Non-age statement whiskies are very much a hot topic right now. This is a trend of releasing bottles of whisk(e)y with a fancy name instead of a year statements that has been becoming more and more prevalent with the global boom in whisk(e)y sales.
This new/not so new trend, is causing lots of controversy and discussions amongst the fans of the water of life. There are claims that distilleries are just dolling up fancy boxes with very young stock, coloured and chill filtered to the hilt to cash in on the boom in the whisk(e)y market. The distilleries are claiming that they are simply running out of older stock that would allow them to continue to make premium age stated bottlings.
I’m inclined to believe a little of both. Remember that for a distillery to release a 12 year old whisk(e)y there much be a cask maturing in their warehouses for at least 12 years. Seems simple. But whisk(e)y production takes some serious foresight on the behalf of the distillers. They need to gauge how much of the spirit they are going to need in 5, 10, 15 maybe even 20 years time. Not many people would have been able to predict this global boom in the whisk(e)y industry 15 years ago. So my opinions on this leads me to lean slightly on the side of the distillery not having old enough stock to bottle a premium age consistently. A lot of these distilleries have been using the finite amount of space in their warehouses to produce age statements for a much smaller market for years. Now that push has come to shove nearly everybody is in operations to build and expand to meet the market demands that this new whiskey industry holds.
Personally I think that it matters much more what your whisk(e)y tastes like than what its aesthetics on the box are. But that said, I have come across a lot of people who use the age statement on whisk(e)y to gauge a rough subjective quality, in their own heads. Their theory goes 18yr/o > 16 yr/o. Which I suppose empirically makes sense. Although in no way do I really believe that the larger the number equals the better the taste. I have had some really great 3 year old samples of Scotch that have rivaled other 12 yr/o. But like most things related to whiskey, it’s all down to personal taste.
I personally think that we are going to see a lot of NAS bottles replace bread and butter whisk(e)y like the Glenlivet 12, that was recently pulled. I think that distilleries will be able to sustain their growth more and for longer rationing what stock of older whisk(e)y they actually have left.
What I hope I don’t see is a surge of fancy packaged NAS whisk(e)y that have lots of fancy marketing jargon but taste worse than the age statements they replace. As many people have pointed out to me, these fancy NAS bottlings can essentially bring bigger bucks for younger whisk(e)ys for distilleries. So I’m sure the temptation is there with all directors to push younger more coloured spirits onto markets for huge mark ups. This would be a sad state of affairs. I will hold out hope that their pride in their brand name will at least keep some of the big names producing quality spirits and not skimping out to make a few extra bucks while de-grading a great taste.
I think this will be an interesting period of progression in the industry as a whole. I think the entry level of the market will buy in very easily to the fancy labels claiming “limited supply” or “rare” to show off to their friends in lieu of a big age statement. For the rest of the market, the people who do their homework, I think they’ll be divided. I think those who are already converted by the likes of Laphroaig Quarter Cask or Abelour A’bunadh will be more accepting to the changes and I hope they won’t be disappointed. The rest of us will remain skeptical. Do our homework and hope that we won’t be disappointed with whatever rounds the bend.
TL;DR: NAS bottles are here to stay. I hope they aren’t going to be sh1t.