Before we start, go and have a read of Lucasz’s post over on the Edinburgh Whisky Blog. I’ll wait. Now, a clarification before I begin – I agree with pretty much everything he says, and rather like the piece. However, it’s written from the opposite end of the positivity spectrum to where my brain sits. Scarily, for those who know me, I’m generally an optimist, and that optimism spills over into the world of whisky. So, as a companion piece rather than a response to Lucasz’s post – A Defence of No Age Statement Whiskies. Well, sort of…
NAS has become a scourge on the whisky market. For the first time since I became interested in whisky I can point to whiskies that I think are objectively ‘bad’ and are undermining the perception of the quality of whisky. It is also true, that these are almost without exception NAS. However, that doesn’t justify to me the attitude of many people towards whisky without a number on the label. While the parrotted ‘age is no guarantee of quality’ is trite and annoying, ‘lack of age is a guarantee of no quality’ is just as crass.
The core complaint about NAS whiskies is that the lack of a number on the label allows the producer to bottle up young spirit and not have to disclose the sales-impacting age. While that is true of most NAS whiskies (Balvenie Tun 1401 being the canonical exception) it isn’t true of all, and in some cases it just means that people who would be turned away by a low age buy a whisky and enjoy it (step forward Aberlour a’Bunadh, the other commonly stated example of good NAS whisky).
Unfortunately, the glut of bad NAS whiskies on the market has justifiably led to suspicion on the part of consumers, and that is the sad thing about the increased appearance of shoddy NAS expressions. While it used to be fairly easy to just judge a whisky on its merits, increasingly NAS expressions are dismissed within the whisky drinking community without much thought as they are part of the trend. Even more upsettingly it is more often than not the case that after tasting they are usually found to meet the expectation.
Now some positivity:
Here is my stance: Dislike and call out bad whisky. Call out the trend that is producing bad whiskies, but don’t assume that all NAS whiskies are bad. That, as far as I can tell, is at the core of what Lukasz wrote, although it looks like many of the commenters on the post across the web didn’t get that bit.
So, go and grab some of the latest Kilkerran Work in Progress, Friends of the Classic Malts Royal Lochnagar, Bowmore Small Batch Reserve (or the 100 Proof, if you’re looking for something in the increasingly mediocre duty-free exclusive market), Glendronach Cask Strength, Caol Ila Stitchell Reserve or anything from the Elements of Islay range (although I’m biased on that last one). There’s some rubbish out there, but there’s also some good whisky, so be specific with your complaints – rage at the bad whiskies not the category.