A spectre is haunting the whisky world – the spectre of No Age Statement whisky.
This week seeks the introduction of a new Scotch whisky range from Highland Park, the Warrior Series for travel retail. Yet again the bottles will not carry age statements. Instead they are named after ancient Norse heroes. In the press release it says:
“The range is driven collectively by their flavour, for the first time allowing Highland Park to take the palate on a taste journey like no other.
Initially exclusive to European Travel Retail, the Warrior Series offers a spectrum of flavour grounded in Highland Park’s gently smoky but surprisingly sweet character. Beginning with lighter vanilla and citrus flavours and moving to more complex, richer and sweeter flavours, the palate experiences a full flavour journey from start to finish.
This taste journey has been achieved by increasing the quantity of European oak sherry seasoned casks as you move up the range thus delivering the distinctive Highland Park signature taste. Due to the premium nature of these specific casks, they are comparatively scarce and their contents rare.”
Reading this I felt reminded of Macallan’s revamped “1824” range. Macallan too center their new philosophy around the scarcity of sherry casks. The difference is that they have a rigorous “darker is better” approach, while the colours of the first three new Highland Parks look astonishingly similar.
Here we see the continuation of a trend that has been going on for a while. And the travel retail market seems to be a particularly popular sandbox for testing the reception of NAS whiskies. Johnnie Walker with the new Explorers’ Club, Bowmore with Springtide and 100 Proof, Auchentoshan with Springwood and Heartwood, Balvenie with the recent Triple Wood range and so on.
You read a lot about wood these days.
In a recent Pete & Jack cartoon on Whiskyfun NAS is translated with “No Aged Stock”. And this really hits the spot. What other than this can be the reason for the intruduction of more and more NAS whiskies? The global whisky market is booming, especially in Asia, and producers have a hard time to cope with rising demand. Building new distilleries like Roseisle or the new Imperial is one thing. But people want their whisky now, so the distillers have to find a way to supply them.
For decades whisky makers had been telling us “older is better”. Which is of course only a very crude approximation of reality. But in the good old days at least the price of a whisky was rather strictly correlated with its age. After all you can sell two 10 year olds in a 20 year interval, so a 20 year old has to be at least twice as expensive. Paying more for an older whisky is an acknowledgement for this logical consequence, regardless of the actual quality in the glass.
Now that time has become too precious for whisky, it is the wood that has to do the job. Focus on wood extraction over the spirit/air interaction – which is impossible to speed up – is the driving force behind most if not all of these new whisky releases. The whisky market is flooded with pseudo-mature oak extract, and all kinds of reasons are presented why the more expensive NAS whiskies have to be more expensive than the cheaper ones. Because the age has lost any relevance.
In a time when consumers demand more and more information about the ingredients for industrial food products, the whisky industry takes the exact opposite route. Instead of giving us proper information about age, colouring or chill-filtration on the label, they tell us Norse legends and fairy tales about colour.
Of course the buyers of whisky play their part too. So often I hear and read from whisky ‘connoisseurs’ that they don’t care about what’s in the bottle as long as it tastes good. I wonder if they have this philosphy also when they buy their food.