?
Better cask selection and more careful maturation, and higher ABV would make for a better product.
We don’t care how old or young it is (still want to know though, Jeff), as long as it’s good.
If you flavour crap, it’s still crap…
or stop premiumisation and make Scotch affordable onece more and behold there be more customers again!
or stop premiumisation and make Scotch affordable once more and behold there be more customers again!
Please define “more careful maturation.”
Cask selection, warehouse conditions, monitoring the casks to ensure you don’t dump them until the whisky has become good.
Age statement isn’t enough. There can be good 5 YO whisky and bad 15 YO. What’s important is all of the above.
Please note, I WANT an age statement, but if they are selling me an 8 YO or a 15 YO, I want them to make sure that they bottled it at a time that the whisky was ready.
So it’s not enough to tell me how old the whisky is. It still has to be good to bring me back again.
Sure, age is not synonymous with quality and, once a whisky is created, providing copious amounts of production information on it won’t make it any better in terms of quality, regardless of what “quality” is judged, or not judged, to be. On the other hand, however, youth isn’t synonymous with “quality” either – in most cases, it’s also different from, if not the antithesis of, the product complexity that some value, particularly in more expensive expressions – and simply saying that either casks or products are “of high quality” doesn’t make it so, particularly in cases where the point is often simply to justify/help sell the product already being put on the shelves. Thus withholding information in itself through NAS marketing doesn’t (and can’t) make individual whiskies any better or worse in terms of quality after bottling, but the removal of the age metric as a whole is contributing to the youth, and quality (for better or worse), of the whiskies we’re now seeing produced prior to any marketing decision on labeling and/or product transparency.
An age statement might “not be enough” – certainly in the sense that more complete production information (at least distilled in / bottled in dates, so you get era as well as age) is quite possible – but if you don’t at LEAST demand an age statement at a minimum, how will anyone ever arrive in whisky info utopia when the road to Everything passes through the town of More? That which doesn’t tell people everything somehow tells them nothing and, since they can’t have it all anyway, nothing is what often they’ll settle for – or just settle for less if it fits someone’s sales model. There are “good” 5s and “bad” 15s but, again, product information can’t anticipate anyone’s ideas on quality, so I don’t know exactly what age information can, or is supposed to, guarantee beyond minimum product age. Age statements are “not enough”, but people buy products which provide no age information at all and often there’s no issue there. How is some information not enough, but even less information somehow sufficient?
If more careful maturation means more complete product information, then where is the demand for that information in terms of purchasing patterns? If more careful maturation means optimum maturation time and conditions, or just whisky “done right”, but it’s not about product information, how does anyone know it’s “done right” next time if they don’t have any idea what was done last time when quality is in the eye of the beholder but consistency is largely a matter of standards? Anyone can find a whisky they like and strip all the product info off of it at home without changing the whisky, but if that’s essentially done before purchase at the distillery, then people literally don’t know what they’re being sold, this time or the next. Is a bottle of Uigeadail or A’bunadh, in terms of their performance, a matter of product composition or simply naming them as such? If they took all the batch numbers off of A’bunadh, would they all suddenly be the same because that’s what the label would reflect, when batch numbers have previously shown variance in the product? Can anyone decant Ardbeg 10 into an Uigeadail bottle and “make” it Uigeadail as a matter of naming it as such, making the product info on the original Ten bottle irrelevant to what they’re drinking when they pour another “Uigeadail”? Could Ardbeg put Ten or An Oa into Uigeadail bottles and “make” it Uigeadail if they omitted the ABV as well as the age, and would calling the result either good or bad make it Uigeadail? Call it Uigeadail or call it good, a whisky is the product of what goes into it, and that’s exactly what’s being changed as a result of removing metrics.
I want to know the age of what I’m buying, not because a number holds any special significance to me (I’m not superstitious about the number 18, for example), but because the number reflects an aspect of production that does matter to the product itself, regardless of whether I’m aware of it, ignorant of it, or intentionally choose to ignore it. I’m interested in finding (and affording) whiskies that I think are “good” and age information, while certainly not infallible, can be useful in that search – as are (taken in context), ABV, distillery, cask information, and relevant trusted reviews. Be square with me on the fact it’s young and give me the info and I’ll give it a shot. I bought the Lag 8, for example, because I was anxious to compare it with the 12 CS and the 16. While it was certainly all right, it also didn’t defy expectations as a rather raw Islay. Whether anyone thinks it’s “good” is as much as statement about what they think about rather raw Islays as about the whisky itself (or, importantly, it’s close to the same thing expressed two different ways) but, whether they think it’s nectar or dog piss, part of that assessment will be derived from its age – not the 8 on the label, but the effect of 8 years spent in the cask. Young whisky and old whisky can both be good, yet they are not the same in character or the ways in which they are good, and age information helps me to know which sort of “good” product I’m buying.
(As an aside, that last line – which I do sincerely embrace and endorse – went a long way for me in reconciling my views with David’s, so maybe there’s yet room for progress in this discussion).
And Kallaskander makes a great point: if you’re concerned about where your new customers are coming from, it might be an idea to stop pricing many of your old and established customers out of the market while you figure out how to hypnotize hipsters. This is also related to the point that while many might find the issue about declining quality debatable, the issue of declining value is is much harder to refute: even if I’m not entirely unhappy in terms of current quality, the prices I’m currently being asked to pay for it make me just want to drink what I have and largely forget about purchasing altogether while people worry about coming up with new recipes for Highland Honey.
But, indeed, if it has to be more expensive anyway, then why not make whisky better, even if it is a very broad question (and definition)? The industry may have already answered that for itself because, according to the current narrative on maturation (see the SW article), maturity is now all about the casks – at exactly the time when demand on quality casks is at an all-time high, so “better casking” might be a pronounced dead-end in the short-to-mid term and maybe going forward until there’s a decline in demand. Higher ABV does, at least, give the consumer a wider range of options for (subjective optimal) dilution, so that’s one possible avenue for help – even if it runs counter to getting maximum product yield out of every still run. More careful maturation, like quality, might mean different things to different people but, to me, it might begin with a frank acknowledgement that age is a major factor IN maturation, that the average consumer’s chance of getting a new product which is overoaked is positively and increasingly dwarfed by their chance of buying a whisky that’s underfinished and that, inconvenient as it is, most recent releases would probably benefit from more cask time rather than less. I think that’s the groundwork that consumers have to demand with their dollars, because it’s difficult to be careful about a process when the very nature of it is being currently carefully misrepresented to serve industry goals rather than those of the industry’s customers.
If consumers don’t demand this groundwork though changes in their purchasing then, no, the market will not change – we’ll be able to continue with “what did you just buy and why” (marketing info) threads until the cows come home, but it will amount to rearranging deck chairs on the whisky Titanic, not a course change.
neither age nor location… nor ABV nor infusions as a certain interested party wants us to believe.
Just to pour oil into the fire I admit. (And yes I would have won the bet as to who would represent the nay position).
From the Yes side, I found this interesting:
“The science is very clear: the three processes which influence maturation are additive diffusion, reductive evaporation and chemical reaction (in case you needed reminding).
The rate at which these processes occur changes both the concentration and the ratios of congeners in the spirit, and therefore changes the quality of the maturing spirit. All three rates are influenced by the local weather and atmosphere, particularly the temperature and relative humidity.”
Put all this in the context of process rates and, whoa, someone might imply that these processes are time sensitive, or that environment is seen to have an effect on time-sensitive processes.
As for the No side, I’ll agree with Diageo to this degree: it probably doesn’t matter to Nick Morgan where whisky is matured, and that we’ll probably see more age statements from the company when all of those numbers on back order arrive from the digit factory. In the end, probably nothing matters to Diageo whisky beyond that it’s bought.
I know we left the topic…
but here is the take of one who with other features at https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/
advocated what Diageo is now proposing imo.
“If the products of Diageon Alley have done their job and are now safely back into the NPD department of Gates’ Wizard Wheezes, could this new, more pragmatic attitude to the regulations see a sensible resolution to the ongoing debate over transparency? It’s my understanding that there is now a willingness at SWA HQ to discuss the intricacies of an issue which will not go away.”
Well, of course, if the SWA stands in the way of anything that DIAGEO wants to do, there simply MUST be a “question” as to “whether potential regulatory, technical, legal or other barriers are constraining” Scotch’”, while the same question would never apply to things that, say, Compass Box (which isn’t even an SWA member) wanted to do, which actually included fostering greater product transparency. Even though Glaser couldn’t find support for transparency among the SWA’s big players (apparently the trade body’s biggest member wasn’t flexing its not inconsiderable muscle there), now pressures to allow the company that brought us Cardhu Pure Malt more marketing wiggle room might somehow result in greater product clarity? I’ll believe it when I see it. God bless Broom for dreaming big, but when he isn’t telling me that he wants more transparency, he’s usually busy defending NAS (sometimes at the same time: https://scotchwhisky.com/magazine/from-the-editors/6812/nas-whisky/).
Wow, that article is a bit of a train wreck.
NAS = multi-vintaging? Nope.
“NAS – the blending of mature young whisky with extra-mature old – is a way around this [market intolerance for young age statements that replace old age statements].”
And how about this?
“…since the most vociferous opponents of NAS malts are proponents of the paradigm that malts = good, blends = bad, it’s not going to gain any traction.”
That’s not even clear. And the parts that ARE clear don’t make any sense.
This is delicious:
“They also need to explain why NAS is necessary and what its principles are. So far, they have failed to do so. ”
Yeah, that’s because NAS isn’t necessary and it has no principles. It’s just a marketing strategy to get high prices for young whisky.
Exactly – while it might be argued, as Broom does, that the industry might find it necessary to sell younger product to deal with increased demand, the “necessity” of concealing its age, much less arguing that it doesn’t matter, doesn’t follow.
That NAS – simply the omission of age information – is a labeling information choice, not a product formulation process, and most certainly not synonymous with multivintaging, are things that Broom should both know and admit if his role has anything to do with whisky education and not just promotion – and he and I at least agree on this: education is indeed needed. In this context, it might be relatively easy to understand why I never spent $149.99 USD on his World Masterclass.
As for the “principles” of NAS, I’d be interested in hearing what Broom thinks they are – once he’s clear about what NAS is.
“Until that happens, the Scotch industry will inevitably face (often unfair) accusations that it is dumbing down quality.” – yeah, poor industry, but apparently Broom can’t provide any help either.
Whether it’s a question of what people don’t know or just won’t tell you, or whether it really matters which if the effect is the same anyway, such is the current state of whisky expertise… and the band played on.
And, in other news, someone spent a fair chunk of change to help get Ralfy off of YouTube –
Sometimes you can judge your friends by the quality of their enemies.