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 an 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 which 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 which 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.
Value: Picked up for £20 in my local supermarket, Legacy shows that bargains can still be had in the world of NAS whisky. There may not be a wealth of information provided, but its low price made it worthy of a stab in the dark and I have not been left too disappointed.
Total: 38 / 50
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