Sunday, 26 October 2014

No age statement (NAS)

Is NAS a good thing for whisky consumers? That depends on the quality of the whisky. What is the motivation for making a NAS whisky? Obviously utilizing the stock and maximizing the profit without destroying the company’s reputation. After all, we are talking business. It is a fair thing to provide profit for the owners. Why does NAS fly? Most whisky drinkers are not into the details of NAS. A 5-year old statement could prevent the average whisky consumer from buying the whisky. A NAS seems more exclusive. A whisky beyond age.

As long as the warehouses flowed over with aged whiskies from the 80’s, the producers told us that age matters, and yes – age matters. If you think that maturation is a good thing, it is reasonable that an older whisky is better than a younger one, at least up to a point. When matured too long, a whisky can develop unpleasant flavours. Woodiness is one such flavour.

I can see one good reason for marketing a whisky as NAS. Let us say you have an 18 year old vatting that lacks freshness, and you find this freshness in a 5 year old. Adding a small amount of the 5 year old, gives you the perfect whisky. Given the general expectation that age matters, it will be better marketing it as a NAS than a 5 year old, when it for all practical purposes is 18 years old.

However, is this how it works? My experience says no. The NAS whiskies seem often inferior. Probably because the NAS whiskies are a result of too little aged whisky, forcing the use of a larger amount of younger whiskies. Then we are back to age matters.

NAS whiskies could be a good thing, but will probably be the way into immature inferior whiskies giving less value for money. Face it, when it comes to aged whiskies, demand is larger than supply. Since age matters, NAS sounds better than 5 year old. If age did not matter, the producers would not be afraid of marketing 5 year olds.

One way to compare NAS whiskies and whiskies with an age statement, is to compare two whiskies in the same price category from the same distillery. Which one do you think is the best? My experience so far is that the one with an age statement is the best.

However, is NAS all negative? One positive effect of NAS is diversity. The master blenders get one extra degree of liberty composing their whiskies, and the knowledgeable consumer gets more opportunities to analyse the distillery character.

Looking 20 years into the future, we may have returned to a situation with warehouses filled to the rim with aged whiskies, and then again, age will matter. Meanwhile, sit down, enjoy your whisky and wait for the NAS to backfire. It probably will. The question is when.

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