Where should we begin? Let’s start with how we got here. Scotch popularity has reached amazing new heights over the last 10 years. I won’t spend time explaining the boom, today, but for an in-depth look at the scotch boom, this article provides great insight: http://thekrav.blogspot.ca/2015/01/what-was-scotch-whisky-boom-part-1.html
Traditionally, scotch drinkers associated age with quality. With the recent increase in demand, distillers are quickly realizing that they can’t keep up with demand if this whole age=quality ideology doesn’t change. It would be impossible to keep up with worldwide scotch demand if every cask had to age at least 10 years…or at least that’s what the distillers are telling us.
Let’s look at both sides of the debate…
What the scotch producers are telling us:
I have read several articles and blogs on both sides of this debate and I will sum up what I got out of said reading. Master distillers are saying that scotch doesn’t need to age 10 years or longer to be of high quality. In fact, in several articles I read, master distillers have said that the age=quality thinking is actually restricting them from making more quality scotches. If a cask is tasted at, let’s say, 5 years, and the master distiller believes this cask could make a positive contribution to a bottling, he/she can now use that cask and not have to worry about how long it has matured. Previously, even if the master distiller believed the cask was ready, he/she would have to wait until it matured for the standard 10 years, or longer before using it.
I have also heard that just because a bottle is labelled as an NAS, it doesn’t mean there aren’t well matured scotch casks included in the bottling. So, just because a 5 year cask was used, there could also be some, 10, 12 or older casks used, as well.
Essentially, the distilleries are claiming they have more options available to them to make quality scotches for our consumption and enjoyment if they aren’t restricted by an arbitrary number on the bottle.
One more point I have seen on the pro-NAS front is that if scotch is matured in higher quality casks, it doesn’t need as long to mature. So, they can spend more money on the cask quality, mature the casks for shorter periods of time and then charge the same price for a younger scotch because extra costs were allocated to the casks.
What the anti-NAS people are saying:
There are many bloggers and scotch aficionados that have taken a hard stance against NAS scotch. Youtube scotch sensation, Ralfy, has pledged to not review any NAS scotch for all of 2015. Curt with the ‘All Things Whisky” website has also taken a hard stance against them and has a very good interview with Ralfy, posted on his website, about this. (http://www.allthingswhisky.com/?p=2662)
Essentially, the argument against NAS scotch is that distilleries are producing and bottling younger scotch which in turn is costing them less money, yet they are charging the same prices as they would for 10 or 12 year old scotch. So, how does an NAS bottle of scotch that has been aged for, let’s say, 5 years cost the same as a bottle that has been aged 12?
The other part of the argument is that as a consumer, people feel they are being deceived. Scotch drinkers, at least serious ones, want to know everything about the dram they are drinking. They want to know what kind of casks, were the casks 1st or 2nd fill, how long was the scotch in each type of cask, how long was it matured for, was it chill-filtered, and was coloring added? If this information isn’t on the bottle, most avid scotch drinkers will go to great extents to find this information online.
So, essentially, what the anti-NAS group is saying is:
- Put all the relevant information on the bottle, box, or your website.
- If it is a 6 year old scotch, tell us that and let us decide if we enjoy it or not or if we even want to buy it.
- Stop charging outlandish prices for young scotch.
My personal opinion on Non-Age Statement Scotch:
I see both sides of the NAS debate. I have tried several NAS drams over the past few years. I have had delicious ones with great flavor from the nose to the finish and I have had horrible ones that could clearly benefit from several more years of maturation or at least maturation in better casks. It is up to us as consumers to do our research and purchase scotch that we enjoy. Online scotch drinkers like Ralfy and Curt at “All Things Whisky” have become important resources for me before making my own scotch purchases. Also, many scotch retailers will have open bottles that you can try before committing to a purchase. That being said, I agree with the anti-NAS folks on a few points:
- Distilleries need to be more up-front about the age of the casks and everything else that effects the dram I am about to drink. Make this information easily accessible either on the bottle itself or on the distillery website.
- Don’t charge 10 or 12 year prices for 6 year old scotch. Smart scotch consumers are doing the math and the math isn’t adding up.
- Continue the trend of producing more non-chill filtered, no color added, cask-strength bottlings. Everyone I have spoken with thinks this is a positive step for the industry…don’t stop!
I understand the predicament the industry is in and I feel there is a place for NAS scotch, if it is done properly. With that being said, here is a list of some high quality, go to the store and purchase, delightful bottles of NAS scotch:
- Aberlour A’Bunadh
- Glenfarclas 105 Cask Strength
- Fettercairn Fior
- Ardbeg Uigeadail
- Laphroaig Quarter Cask
*I’m sure there are MANY more out there!
Until next time… Slainte/Cheers!
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