To etch or not to etch…

Two brands, two different prices, how must you decide? Certainly not one of those instances where you would leave the decision to a game of “Eeny meeny miny moe…” Consider a situation where you’re in a predicament and you need to single out a phone for yourself. Do you set your eyes on the latest and greatest  (*meaning ka-ching*) or do you settle on the one that would suffice to your daily chores?!

Numbers are more than just random figures drawn on a piece of paper. They influence the way we think, the way we make decisions and thereby the way we act. Not convinced?! Well, how many times have you made the irrational move of spending that little extra so that you could avail a 10% discount voucher on your next purchase?

We live in a world in which numbers mean everything; and what would happen if they just disappeared…POOF!! How would you now determine the value of everyday goods? Does the Nike on the top shelf look authenticate or is it some cheap Chinese ripoff, “Niek”!!! Now, I know I might be going too far, but I do want to emphasize that numbers do provide some level of a safety blanket which we’ve not only grown accustom to but also taken for granted.

For decades we’ve been so used to seeing age statements on our favorite liquor bottles that we’ve associated value, quality and a sense of comfort to it. Unfortunately, the recent introduction of No Age Statement (NAS) expressions have left most us in a sort of void,  feeling isolated as if in an imaginary island with butterflies in our stomachs.


My Fear…

I for one tend to be very practical; and therefore having such a bottle placed in front of me, however neat and well presented, would still spawn goose bumps due to a truckload of insecurities.

How can I be so sure that what’s inside the bottle is truly delish? Am I being overcharged for cheap, mundane whisky? Is this the end of quality?

The world is run by profits and big green arrows that need to be pointing up. Couldn’t this be another ploy for distilleries to mix their young, amateur whiskies,sell them at teeth gritting prices and ensure their bank balances are plump and well fed.

So what does a distiller achieve by introducing NAS expressions? *The devil in me shouts cheat customers* But trying my best not to be biased; an idea such as this could inspire and encourage creativity and innovation, bringing a certain freedom to experimenting blends without being limited by a NUMBER. Master Blenders and distillers alike, could leverage older whiskies known for their ‘oomph’ and have them amalgamate with younger ages in the right amounts striking the perfect balance creating that perfect moustache licking dram at an affordable price.

Additionally, a lot more focus can now be directed at other factors, be it the color as is the case for the Macallan’s 1824 series or the maturation process like those of the Auchentoshen Three wood and the Laphroaig Quarter Cask or even a story or theme, examples being the Glenlivet’s Alpha or the Glenfiddich’s Snow Pheonix.

Fact or myth…

1. Greater the age, better the taste?

Not necessarily, I for one find the Dewar’s White Label far ahead than the Chivas Regal’s 12 YO, a mundane, borderline average blend. Another good comparison would be the Johnnie Walker Black Label (12 YO); which could put several older blends to shame, and maybe even a couple of similar aged malts too!

Different spirits hit their peak maturation at different ages, depending on several factors like the maturation technique, its interaction with the wood, the weather, warehouse conditions, and the environment. Extracting them from the barrel before or after this age could yield either an overpowered one dimensional tipple or a muddled underpowered dram.

So it’s safe to say that an age statement doesn’t always guarantee a 5 inch smile across the face; sometimes even younger ages can tickle the senses and bring upon an almost euphoric sense.

2. Do maturation techniques outrank age as an indicator to flavor?

Compare again the JW Black Label 12 YO and the Chivas Regal 12 YO; so different! The Dalmore 12/18 YO expressions with the Glenfiddich 12/18 YO; worlds apart! How each of these whiskies are matured, be it in sherry, ex bourbon, virgin American oak or port wine casks gives us a more indicative, relevant and predictable flavor profile; something an age statement just cannot guarantee.

3. Current reserves of Older Batches are dwindling.

True, and yes very unfortunate! Demand for whisky has had a series of ups and downs with the most recent downer being the economic depression. However, consumption climbed soon after making distillers realize that with the current trending our existing supplies of aged stock would be finite; making the need to save up and evolve a necessity.

So am I fully convinced? No not really, somewhere deep within I feel I want to ask the question if the ‘age’ really needs to be removed or can it be an added description? Personally I do regret this shift but I don’t feel it’s all that bad. I’m sure if these distillers and blenders truly make the most of this paradigm shift, we could really stumble across some exciting new blends and malts, where nose, palate and the rest of the senses decide on what ‘A whisky’ should ideally be.

Adjusting to this change is certainly going to take a while and you really can’t complain. Because it was these very same people that marketed, advertised and prophesied that age was the alpha and the omega with nothing else in between!




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