It is a fair statement that the scotch-drinking world can be snobby, elitist and strongly opinionated – indeed it is our mission statement in the “About WU” section that we try to look beyond the divide – but one argument that is progressively resonating throughout the whisky communities (whether elitist or otherwise) is the role of No Age Statement (or “NAS”) whiskies in that world.
The last few years has seen a real explosion of single malts being released by distilleries of all sizes to try and attract new customers. No greater sign of this trend is the ever more inventively casked and matured drams making their way into the market, with multiple maturation becoming the norm amongst the NAS drams. Effectively, the competitive market is pushing distilleries to be more creative to sell their product quicker, and the demand for it must be there because they are continually selling out.
In the meantime however, the distilleries themselves are still creating the same quantities of the base liquid year in and year out, and the result is that more and more of the annual produce is being matured for shorter periods and sold as NAS whiskies, i.e. at the sacrifice of maturing whiskies to the traditional staple outputs of the 10, 12, 15 and 18 year olds.
One recent example can be seen in scotch giants Macallan, whose traditional releases have all been supplemented (and virtually replaced in stores) by their 1824 series, where the product’s colour is now effectively the dram’s calling card, rather than the age or substance itself, leaving you to choose between gold, amber, sienna or ruby (in ascending order as far as your bank balance may stretch). Whilst this may seem like shrewd marketing and may still be indicative of the product itself (see Colour By Numbers), it doesn’t hide the fact that the shelves at your local dram shop are a-changing.
WU was surprised to read recently that the recent Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve NAS dram (you know, the one in the bright blue box) is now set to replace the traditional Glenlivet 12 on the shelves, despite the fact that previous reports had suggested that it would be an entry-level alternative. This is a concern. Particularly as they do taste different to one another. Diageo favourites like Talisker and Singleton of Dufftown have similarly released NAS entry level drams (such as “Storm” and “Spey Cascade” respectively) and we hope that this isn’t to the fall of the staple Talisker 10 and Singleton 12.
Interestingly, at a recent event WU overheard that certain distillery owners were actually demanding a return to traditional, aged outputs – provided that the quality was right – to counter the current NAS culture.
As with anything that changes the norm, there will always be noses put out of place, but if we start to lose some of our favourite tipples for the sake of marketing and the quick buck, then we fear that it is actually change for the worse. Particularly so, if distilleries start to place style over substance, and that’s the key factor here: substance. If a distillery loses its traditional output for the sake of something new, innovative and better, then we welcome the change. It does come down to taste and personal preference after all. But, if it comes down to cash and the big players start to unilaterally put out cheap rubbish to stay afloat, then we might actually start to side with the traditionalists. Just so long as the drams don’t turn out to be NAS-ty then we’ll be fine.