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Over the years, Scotch whisky has become known for the age statement it proudly carries on its label. In recent times however, there has been a trend towards ‘NAS’ (no age statement) expressions, leaving many to question the liquid inside the bottle they are buying.
The age stated on a bottle of whisky represents the minimum length of maturation imposed upon the spirit making up that particular batch. So a whisky which states ’10 years old’ must have been aged for at least 10 years in oak casks before bottling. The batch could, in theory, contain older whisky but the label must state only the youngest spirit used. For years this practice stood as a guarantee to consumers that the bottle they paid their hard-earned money for had been painstakingly looked after and released only when the spirit had reached full maturity. A prominent shift towards NAS bottlings, therefore, has been met with no small degree of cynicism, with many consumers left feeling that distillers are trying to pull the wool over their eyes.
Of course, there is nothing to say that a NAS bottling can’t have 10 or 12-year-old whisky in it, but it seems likely that most, if not all of them, have a quantity of significantly younger spirit in the blend, otherwise, why remove the age statement? And so it seems to all intents and purposes that distillers wish to sell us younger whisky, without necessarily being completely honest about what they are doing.
The whisky industry has no one to blame but itself for much of the criticism that has come its way. For decades now, single malt has been marketed under the terms that older equals more expensive. This understanding was so widespread that even the casual shopper is left wondering why they are now being asked to pay more for what is essentially a younger product.
Personally, I’m a little more open-minded on the issue. There are some really outstanding whiskies out there that carry no statement and age, after all, is no guarantee of quality. It is, in fact, just one indicator of what we can expect from our dram. Other factors play just as significant a role. For example, what did the casks used in maturation previously hold? Bourbon, Sherry, Port, Red Wine? How many times had they been used prior to this batch? What is the bottling strength? Has the spirit been chill-filtered prior to bottling? All these factors help us to build up a picture of the liquid inside the bottle, so as long as some additional information is present and correct, I for one can forgive the lack of an age statement. Should there be a general lack of such information, however, I am more than likely to pass on a bottle for the simple reason that the distiller has made no effort to inform my purchase.
Ardmore Legacy is one such NAS bottling. Bottled at a lowly 40% alcohol by volume, it is a regular fixture in UK supermarket sales, often available for as little as £20 a bottle. The label explains that the malt was created by marrying both peated and unpeated spirit and its relatively light hue tells me that colouring has been used sparingly, if at all.
Smell: Toffee and Butterscotch with Vanilla, Cinnamon and Peat Smoke.
Taste: Vanilla, Orange and Barbecued Meats with Pepper and Smoke.
Thoughts: I picked this bottle up for £20 in my local supermarket so there wasn’t much at stake if it turned out to be rubbish. I can honestly say I wasn’t too disappointed though. For a remarkably low price I got a reasonable amount of flavour, helped, no doubt, by the peated barley. Peated whisky just tends to do better at young ages and the smoke adds an extra layer of flavour, even when diluted to 40%. The Ardmore Legacy isn’t a classic and I don’t think it lives up the Traditional Cask bottling it replaced, but for its low price it’s a decent buy. Bargains can still be found in the inflated pricing of NAS whisky, it seems.
*If the whisky reviewed in this article has caught your eye, you can buy it from Master of Malt here. Please be aware that as an affiliate I can be paid a small commission on any purchases you make after following links from my page. The whisky is also available from several other excellent retailers.