No Age statement or NAS whiskies are on the rise. After reading an article recently by Mens Journal entitled End Times for Aged Whisky? shared on Twitter by @the_whisky_lady I decided to throw down my thoughts on the matter.
First a quick look at what age statements mean. When you display the age of a whisky on the bottle it must show the age of the youngest whisky it contains. If you’re new to whisky this may be slightly confusing as there is a misconception that single malt means the whisky has come from a single barrel, aged for X number of years until it is ready to be bottled. This isn’t the case. A single malt just means that the mix of whisky used to create the single malt has all come from one distillery – while a blended whisky contains whisky from a range of distilleries. So a single malt aged 12 years may actually contain whisky which has been aged 25 years or even 50 years. You won’t know this though as they have to display the age of the youngest whisky in the mix – not the oldest.
So why has NAS suddenly become so popular? The first reason is that distilleries are struggling slightly to meet the high demand for whisky. The whisky industry has seen a boom in recent years with more and more people drinking whisky and more and more countries throwing their whiskies into the mix. Does this mean aged whiskies are going to disappear? Of course not – they just take time to make and currently demand is putting pressure on supply. It will ease though in time – many distilleries are in the process of, or already have, expanded their production. There is also the possibility that the current trend for whisky will wane over time.
The second reason for the popularity of NAS is that a younger generation has found a love of whisky and this is affecting the market; not just in terms of demand. The younger generation want something new, something different, something edgy. While aged whiskies hark back to a different time; they imply elegance, patience and respect. But they are also, to a degree seen as outdated. NAS allows distilleries to experiment, to try something new, which is what the younger generation are looking for. The cynic in me would even say that the unusual names and flashy packaging which NAS allows for (or even necessitates) is enough to sate the desire for something different and new.
“Necessity is the mother of invention” and currently there is a necessity for NAS, whether this has come about because of a strain on supplies or a demand for something different. In my opinion the rise in NAS is a good thing. If we get stuck in a trend for too long we can stagnate and I feel that this is precisely what happened with aged whiskies. There came about this belief that the older the whisky the better it is but this isn’t always the case. NAS is allowing for some really rather special whiskies to be produced. At the same time I’m sure there are some not so special NAS whiskies being produced.
Age will always have it’s place and I certainly don’t think that NAS should supplant that. NAS should instead be seen as another string to the whisky bow, a chance to try something different, experiment a little (or a lot) and breath some new life into the spirit. It will take some time for those stuck in their ways to accept NAS but the times they are a changin’ and if you don’t embrace that change then you’ll end up as a dying breed. On the other hand those shouting “all hail NAS” must not forget where NAS came from and what goes into it – just because it doesn’t have an age statement on the bottle doesn’t mean it doesn’t contain some well aged whiskies!