Thank you for being honest, Dr. Lumsden

by Oliver Klimek on July 9, 2014

Yesterday the Spirits Business website published a highly interesting article with statements by LVMH’s “head of whisky creation” Dr. Bill Lumsden about the future of NAS whisky, predicting that it would go on to dominate the Scotch market in the future. Nothing he said was really new, but the way he said it is – at least to me – a remarkable shift from the whisky industry’s previous line of argumentation.

Just about every new bottling of No Age Statement Scotch in recent years was described as being born out of the intention to create a particular flavour profile without being restricted by a minimum age for selecting the appropriate casks. Sometimes it worked, sometimes it didn’t. It was an open secret, though, that the pressure on aged stocks caused by rising global demand for Scotch whisky was  – to put it mildly – also a part of the equation.

The mantra of needing to get rid of the handcuffs, ball and chain of age statements for the sake of making better whisky was gladly picked up by the largest part of the community of professional whisky writers whose reviews all too often were not much more than a regurgitation of the press releases with the addition of an approving nod.

In the Spirits Business article Dr. Bill now gets down to business. The first thing we read is that between 2007 and 2012 the stocks of whisky older than 9 years had fallen by more than 25% across the Scotch whisky industry. Now this is an impressive number, the total loss of value should be quite a few millions here. And since this is only an average value, there are bound to be some producers whose inventories have suffered an even bigger blow.

It is only understandable that the whisky industry is trying to counter this. The last years have been full of whisky releases that were in some kind “experimental” with a multitude of cask finishes. But we really should move on now to call them what they really are: methods to bring more flavour into the whisky in less time.

I don’t know if it is the first time ever a senior official of the whisky industry has been so open about the reasons for the NAS whisky trend. But I do find it quite striking that these words come from a man who can be regarded as the pioneer of ‘woodworking’ in Scotch whisky, Dr. Bill Lumsden.

Naturally he also mentions the increased flexibility that comes with NAS. There is no denying that this can actually help a blender. But with the way he said it there is no doubt anymore about what is cause and what is effect.

Thank you, Dr. Lumsden. Honesty is always appreciated, in the whisky business and elsewhere.

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Jordan July 9, 2014 at 6:58 pm

The funny thing is that none of them are talking about trying to bring back production methods that might actually allow them to create more flavorful malts at a younger age by starting with more complex spirit off of the still. But that would require them to give up some of their spirit yield and accept more variation.

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kallaskander July 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm

Hi there,

interesting piece of work

http://www.allthingswhisky.com/?p=2356

with interesting comments.

I could live with a chart that gives the percentages of all whiskies used and all true ages of the whiskies used for NAS bottlings.

It would tell us how much mature stuff at which grade of maturity was needed to make the 3-5 yo core malts in any given NAS bottling palatable. That would end the (neccessary) dishonest fakery of NAS malts by infusion with malts old enough to drink.
Am I a malt snob because I want to know what I drink and what I pay for? You bet!

Greetings
kallaskander

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Jeff July 15, 2014 at 10:57 pm

“I don’t know if it is the first time ever a senior official of the whisky industry has been so open about the reasons for the NAS whisky trend.” – I honestly don’t know if he IS being open about it. It’s true that aged stock is declining, but the “using young whisk(e)y by necessity argument” also dovetails neatly with the “hey, if we withhold the age, we can make a financial killing by filling these bottles with undisclosed amounts of immature spirit that we couldn’t otherwise sell at premium prices except to the thoroughly brainwashed” reality.

The assumption of honesty from Bill Lumsden here flies in the face of the very strong possibility (and proven past track record) that, if it’s coming as an official statement from a major producer, it’s just what that major producer wants you to think REGARDLESS of the truth (see current industry backpedaling on what it previously said about the importance of age – NOW that a lot of the old stuff is gone).

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