How Age Statements Are Dividing The Whisky Industry

by Oliver Klimek on September 11, 2012

When Macallan officially launched their new no-age-satement “1824 series”, this highlighted a very interesting conflict of philosophies within the whisky industry.

Spirits Business published the views of Macallan Brand Ambassador Joy Elliot exlpaining their stance.

“Age statements have made us very lazy and one-dimensional. People have different palates and can each discern different flavours. What appeals to one person may not appeal to another. Right now whisky consumers believe an 18-year old is better than a 15-year old, and a 15 better than a 12, but it’s really all down to personal taste.”

“There’s a big education job to do. We are the most modern market in terms of whisky, but we’ve still got a long way to go. An age statement doesn’t give you any clues as to quality, but this [The Macallan 1824 Series] is one of the ways around it.”

This is in harsh contrast to the viewpoint of another industry great. Chivas have been running their “Age Matters” consumer education campaign for two years now, and they are stating:

“The aim of the campaign is to enable consumers to understand fully the age statement and to appreciate the value of the premium product they are purchasing.” (Press release)

“In an age when consumers of luxury goods increasingly demand transparency and authenticity from brands, it is vital that we empower consumers with knowledge, so that they fully understand the value of what they are buying.” (Christian Porta, CEO)

Macallan has now essentially swapped age for color as an indicator of quality, but isn’t this just as questionable? And with their popular Aberlour A’bunadh, Chivas have a very prominent example of a NAS bottle of (usually) very high quality in their portfolio.

The truth certainly lies somewhere in between those extremes. It is true that older does not automatically mean better. But the choice to go NAS opens up the possibility to use cheaper young whisky without having to reflect this in the retail price.

One thing is very striking to me. The older a whisky actually is, the more its age seems to matter. Macallan only replaces their 10 to 17 year old expressions with NAS bottlings. Why not the famous 18 and 25 year olds? If age did not matter at all, they could have got rid of those as well.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Tim F September 11, 2012 at 6:36 pm

I am also writing a blog about this Oli :) Great topic.

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John W September 13, 2012 at 6:26 am

This debate is heating up nicely again:
http://www.thespiritsbusiness.com/2012/09/ditching-age-statements-may-damage-spirits-industry/

Joy Spence hits it on the head with this line:
“That’s because they don’t have the stocks, so it’s worth their while talking about how ageing doesn’t matter. Someone had to have had the foresight to lay down that stock 50 years ago – there’s no shortcut.”

I find Macallan’s latest antics particularly hilarious as they have built up a cult around extremely old whiskies or, for example, a slavish following of the 18yo sherry-wood. Is Macallan trying to become more hip or “in” with the iphone crowd? Not to mention that its stable-mate Highland Park put a huge effort in building/maintaining a whisky line-up with a 12, 18, 21, 25, 30 and 40yo age statement whiskies. I guess Highland Park just got a bit lazy lately…….. Someone mentioned somewhere that they dare Macallan to drop ALL age statements if they’re sincere; great way to show the hypocrisy of their latest PR swill.

NAS whiskies are a refreshing part of the SMW industry–fine if Macallan want to introduce some; but please let’s not denigrate age statements all together as a cover for inadequate stocks. In fact, some distillers could use some more: when is Ardbeg going to introduce its 15-18yo?

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Oliver Klimek September 13, 2012 at 7:06 am

I quite agree with you. Speaking of the iPhone crowd, first thing Macallan did on their Facebook page was introducing a cocktail with the ‘Gold’.

And I have to say that this new colour ‘philosphpy’ is very daring as well, to put it mildly. We all know that there can be 5 yo whiskies as dark as a 50 yo first fill sherry. And all those pale old refill Bourbon Port Ellens and Broras certainly are not ‘entry level’ malts. Reducing colour to an indicator of the degree of maturation is ridiculous and misleading.

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John W September 13, 2012 at 9:25 am

Ha, ha, ha. Yes, the issue of colouring is perhaps an even bigger can of worms opened! How do we (or the public) handle all the finishing, re-racking, E150 (a, b or d) in trying to assess a whisky? What about whisky in coloured glass?? Some of the most respected master blenders use tinted copitas precisely not to be distracted by colour. Anyway, this is well trodden terrain……let’s see what happens next.

The main positive thing that caught my eye in the Macallan piece is their pride of not adding “unnatural colouring” to their whiskies, which is again re-assuring (and then seems to imply it is the Edrington policy) after recalling some rather painful discussion on the topic going back as far as 2002 in the whiskymag forums (never mind that some suspicion lingers, see, for example, JM’s 2012 bible note on the Sherry Oak 18 years). This IS something some of the other big players would be wise to copy.

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kallaskander September 13, 2012 at 1:46 pm

Hi there,

what is striking in the case of Macallan is that they seem to skip the younger Fine Oak expressions without a further word. If you think how they sold the Fine Oak range to the public and all the fuss and stirr this range caused you wonder why it is back to sherry matured bottlings again.

Of course is skipping age statements all about flexibility. It gives Macallan the means to sell their Ruby (darkest = oldest) with a core of the vatting that is only 5 years old. Take 50-60% 5yo first fill oloroso casks and throw in some 15-20yo first fill oloroso casks and top up with second fills and third fills sherry casks – et voila Ruby is the colour!
Age does not matter.

They seem to have dire forebodings themselves when they emphasise that it is back to pure sherry maturation again – and no colour added. For that they deserve to be praised.
But who is to believe the new 1824 series is for the benefit of whisky buyers or drinkers?

Never forget that the Fine Oak range came into existence because Macallan became a victim of their own success – and marketing! So much was the Rolls Royce of single malts in demand that you had to wait just too long for it to be delivered to all markets in time.
The answer was the Fine Oak range, Macallan for all and in time but with little changes but only another motor gearbox chassis design and in other colours. Part of the answer was to extend distillation capacity to about 10 million litres a year as well.

Was it a good answer? Did it work out? Anyway, is the 1824 colour coded range a better answer? Will it be better received on the customer side? Will it stirr the same buzz and fuss?
We are on the way…

As to Edrington and E150. With the new bottles for Highland Park – I mean the lateast model still in circulation – they stopped colouring the 12yo which was the last with artificial colour in the range.
So I do believe that Edrington has seen the light in some of their offerings and skipped colouring.

Greetings
kallaskander

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kallaskander September 14, 2012 at 1:19 pm

Hi there,

in another place

http://whiskyforeveryone.blogspot.de/2012/09/the-macallan-1824-series.html

there is some background given.

“An age statement can be inhibiting, but with the new range he has more freedom to produce the whiskies that he wants to. He can now use whiskies of different ages and from different casks to create the colour and flavour profile required.”

“His main point was that every cask matures a whisky in a different way and some young whiskies can be very dark in colour, while some can be lighter but older. In a nut shell – colour does not necessarily represent age.”

But most estonishing:
“These age statements are being phased out and the move covers both the classic Sherry Oak and Fine Oak ranges, including everything from 10-17 years old. Therefore in the markets where the 1824 Series is being introduced (such as Africa, Europe, Latin America and the UK), the youngest Macallan that you will be able to buy carrying an age statement will be the 18 years old. All other markets, such as south east Asia, Russia and the USA, will retain the age statement range.”

Sounds like Macallan want to join the ranks and file of designed whiskies the likes of the Glenmorangie Extra Matured Range.

Greetings
kllaskander

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Oliver Klimek September 14, 2012 at 1:45 pm

I have already reported about the introduction of this series here:

http://www.dramming.com/2012/06/27/macallan-revamps-basic-range-to-nas/

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Jim Walton September 28, 2012 at 4:28 pm

I found another article that provided good background on The Macallan aging statement controversy, and not only that. They also pointed out there is a parallel fight going on over small barrel aging in the United States.

http://whiskeyreviewer.com/2012/09/whiskey-around-the-world-rife-with-contention-over-age/

They also had an interview with a Macallan guy in the US:

http://whiskeyreviewer.com/2012/09/interview-with-macallan-brand-ambassador-charlie-whitfield/

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Jeff March 30, 2013 at 6:21 pm

“But the choice to go NAS opens up the possibility to use cheaper young whisky without having to reflect this in the retail price.” – Bingo and ’nuff said, because this is what it’s all about. Macallan and others will always try to sell me young, substandard stuff if they can get away with it, establishing “label brands” which, as has been pointed out, can have their contents change without notice. Yet I’ll ALWAYS pay more for an 18 than for a 15 than for a 12. Age doesn’t matter – except at the checkout.

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Dwight April 9, 2014 at 1:07 pm

For me, this is a simple matter. It would never happen in any other industry. For example, the Vintage Wine, Antique, or Classic Car industry, age does matter. Sure, you can buy “distressed” furniture (at half the cost) that makes something new look old, but it only “looks” old. It’s an illusion. It is not a quality product that has endured the test of time.

I find it offensive Macallan, and all the other pundits, feel like they can issue statements in such a condescending manner. I, like the majority of Single Malt Scotch drinkers, am not an idiot. If you want to appeal to the iPod generation, come out with an iPod line. Don’t try and hoodwink us into thinking you’re putting out a quality product that has been looked after for 10 to 15 years. Taking 3 to 5 year old whisky and vatting it with older whisky is simply “distressing” the whisky to make it look and taste old. If you sell it for £15-£20, fine. But don’t tout it as Vintage, Classic, or Aged Single Malt Scotch.

Let me decide if i want to buy a bottle of Macallan. Bottom line, If it’s as good as you say it is, people will buy it. I agree with Jeff, Price point is truth in this matter.
NAS Macallan = £35 – £40
Macallan 5yo. = £15 – £20

Put lipstick and a pretty dress on a pig, guess what, it’s still a pig at the end of the day. Doesn’t make me love bacon any less.

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