Whisky: Age Expressions versus No Age Statements

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Age is just a number, or so the saying goes.

No Age Statement whiskies are gaining in popularity and there’s little wonder why. A thirst for premium whiskies amongst connoisseurs and novices alike, and dwindling supplies have focused attention towards the production of No Age Statement whiskies.

What are No Age Statement whiskies? As the name indicates, these are whiskies without an age reflected on the bottle and are blends made from a combination of malts & grain whiskies of different ages and barrels. Combinations is really up to the Master blender’s philosophy & craft.

While the distiller is free to omit any indication of the age on the bottle, the only governance on the age of the whisky – they must be at least three years old (applicable to Scotland & Ireland)

It was not too long ago when the epitome of a good whisky was a single malt, aged for over 10 years, in a single cask.

Blends, thus far, had the unfortunate perception of being inferior to these grand drams.

However, relentless demand for the amber liquid has led to a shift in interest to these blended expressions.

An Increasing Interest

As of September 2016, statistics from the Scotch Whisky Association show that Asia accounts for six of the top 20 Scotch whisky export markets by volume, with India, Singapore, Japan, Thailand, Taiwan and South Korea taking spots in the list.

Interestingly, the oenophile nation of France takes the top spot.

As for Singapore, it has one of the highest per capita Scotch whisky consumption rates in the world, with 2014 statistics from the Scotch Whisky Association showing that Singaporeans consumed around 12 bottles of whisky per person a year.

Slaking the thirst for whisky is no easy task, especially for boutique producers and distilleries. The cost involved in the ageing process is not to be scoffed at and many producers have to practice striking a fine balance between setting whiskies aside for Age Expressions and crafting blends for No Age Statement whiskies.

The Blender’s Vision

Strengthening the case for blends is the notion that whisky making is an art. Much of the blender’s philosophy and vision goes into making the final product that the market consumes. In fact, 90% of the market for whiskies is dominated by blends –a consistent quality product can only be achieved by blending between barrels.

Macallan, for example, is famous for making premium whiskies and in fact, its top range whiskies are not Age Expression. ‘M’, one of the most expensive No Age Statement whiskies in the world, is achieved by superior wood management. Using only first-fill Oloroso Sherry Cask ensures the very first infusion into the whisky, resulting in a more pronounced, concentrated flavour in the whisky.

Other examples of premium No Age Statement blends are Aberlour a’bundah, Glenmorangie Milsean and Johnnie Walker Blue Label.

The Rise of the Tropics

Finally, whisky production in Asia is on the rise, with places like Taiwan and India leading the way. And the maturation process in the tropics is unlike that of temperate countries like Scotland.

The evaporation rate or what is known as the ‘Angel’s share’ is approximately three times faster in Asia (sometimes more), so keeping it in a barrel only means one is losing precious whisky too quickly. Also, the integration of the wood into the liquid speeds up due to the heat, which means the final product will be achieved a lot faster. Kavalan from Taiwan, for example, is a No Age Statement whisky, and is released 4-6 years after production – that is the equivalent of about 12-18 years in Scotland’s climate.

Ultimately, whether Age Expression or No Age Statement, it is always down to personal preference. Leave it to taste and let the whisky do the talking.

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