One one the most interesting trends in the whisky business lately has been the reversal of the long staying “Older is better” dogma that has been burnt into the collective minds of whisky drinkers for decades by marketing and advertising.
NAS whisky is the way to go these days, and the whisky companies go to great lengths in trying to explain that in fact age is not really that important at all and that making excellent whisky is just a matter of the master blender being able to pick the very best casks from the stock without having to worry about a low age statement thay may put off potential buyers.
Of course we know that truth is hidden somewhere in between. An awful lot as been written about this which I don’t really fancy regurgitating. But is there a way to see at all how the quality of a whisky is correlated to its age? And while we are at it, also to its price?
The closest I have come to solve this riddle is by looking at the results of the recent Malt Maniacs Awards. A substantial number of whiskies have been tasted blind by a panel of nine experienced judges here. This gives us a good chunk of data to chew on. With a bit of spreadsheet magic it is possible to group the results into age and price brackets to see if there are any correlations.
I have used the entire results including those whiskies that did not win a medal. But as the only interest here are averages, the Malt Maniacs policy of not disclosing non-winning entries is not violated.
When it comes to the influence of age, the place of maturation is of course an imortant parameter. Whisky from Taiwan and India for example needs much less time in the cask then Scotch. Since Scotch whisky makes up the bulk of sumbitted bottles, I have restricted the age analysis to these.
The result is indeed quite interesting:
- There were a few very young bottles that did exceptionally well. On one hand this proves that young whisky really can be excellent. But of course these whiskies were specially selected because they are so good, and such young bottlings of known age are very far in between. So the results for these exceptional bottlings shold be regarded as what they are – exceptions.
- The vast majority of Scotch whisky bottlings is ten years or older. And here we can indeed see an upward trend with age, but on average it is really only a couple of points.
- Very old whiskies are not necessarily better than younger ones. It is not safe to assume that a whisky of 30 or more years just must be magnificent.
- It should also be noted that the average score of Scotch whiskies in all brackets between 10 to 29 years is below the silver medal level of 85 points. Even though your chances of getting a really good whisky increase with age, it is by far not a given.
The price of whisky has risen enormously in the last few years. So for more and more people it is important to make sure that the money they shell out for a bottle of whisky is well spent. Here are the average scores of all whiskies of the 2014 Malt Maniacs Awards grouped into price brackets. By the way, two thirds of the bottles were priced below €120.
- Again there is an upward trend at the beginning of the price scale, but once more by only a few points.
- Silver medal level on average is only reached beyond a bottle price of €140.
- Even very high prices of €200 or more don’t guarantee a cracking dram, some may even be disappointing given the price paid for them.
For the sake of a better comparision with the above age statement chart, here are the results for Scotch whisky only which do not look very different:
It would of course also be interesting to look at NAS Scotch whisky only. Here is a chart by price brackets, but the number of sumbitted bottles was not really sufficient for a proper comparison with age statement bottles. But we can see a similar trend as in the other charts.
The most important result of this analysis, at least for me, is that neither very old nor very expensive whisky can save you from disappointments. Logically this is also because there is an obvious connection between the age of a whisky and its price. And to put it the other way around: If you are on a budget, then you don’t really need to worry about not being able to afford all those expensive bottles. The whisky you can buy for much less is not much worse and may even be better.