In Defence of No Age Statement Whisky

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.

40 Replies to “In Defence of No Age Statement Whisky”

  1. OK. you must expect a comment from me, so i can not dissapoint.
    good NAS can be good (yes Dronach CS, Abunadh etc). bad NAS can be nasty (all sorts of NAS popping like mushrooms at Duty free shops).
    That is something we know.

    We do not like Expensive NAS (just cause it’s easier to make) and Indeed Some distilleries produce bad NAS which is like shooting themselves in the leg. if a newbie picks up one of the NAS Old Putleney lighthouses, he might get the wrong idea about the OP line… while the 12 is nice and the 17 , 21 are wonderful. so even for distilleries this should be done with caution. a few $$$ today and less $$$ tomorrow when you brand is looked upon as “mediocre” whisky.

    Slainte! and here is to good – exceptional NAS’s

  2. Spot on, Billy. Thanks for this. We’re definitely of one mind and I too firmly believe that NAS in itself is not the great Satan that some would paint it to be. I guess I just expressed my dissatisfaction with the bad ones in a more angry and bad-morning kind of way. What I forgot to say in my post but it just came to me is that good work is being squandered, often by the very same brands that did the good deed in the first place (see Glenmo). So yeah, thanks for adding your thoughts to the discussion.

    1. I’m going on holiday today, so I’m a little less grumpy than usual – my previous attempts at writing a post like this have been unpublishable for reasons of libel and family-safeness.

      There are few brands that aren’t guilty in some way and they all know it…

  3. What it boils down to, I guess is the general outlook you have on something that has good and bad. Category good with exceptions vs category bad with exceptions.

    While I tried defending NAS for a while I feel tired with the category. Some are great, don’t get me wrong, but in general I feel it has become an excuse for asking ridiculous prices for stuff that isn’t worth it, on the premise of it being rare/exclusive/collectible/named-after-some-random-thing-in-gaelic.

    And yes, Tun 1401 should be the example for many others.

    1. I still think that dissing the category is counter productive – the fact that I’m talking about NAS as a category annoys me.

      Identify the culprits and shame them. Don’t take the bad down with the good.

      1. Its interesting that you encourage people to “Identify the culprits and shame them. Don’t take the bad down with the good.” yet you did not identify any yourself. Surely you’ve tasted at least one?

        I admit to not reading every possible review but have yet to see anyone with more than family & friends as followers call out any of the many bad NAS whiskies. All I see are the usual examples of fine NAS expressions (Tun 1401, Glendronach CS, and a’bunadh).

        Bottom line. there are far more bad (or overpriced for what they offer) NAS whiskies than good ones. I also suspect that the better NAS expressions start out on the exceptional end of the scale for the initial batches but subsequent ones that actually reach punters in significant numbers aren’t so good as the early ones. I have heard some whispers of this being the case with Tun 1401 where batches 1-3 were superior to 7-9.

        1. This post is entitles ‘In Defence of NAS Whiskies’ – you won’t find any specific calling of badness here, that’s a post for another day. The lack of bad reviews, here as elsewhere is part of what I’m pointing out in the post – I haven’t written any yet as I don’t like writing about crap whisky and I’ve not wanted to spend enough time with any of them to post about them.

          As for Tun 1401, I still think that batch 5 was the best. The quality certainly doesn’t seem to be dropping from those I’ve tried.

  4. Much like Lucas’ article, I still think there’s a failure to address why these sub-standard bottles are making it on to the market in the first place. Lucas shot himself in the foot in his admission that maybe some whiskies gets a pass because they know a guy at the distillery, which sent the comments down a tangent that rather left NAS behind. No such tangent here but still no examination as to the disease these poor NAS bottlings are a symptom of. For me, it’s the triumph of the marketing dept over the voice of the guys on the producing side. It doesn’t matter in this market whether the juice is middling, the marketing guys shout that they can put it in a shiny package with a lovely wee story and it’ll shift by the container-load.

    The accountants stifled creativity in the ’80s but saved the industry from disappearing up its own fundament into more widespread insolvencies and closures; the marketeers are encouraging that fundamental journey with the result that previously iron-clad reputations are becoming rusty and stained in the eyes of the consistent market, by which I mean those that were there before the boom times and those that will remain after fashion moves on. Allow the blenders and distillers more say in what’s worth bottling and tell the marketeers to sell what they’re given and this trend could be reversed.

    1. The discussion as to why these bottles appear is another topic entirely and one which I have theories about, but no facts. A post for another day, once I have more information to hand.

    This is all about one thing – money. Both Big Whisky and the newstart distillers simply want to get their greedy paws on the dosh – now. Its called a ‘good business model’. Why wait 10, 12 or 15 years when undiscerning aficianados will drink any old crap so long as its in a funny bottle (preferably coloured), branded (preferably something pronounceable) and celebrity-endorsed (preferably David Beckham). How else are they going to satisfy the burgeoning worldwide demand for malts from brand-addicted Asians who couldn’t tell the difference between a good whisky, a bad whisky and a bottle of horse piss. There was good reason for ageing whisky beyond the statutory 3 years – it adds taste, body and distinction. Too bad the quest for a fast buck is going to destroy a once great industry. Forget quality – bring on the bean counters and marketeers…

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