Kicking It Old Skool

Taste Review #52 – Macallan 10 (Old Style)

No. I am not trying to get down with the kids. I am definitely not a cool person. But today’s review will be a refreshing piece of nostalgia, and we are going to be looking at whisky that many being produced today need to learn from. There may be a bit of Macallan bashing, but this is purely incidental, certainly not intentional and could be equally aimed at many other distilleries.


1990’s Macallan

How many of us remember a time when whisky was good? Hasn’t it always been good? Can it get any better? With Single Malt Whisky having exploded over the past couple of decades, the choice has never been better. However with this taste review, I want to put a concept to you. I want each of you who reads this to think about it to yourselves. And if you can be bothered, I’d appreciate feed back, either in the form of a comment below the article, through facebook, instagram, e-mail or even twitter. If your only means of communicating with me is carrier pigeon, then by all means send it, however I can’t promise that my dog won’t eat it. So if you are General Melchitt and your pigeon is called Speckled George, definitely don’t send it. (Fans of Blackadder Goes Forth will get the reference!)

I’m going to put to you the concept that some whisky is not better than it used to be. I would say it is demonstrably not worse per se, but definitely not as good as it used to be. I would say this has happened and continues to happen due to the large amounts of different editions through different age statements, non-age statements, cask finishing and the lack of decent aged stock available. This is something that all distilleries will suffer from. Each one is trying to obtain, keep or improve its market share.

For a while, I have felt that this applied to Macallan. This is not because I want to rebel against Macallan, as everybody seems to like them and I don’t want to rebel like a stroppy teenager. It’sbecause I feel the focus has moved. While I still believe that they do still make quality whisky, I feel that quality is definitely subdued. This was highlighted to me during a visit to their distillery in October last year.

The building itself is a marvel. You will have never seen a distillery like it, and I doubt if we will ever see one again, certainly not in the near future. Outside it looks more like an extension of Tellytubby land, but inside you can see the architectural masterpiece it is. The tour is good value too, albeit it seems very corporate, although now thinking about it, this is not a mistake. This is deliberate.

The Macallan archive is a wonderful masterpiece, with hundreds of bottles on the soaring shelves. But it is here we start to make our comparisons. One of my bugbears with Macallan is the amount of NAS they are releasing. To look across the way, we see the shop, where many of the products there have no age statements. But as I said before, some of what I am saying about Macallan can be applied to many distilleries, as aged stocks run low.

Macallan has been known as a distillery that exclusively used sherry casks, and one of the six pillars of Macallan is the quality of their casks. However, since 2004, they have been releasing whisky that has been made not just in sherry casks, but now uses Bourbon casks. Not that I have a problem with this as such, as this doesn’t make a bad whisky. However, it just isn’t as good as what has gone before from Macallan in my opinion.


one of my old style Macallan bottles

The tour I took at Macallan also gave us a sample of 12 year old Double Cask which is matured in American and European Oak, and the 15 year old Triple Cask which is also matured in a Bourbon cask. This, as far as I know isn’t the result of re-racking but a mixture of casks in the vatting prior to bottling. I never got a chance to try them at the distillery, as I was driving – and of course we all know drinking and driving is definitely not cool. So I got them to take home.

This fact was something that excited me, as I had a sample of a 10 year old Macallan from the 80’s or 90’s which I had been given by Matteo at the Speyside Whisky Shop, and I really wanted to write a review that compared all three, but the samples from the whisky tour just didn’t give me enough to write an objective review. However, although both drams were quite pleasant there was something that was very obvious to my palate. The old style whisky blasted the other two into outer space. Just no comparison.

Here are my tasting notes for the older whisky.


12 Year old 1990’s Macallan

Region

Speyside

Age

10 years

Strength

40 % abv

Colour

Deep gold

Nose

Proper sherry nose. Dates, plums, raisins, tobacco note, hot chocolate powder. More of a toffee note appears when water added. 

Palate

Instant, intense sweet hit on the arrival, with pretty much every note in the nose also on the palate. 

Finish

Medium to long, gently fades away. Slightly drying in the finish, toffee, dried fruits and a hint of spicy wood.


The dram

Conclusions

What I write now may be paraphrased from another article that I have written elsewhere about Macallan, but I’ll try and keep to the appropriate portions here.

I am indebted to Sorren at ocdwhisky.com for an article he wrote about whisky blogging. One of the things he said was that no whisky manufacturer deliberately makes a bad whisky. I know I might have had a bit of a rant over Jura Journey and Glen Keith, but Sorren is right. It’s just tastes are different, and you can’t like everything. However, that doesn’t mean that distilleries can get away with reduced quality whisky.

Of course, with a shortage of aged stocks, plus a decline in sherry drinkers has probably meant that sourcing quality casks has become harder and certainly more expensive for Scotch whisky producers. I would contend that Macallan has safeguarded the premium casks for their more expensive whiskies, which can cost thousand of pounds. However, they aren’t going to be doing that exclusive for whisky that is in the sub £100 bracket if they can get away with it. Use of Bourbon casks reduces the demand for sherry casks. This is something Macallan has been releasing since 2004. So, my concept I am trying to get you to think about is that have Macallan (or other producers) slowly weaned us off the premium whisky and onto something that is still good, but not as good?

I certainly feel this way, as the old-skool sample that I had was absolutely fantastic, and I almost regret giving my brother-in-law a small sample of the small sample I received. In a normal state of mind I wouldn’t have shared, but my brother in law is a good bloke and he very much appreciated his share. Is it a case of what we used to get as a standard 10 year old is now the quality standard for the 18 year old or above? I may have to take the plunge and buy a more expensive bottle to find out, or chum up my more generous Macallan drinking friends.

This is why I feel that with Scotty’s drams it is good to use the samples of older whisky, in particular my bargain basement miniature buying at auction is actually a valid exercise. The ten year old Macallan in the picture above is auctioning for around £300. The 12 year old I’ve seen as high as £450. A smaller sample is good for reminding us what has gone before and gives us a point of reference.

What is your take on this subject?

Slainte Mhath!

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here

Sorry for the double publishing – there was an error generated that caused the link to display incorrect information. It won’t happen again. Actually it probably will, but I will still be sorry.


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Or join me on my other social media channels below. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.


Photo credits

All Photographs author’s own.

The C-Word

I don’t know what one is worse!

Whisky enthusiasts (and anybody else for that matter) cannot fail to miss the fact that the C-word is now on the lips of nearly everybody. Coronavirus is here, and not the other C word that is used regularly as a quite colourful yet descriptive noun in Scotland. We cannot escape it, so we have to look beyond the times that we currently find ourselves. The new plague has inspired me to actually say a few words on video posted on the Scotty’s Drams Facebook page. This is something that I vowed I would never do on account of having a face that can sour cream instantly, but more to the point I try to keep the blog as ‘lo-fi’ as possible, so I can still write and publish while at work, and so less is spent concentrating on internet geekery and more on the whisky and opinions.

Getting back on track, the whisky industry has not escaped Corona Virus at all. As is sensible, distillery visitor centres have closed, whisky festivals have been cancelled. Even one or two distilleries have completely shut down – Glenfarclas and Teeling being the only ones I definitely know to have ended production. This may not have much of an effect on supply at all, as warehouses are creaking of maturing spirit, and still most distilleries are still producing for now. There is not likely to be a shortage in the longterm, but will there be consequences in the further down the line if the best part of a year’s production is missing? Who knows?


Closed for now: Glenfarclas Distillery Visitor Centre. Production also temporarily ceased

We also have to think of the impact this will have on specialist Whisky Retailers, most of whom rely a good part on footfall into their shops, which has all disappeared. That is why I started my little video infomercials, as I felt this is a very important resource we have to keep. Yes, you can buy your whisky from Master of Malt, The Whisky Exchange or Amazon, but lets look at it this way – that isn’t personal service. It may be that some of the Whisky Shops use Amazon as a market place, but shop direct with them, so they get the maximum benefit.


Whisky Shops – physical shop closed, online shop alive and kicking

The bad thing about the Corona virus is that there is likely to be an economic slowdown across the world. Usually the first thing to go in an economic crisis are luxuries, and it could be argued that whisky is not a necessity but is indeed a luxury. Could this lead into a reduction in prices on the shelves? For instance, I remember not too long ago, you could pick up a GlenDronach 18 for under £80. Nowadays most places seem to have the price hitting off £100 in the space of less than a couple of years. I am having a wry smile to myself, as it was a dram that I used to evangelise to people about if asked for a recommendation. I doubt they bought it in enough numbers to increase demand. I’d wet myself laughing if I could be described as an industry ‘influencer’. I’m far more likely simply to be just under the influence……


It’s not just shops and distilleries that could be affected. Cooperages and other parts of the supply chain may suffer.

Carrying on from the thought of a global slowdown, this could mean mixed fortunes for us as consumers, but more to the good. I predict auction prices will be falling. I have seen certain bottles have definitely peaked and are on the way back down. Some of the 1993 Glenmorange cask finishes have seen a drop for instance. Mind you it could be that some people are also putting too high a reserve on it and they are not selling. I am getting more and more suspicious of the motives of some auctioneers to be honest, but that is an article I am writing with great caution, as the potential for libel and destroying of industry relationships is high.


Will auction prices be affected soon?

Moving on to the newer distilleries; tough times will definitely test the business model of many of these distilleries. Are they adequately insured against pandemic? If people do not have money to spend, then the demand falls. Those who have yet to produce spirit and are relying on also producing new make, gin or cask sales could especially be in trouble – they have nothing to sell to an international market as whisky has to be bottled in Scotland to be called Scottish, and if the domestic market collapses, there could be a cull of spirit producers in what seems to be a slowly saturating market place. Distilleries who don’t have a large global share or an effective overseas distribution may struggle, unless they are the type that have enough capital behind them to weather the storm.

Bear in mind my friends, I am only an amateur, and all of this is opinion of somebody who does not have a degree in economics, no whisky industry background and is certainly not a rocket scientist. However, the basic facts are there – the size of a market the industry has to sell to is finite. You can only sell so much, which becomes difficult if tastes change (imagine only filling sherry casks to find 8 years later public taste has swung in favour of bourbon cask whisky), or if people have no money.


Not just Scotland. Teeling distillery in Dublin also shut down.

Whatever happens in the end, we have to remain positive in all circumstances. What may come to pass is anybodies guess and it is completely out of our hands. Let me advise you that the best thing you can do now is keep indoors as much as possible. Take time to enjoy the things you couldn’t before when things like work got in the way. If you are one of the ones that are providing essential services to keep the country going, I salute you – especially those on the front lines in the health services world wide, often working under difficult conditions. At the other side may we all be able to raise a glass to celebrate that we have survived. The whisky industry will too, but in what shape it will be is yet to be seen.


Lastly, while we think of staying inside to dodge the Corona Virus, one thing that went through my head now I’ve shown my face on screen (1400+ views) that if we are to celebrate together getting through these hard times, how would people feel about a Scotty’s Drams meet at some point in the quiet season next year? We need to look forward to something, and this could just be the ticket. Let me think on it. Perhaps I’ll do a poll later on…

Keep safe – Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

Auction Gavel – Shutterstock

All other photos – Authors own

Speculate to Accumulate

Do not be afraid of the not perfect.

The more regular of my readers will appreciate that I do tend to use a lot of miniature bottles for my reviews. This is due to a certain amount of expediency because of my work away from home and being away for more than half the year gives me limited time to drink full bottles. I have to say that I end up giving a lot of it away to my friends (you know who you are!) in order to kill bottles so I can move on to open something different.

The problem with this is that I am an inveterate bottle chaser, and this week was no different. My final sales of miniatures happened this week, and I managed to get some more decorative cask ends for the Strathspey hotel my wife runs. However, for me an online whisky auction is pretty much like doing your shopping at Aldi’s in as much as you can go for milk and bread, yet walk out with a 4″ grinder and a car tool kit as well. I ended up perusing the other miniatures for sale and came across a set of 4 miniatures at a relatively cheap price. The bait was in the trap, and the bottle chaser was sniffing around.


The four drams. Only Coleburn is silent, having closed in 1985. Only one official bottling was released – the 1979 Rare Malts. Most production went into Ushers or Johnny Walker Red. The other distilleries are still producing.

The drams in question were older bottlings from the Gordon & Macphail ‘Connoisseurs Collection’. Gordon & Macphail have had some great bottlings in the past and I already have a few of their miniatures in my collection, though these are unicorn drams that I wish to taste and possibly review the experience for you in the future. The drams I won this time are.

  • Coleburn 1965
  • Dailuaine 1971
  • Speyburn 1971
  • Tomatin 1970

I was after the Coleburn and the Speyburn and in the end with auction fees I paid about £27 for all 4. However there was a big drawback – the fill levels were low. But does this mean I have been foolish or ripped off? I don’t think so, and I’ll spend the next few paragraphs explaining why I feel I haven’t been either of these and why perhaps you should take a chance.


The fill levels

Firstly, a rip off in an auction is not possible. In fact a rip off can only happen if you were sold something and you what you received was something that did not meet defined expectations. An auction house clearly shows the bottles on sale and will provide more on request. If you were prepared to pay the price with as much information as provided, then you have not been ripped off – you’ve just made a mistake.

Have I been foolish? Perhaps, but that is a matter of opinion. These drams could cost hundreds to buy as an individual full size bottles. I am going to be able to taste rarer drams for a fraction of that. If I was to find these drams in a whisky bar, I could imagine to pay £25+ for a dram for each one of these. It is worth saying that each of these drams have at least 25ml in them, some close to full. So potentially I have £100+ worth of drinking whisky.

Of course, with low fill levels, there are some drawbacks to this, and I have to acknowledge this. If the fluid level is low, then this means that whisky has evaporated out. I find that miniatures are particularly susceptible to this, and is one of the reasons I never recommend people collect miniatures unless they are aware of its risks and they are stored properly. Of course some people do collect these, but it’s not my thing. The risk of evaporation for me is too high and I personally feel I’d rather drink the miniatures.

One big problem with evaporation is that our largest concern should be that alcohol evaporates quicker than water, so there is a good chance that these drams which were bottled at 40% will not be at 40% when I try them. But that is a risk that I take, and while I am well aware that I will not get the full flavour that I would have got had it been fresh, I will still get an idea of what it would have been like.


A good way to taste long gone distilleries. Linkwood still going, Glenury Royal closed in 1985 and was demolished soon after. Imperial was silent more often than it was operational, falling silent in 1998 for the last time and was finally demolished in 2013 to be replaced by the Dalmunach distillery.

As with any proposition I put to you, this needs some sort of perspective. While I know that my bottles are compromised, what about that £30+ nip you buy in a whisky bar? Once the seal is popped, that bottle is on countdown as oxidisation and evaporation takes place. Certainly the whisky bars I see don’t gas their whiskies once they have been opened. That means in the case of the more premium but less popular whiskies, you’ll never be getting a fresh like new dram. You’ll never know how much of the fill level is due to evaporation. Let’s extrapolate that thought by remembering that the lower the fill level goes, the evaporation rate increases. My gamble with the miniatures doesn’t seem quite so foolish now, does it?

The above thought was one I have had for some time. I remember last year when I visited a bar that sold a 72 year old Macallan at £5000 a nip. Once opened, the evaporation and oxidisation processes have started. I wouldn’t imagine at that price it will be a quick seller, therefore is the person getting the last dram truly getting the value of such a whisky?

As I have said in my title, sometimes you have to speculate to accumulate. By taking a chance in spending some money, you can also taste rarer or older drams. By all means, you know they will not be perfect, but neither is that bottle of Macallan somebody has that’s been hiding at the back of the cabinet and was opened in 1983 to celebrate Aberdeen winning the European Cup Winners Cup. And has now been saved to drink only at special occasions. As an Aberdonian I can say that perhaps you’ll be waiting another decade to see silverware at Pittodrie….. There’s a good chance your whisky will have gone to the angels by that time.


Banff – bombed by the Luftwaffe in WWII didn’t survive the 1983 whisky loch and was closed that year. Convalmore fell two years later but is growing in popularity. Royal Brackla has changed hands since this distillation but is still going.

As usual, exercise some restraint when looking at bottles that are less than perfect. There will be a point when it will not be worth what the auction value is. Only pay what you can afford to drink, with an eye onto how much liquid is left in the bottle. Research what other similar bottles are selling for. And as usual, my best tip is to keep an eye on the assorted miniature collections in online auctions. Sometimes a unicorn whisky can be hiding in amongst others, as I found with my G&M Royal Brackla. You can always do what I did and sell the remainder of the miniatures again at auction and make enough money back to effectively make the unicorn you’ve hunted free. Fortune favours the brave!

Yours In Spirits.

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

Photo Credits

All photos – Authors own

Prepare to Lose Your Bottle

Why sometimes you just have to let go….

At the present moment as I write this, I’m in the middle of auction fever. I currently have 5 lots at auction and by time I publish this it will be 6. Of these, 5 are miniatures and one is my Macallan Folio 5. Unfortunately when browsing the auctions something came up that is part of a collection that I have and is rare. So rare I’ve only seen one at auction in 6 years, and I doubted if it actually existed, but when it came up it was plainly obvious that I had to have it. The bottle in question was a Dailuaine Flora and Fauna bottle with the white cap.


The bottle in question. No box though (SWA)

For days it sat at just over £100. Then just before the end of the auction, it went up to £380. That was about the amount I thought it was worth despite the rarity, but even after the end timer for the auction started it continued to rise. And rise. And rise. And yours truly continued to chase it.

It was once it breached the £500 barrier that I questioned myself, how badly do I need this? I had convinced myself I did need this, but doubts crawled up into my mind. There is hardly any of these bottles around – anybody can replace a capsule on a bottle to make something look rarer. Whilst it looked like a genuine capsule, there were crinkles on it which made me doubt. Indeed, a look on the same auctioneers website from the previous auction revealed a Mortlach 16 Flora and Fauna with a completely incorrect capsule which means that bottle was definitely suspect.


A first edition Flora and Fauna Balmenach. Not as rare but going up in value.

Don’t believe fakes make it to auction? Well just last week I was speaking to somebody who worked at a very reputable online auctioneer who assured me they used to see tons of fakes being brought in to attempt to enter the auction. And it’s a sad fact that some of them sneak through – and that isn’t limited to online auctions either.

We come to the bitter truth. I have paid more than a Flora and Fauna bottle but that is because I was chasing it, and I ended up slightly overpaying. The trouble with online auctions is that you never see who you are bidding against. I’d worked out there was probably at least 2 other people interested in that bottle, and the price could have skyrocketed had I continued. I pulled out at £600, with my tail between my legs. The bottle eventually sold at £750, which confirmed my suspicion that there was at least 2 other bidders.

I was disappointed. Gutted. But remember my advice that I have given to you in the past – auction prices do not include fees. So at £750 hammer price, if the person was a UK buyer, the true cost was £840 before shipping costs. Even writing this the morning after, I still don’t feel I dodged a bullet. It has to be looked at in the cold light of day – that would be £840 I would never drink. It would sit in my locker and probably not make any money. And would I get joy out of it? Certainly not 840 quids worth.

So, I placed a cheeky bid on a 24 year old Invergordon and retreated upstairs leaving my phone downstairs so I couldn’t do any consolation buying. I did some ironing instead and watched some programmes about Scotland I had saved on my Sky box. Unfortunately I couldn’t have a dram as drink-ironing could have disastrous consequences, and having some shortbread to complete the Scottish feeling? My clothes need to be crease and crumb free so that was ruled out too.


Here’s one I chased earlier. Didn’t overpay though.

No matter how much you want a bottle, you have to know its true worth. Even if it’s worth more to you than its actual value as a commodity, sometimes you just have to walk away and remember – if one has shown up then another one will. In both cases when I bought a rarer white cap Flora and Fauna, another one turned up at the next months auction as perhaps people see how much these are selling for and decide to cash in. So fingers crossed.

Being a bottle chaser is a blessing and a curse. You can achieve a fantastic collection, but at what cost? In the cold light of the day, if you are not drinking it but collecting as you hope it to be worth something, you have to keep the emotions in check. Out of the 17 white cap Flora and Fauna collection, I have 15. That’s better than probably 99.9% than others who have the same set.

By all means, if this is what you want to achieve, you have to hold your nerve, but be careful you don’t ridiculously overpay. There is no shame in losing your bottle at all if it prevents you being ripped off.

That leaves me with a closing thought. That do you think my wife would be more shocked at? The fact I was prepared to pay so much for a Dailuaine or that I actually did some ironing?

Yours in Spirits

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This is written as a hobby, and I appreciate your likes and shares, either on WordPress, or why not visit one of my other social media channels. Lets spread the whisky love!

Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.

To Infinity and Beyond!

The Rise Of The Infinity Bottle

One of the ideas that I have seen (or should I say ‘fads’) become more prevalent in the whisky community is the concept of the Infinity Bottle. This is the bottle of whisky that just doesn’t stop giving, quite literally.

The problem if you have a large selection of open bottles but yet aren’t having a high enough finishing rate is that you may be falling prey to oxidisation of your whisky, as well as evaporation. As the bottle empties and is exposed to more and more air, this process accelerates. The only way you can really get around this is by using a wine preserving gas, but there is another, fun way to be creative and maybe make the remnants of those bottles work for you.

The infinity bottle is an empty whisky bottle, preferably over 500ml in which you can pour the last couple of drams of another bottle in. You then add to it, and eventually you have your very own personal bottle of blended whisky, which is a mixture of what you have drunk. As you drink from it, you are making room for the next addition.

Even if you take notes, what has gone into the bottle it will be an unknown as to when each component will cease to have influence. It is a living, organic thing.

I’d written it off as a fad, but when my wife gave me two 20cl stoppered bottles, my curiosity got the better of me. Struggling to work out what to do with them, and having a few half finished miniature bottles, I decided to have a go at an infinity bottle. It’s my intention to have one for peated whisky and one for non peated whisky, and we’ll see how we go.


The start of an infinity bottle


I give the bottles a good shake first, and will let it sit a couple of days to allow the whiskies to marry. I have only two rules – no blended whisky and no non-Scotch.

Have you tried having an infinity bottle? This could be a worthwhile experiment, and we can compare notes (or samples) later.

Keep your eyes peeled for my progress.

Of course, the alternative is to give your last dregs away, but I’m far too Aberdonian for that!

Slainte

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love ❤️❤️


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.


Photo credits

All photos authors own.

Apart from Buzz Lightyear. That was pinched from Google.

Easy as A, B, C, D

How to determine what is worthwhile to purchase.

How do you pick your whisky? Do you pick a cheap or known brand after staring at the bottles on the shelves in Tesco, desperately trying to make a boring trip for the bread and bog roll that little bit more exciting? Or are you like a kid in a candy store when in a specialist whisky retailer, wildly trying to guess what is good and wanting to buy it all? I’m both, and will often take a punt based on recommendations or knowledge of the distillery.

But based on a couple of questions asked by a follower of this page why age and abv makes a difference, I have decided to write some more words of advice. The concept I am going to follow is from a fellow whisky blogger, Roy at Aqvavitae.com who has done a useful guide on this, and its the concept of A, B, C, D. While I expand on this, anything I write here is my own words and thoughts and not plagiarism. This is because what we are going to discuss is common to all whisky fanatics, and some duplication is inevitable. Certainly Roy’s system is a very useful one.

The A, B, C, D’s of whisky in choosing a bottle are

A = Age Statement

B = Bottling Strength

C = Chill Filtration

D = Dye

In essence, you can read the label on the bottle, and by applying the ABCD principle, it will assist you in sorting the whisky wheat from the chaff.

In the first section, this week we will look at the age statement.

What is an age statement?

The age statement is the age of the youngest whisky in the bottle. Under the Scotch Whisky Regulations of 2009, a spirit has to be matured for at least 3 years in an oak cask as part of the rules to be called Scottish Whisky.


12 years old proudly displayed


In order to produce a range of whisky of thousands of bottles, casks of various ages and types will be ‘married’ together to make up a consistent flavour profile, and is repeatable across the batches. This blending is still a single malt, as it is the produce of one distillery only.

The age statement is the youngest whisky in the recipe, regardless of the volume that whisky in the mix.

A single cask whisky will normally always have an age or vintage attached to it, as it is the produce of one cask only.

Why is age important?

Age is important as it tells us the youngest whisky in our mix. It is a benchmark of value. Although I would imagine that the bulk of a whisky bottle will contain liquid of the age stated, I also know that there will be older whisky in there. But we won’t know the proportions of the mix, unless we have inside knowledge. So the age statement gives us a benchmark to a minimum value.

Is there an alternative to the age statement?

Yes. Some whiskies have a year on them, also known as a vintage. This is the year that all the whisky in the bottle was distilled. This doesn’t always tell us the age, unless the bottle says when it was distilled and bottled. Some do also carry a stated age. This is sometimes the case with single cask bottlings. Otherwise to tell how old the spirit is, you will have to know when that bottling was released to have an idea of the age.


Vintage and Age Statements together


What is a Non Age Statement? (NAS)

A whisky that has no vintage or age on it is known as a Non Age Statement. They will just have an edition name such as Talisker Storm, Macallan Genesis, Ardmore Legacy, Glenmorangie Signet.


No Age Statement on this single grain


Why use a Non Age Statement?

NAS whisky is produced mainly because of one fact. Due to the rise in popularity of whisky, there is now a shortage of aged whiskies for the drinks companies to make their blends, or to make up the single malt recipes. So they have to use younger spirit.

The problem is, due to the SWA regulations about stating an age, even if there is a drop of young whisky in a bottle that otherwise has an average age of 12 years, if it has a younger whisky in the vatting, that is the age in the bottle, regardless of the average age.

And here is the issue that the manufacturer is trying to overcome – what would you reach for on the shelf? Would it be a whisky that is largely 12 year old spirit that has to be labelled as 3 year old due to a tiny proportion of young whisky in the mix, or a bottle that has a minimum of 12 year old whisky in it? Pretty much the same drams, but the perception is people will go for the older labelled whisky.

The other things that companies may use younger stock for is to perhaps aim for a price point or to stretch out a range. The young whisky in my mind is used as a filler spirit.

Essentially the whisky companies are trying to avoid stating the fact they are using young spirit.

Is using NAS an issue?

While the companies are trying to avoid consumers knowing the fact they are using young spirit, this shouldn’t be a problem, as young whisky doesn’t mean poor quality all the time. But younger whisky is cheaper, and if you put a young age on the bottle, the manufacturer will maybe struggle to charge the price for the older whisky that is in the mix. Of course price is a good guide as to what is in an NAS whisky, but the problem is this :- you don’t know the proportion of cheap whisky in it. Young whisky also has less cask influence and is more spirit led. If the new make is poor, the young whisky will be awful as the cask hasn’t had time to condition the spirit into something palatable.

If it is a cheap bottle, there is the clue, yet Macallan regularly sell NAS for hundreds of pounds, but you have no guarantee of what’s in there. Again the price is the guide, but there is no guarantee of the value you are getting unless you drink it to find out.

How many of us would be able to tell the proportions of the age by taste? The more experienced can, but I personally think it’s madness to pay hundreds on NAS whisky. This is more an issue if buying on the secondary market – a £500 bottle probably contains £250 of whisky. Pay more on the secondary market as a collector or drinker then you are paying for hype, packaging and are possibly caught in the cycle of supply and demand.

Therefore only an age statement sets the benchmark of what we can expect in the bottle.

Another YouTube vBlogger, Ralf Mitchell (ralfy.com) refuses to review NAS whisky. This is a man who certainly knows his fine spirits. He’s reviewed 3 year old drams though, and given positive feedback, which is a sign young spirit isn’t unnecessarily bad, but he does push that the age statement is the sign of a measurable quality.

Yes, my whisky friends, he is not wrong. I often wonder what the age statement on Jura Journey would be…. Point proven.

So young or NAS whisky is rubbish then?

No. Not by any means. I’ve had some cracking drams that were under 8 years old (See my Octomore Review – only 5 years old), and I’ve had disappointing drams at 12 years old in the past. For a review in the next month or so, I sampled a Glenlivet NAS, and I kept wanting to have another. It wasn’t even an expensive one, but had an unusual finishing. You’ll have to wait and see what it was. The age statement is no absolute guarantee that you are going to enjoy yourself when you have a nip.

Personally, I’ll give kudos to a distillery that are confident enough in their product to be up front about the age, regardless of how young it is. The simple fact is you will eventually have to taste to find out.

Read reviews before you buy. Try in a whisky bar. Or just take the plunge and buy a bottle. It is up to you if you want to risk the cost, as you are then relying on your knowledge of the brand and are at the mercy of marketing. But one way of looking at it is that a decent bottle is usually only 27 more nips away….. However, the vast majority of Single Malt NAS whiskies are very good. You just don’t fully know the value. Age is only a guide.


NAS but there’s 30 year old whisky in here. Not crap.


I have tasted many NAS statement whiskies, and in many cases have been satisfied with what I’ve had, but in common with Roy from Aqvavitae, I’ve found something lacking. In some cases they just feel engineered, tinkered with, or something just not right. Or, they taste exactly what you’d expect from a young whisky, raw, rough around the edges, bit of a let down. That’s not to say that the distillery is bad – it just might need a couple more years maturation. As an example, see my review of Kilchoman Machir Bay. It is a young whisky as it isn’t an old distillery, but this has the making of a great whisky and I do look forward to trying other expressions in the future.


NAS can hide poorer whiskies


One has to take their hat off to distilleries that start up and don’t use NAS statements to get the money coming in. That’s why I can’t wait for Ballindalloch to eventually release bottles. They are waiting until it’s ready. Being a small distillery, supply will be limited, so perhaps the price may be higher, but it will be worth it.


Summary

A vintage or age statement is a benchmark to help us evaluate the quality and value of a whisky. To be fair, some age stated whiskies can still be disappointing, but at least you have a clue as to what you are buying with a stated age. Don’t be afraid to try NAS bottles – there are rewards to be had. I’ve tried Laphroig Select, Dalmore King Alexander III, Allt-a-Bhainne and enjoyed them all. Perhaps not as good as their age statement equivalent. Remember that an age statement is only one method of looking for a good whisky. If you taste it, your palate should be your guide and there is no issue if you prefer an NAS expression. Each to their own, and drinking pleasure is what whisky is all about.

But, when comparing whiskies on a shelf, there are other clues to look for on a bottle – the next one being bottling strength.

Slainte Mhath

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love.


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.


Photo Credits

All authors own.

Moving Forward By Looking Back

Why it’s good to revisit the past

I saw a good Facebook meme this week which was one of those encouraging slogans that said “Don’t look behind as you aren’t going that way” or something similar. Appropriate for those who struggle with something in life, but not so appropriate for us on a whisky journey.


Best look back. A truck might be coming. And you’re in the middle of the road


Recently I was asked to do a whisky tasting in a local hotel at short notice. Unfortunately this didn’t give me a lot of time to prepare and as I wasn’t supplying the whisky, I was limited to what I could serve. As the tasting was for guests who potentially had limited experience of whisky, I wanted to cram in as much knowledge without being a boring geek. I do enough of that at my day job. 😉

I was wanting to serve from at least four of the five whisky regions in Scotland, but Islay was causing me a problem. I wanted to push a peaty malt, but didn’t want to try to force a peat monster like Laphroig, Ardbeg or Caol Ila down the throats of a non-whisky drinker. That’s the equivalent of getting an engineer fresh out of his training to build the Forth Rail Bridge. In the end, I decided to keep it Speyside with an exception of Old Pulteney, as that is the one I know that has a strong brine note in order to show how the location of maturation can affect the whisky.


Best know your limits


I ended up using two BenRiach 10’s (one was the Curiositas) to show the difference of peat on a spirit, Old Pulteney 12, and Monkey Shoulder. As it was part of a groom’s stag night, I naughtily took along two of my own bottles to ensure that I could complete my taste demonstration with the effect of Sherry Cask and Port Cask. These were the Benrinnes 15 y.o Flora And Fauna and the Speyside Beinn Dubh NAS whisky.


BenRiach 10


I picked Monkey Shoulder due to it containing three famous malts, and being Speyside. It would also be one I thought would be good for non-whisky drinkers. Having never had a problem in the past, this was my mistake on this occasion.

And it’s to the past we turn to in this article. Of what was consumed that night, I had reviewed on Scotty’s Drams a total of four whiskies out of the six. The BenRiach 10 was a thumbs up on my review, Benrinnes is one of my preferred malts, yet I didn’t really get much out of the Old Pulteney and Beinn Dubh. In fact in both reviews, I effectively said “pleasant enough but I personally wouldn’t buy another”. But yet, here I am using them for a tasting and them both being appreciated by those who tasted them and myself!

What gives??

We need to realise that our sense of smell and taste are built up of memories; if you haven’t smelt an aroma before, you won’t know what it is. Quite often you will have smelt an aroma it before, but maybe not on its own, therefore making it harder to recognise. My game with the lads using my whisky aroma kit at the start of the night proved these points to a degree.

My two over riding memories of the two drams that I didn’t rate would be salty caramel for the OP and Christmas cake and chocolate for the Beinn Dubh. It was these memories that made me pick them for the tasting to illustrate the effects of the place the cask was stored (OP-by-the-sea!) and cask type (Beinn Dubh – Port)


Beinn Dubh. Just Whisky in the jar. No coke.


It was a success. From what I gather, these two I initially almost dismissed were very well received by the guests. Even I had to admit I enjoyed the OP and BD this time. And here lies in the point of this article……

Always go back to a dram more than once or twice before fully making up your mind.

Why? Our senses can be affected by the air we breathe, the food and drink we have had that day, the state of our health and our physical make up. We can also be affected by reading what other people have said about a whisky. It is always better to taste a whisky a few times before making up your mind.

I was surprised the Beinn Dubh got such a good reception, as I am sure that there is a fair bit of caramel colouring in it, but nearly everybody said they liked it. Well, at least those who didn’t say they liked it said nothing about not liking it. It does get written off as a gimmick whisky, but I am not so sure now. Indeed, a quick trawl through reviews on the whisky retail sites say quite a few like it. Those who don’t and are vocal about it appear to be whisky snobs. But it is worth remembering that we all have different senses and opinions. Not everybody can like everything in the same way.

So, as we move forward in our journey, it is always worth looking back. Our tastes may have changed as we grow older and more experienced. Perhaps we can now pick out aromas and tastes we couldn’t in the past. As we build our mental database of whisky sensations (or write them down!) we start elevating ourselves to be more discerning and pick out the gold in the trash pile.

Jura Journey is still rubbish though.

Slainte Mhath

Scotty

Index of tastings here

Index of articles here


This blog is written as a hobby. If you liked this article, consider clicking here to visit my Facebook page or following the blog by clicking on the icon at the bottom of the browser page somewhere to get tastings, visits and articles to your email inbox. Also, feel free to share, and spread the whisky love.


Scotty’s Drams encourages responsible drinking. To find out the facts about drink, and where to find help if you need it visit Drinkaware.co.uk by clicking on the link.


Photo credits

Benriach 10 – thewhiskyexchange.com

Forth Rail Bridge Andrew Bell via Wiki Creative Commons under CC BY-SA 3.0 (image cropped)

Beinn Dubh Nip – authors own.

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