Whisky comes in all blends, tastes and, of course, ages, but what exactly do the age statements on whisky mean and does a higher age statement mean a better whisky?
In this blog, we are going to be delving into all your burning questions about age statements, discovering the secrets behind a whisky age statement, why they are included and if they really matter.
Age Statement Whisky
What is an age statement in whisky?
A whisky age statement refers to the number of years a whisky is matured in casks. If an age statement is shown, it refers to the youngest whisky in the bottle.
Whisky must legally be at least 3 years and a day old before being bottled, but many distilleries will mature for a lot longer than this, and there is no limit to the number of years they can wait.
Why do people care about age statements?
Many people believe that whiskies that have an age statement, especially a high one, have more prestige than younger whiskies.
Some people also believe they have more complex flavours.
Neither of these beliefs are wrong, but they also aren’t always right.
Some young whiskies carry barrels of flavour, despite being bottled as soon as it legally could be, and some whiskies that have been aged for a very long time, lack body and the punchiness you would expect.
Age statements within a brand also suggest a direct comparison is possible and that by plumbing the 18, 21, and 25 year old, you would be able to tell the difference between these and the 12 year old, the cask make up can also be different meaning that the flavours you are tasting won’t simply be due to a difference in age, so it can be a minefield!
How does whisky age?
At the end of the distillation process, you are left with what people refer to as white spirit.
Once the new make spirit is placed in the barrel, it is then stored in a bonded warehouse, where the barrels are then left to work their magic.
The white spirit soaks in the flavours and colour of its barrel home and is only opened to taste test the spirit inside so the head distiller can decide when it’s aged enough to be bottled.
This aging process helps to give the whisky the best flavour, body and colour possible.
Does whisky age in the bottle?
The simple answer to this is no, once whisky is in the bottle it won’t change much, if at all.
Once opened, there might be some changes to the taste as the liquid reacts with the air that can get into the bottle.
Non Age Statement (NAS) Whisky
What is non-age statement whisky?
A non-age statement whisky (NAS) is a whisky that has not had it’s age declared on the label. This means that the only thing you can guarantee about it’s age is that it’s at least 3 years and a day.
Why do distilleries release non-age statement whisky?
For some newer, younger distilleries, they may not want, or be able, to leave their whisky for 10 years; they also may not want to put a low age statement on their whisky as it wouldn’t add anything to the release.
For some older, more established distilleries, it may give them the freedom to play around with flavours and casks, without having to wait until a defined aged before releasing.
Are non-age statement whiskies worth buying?
Casks are like teabags… hear us out…
Every time a cask is used, it results in less colour and flavour being transferred to the liquid inside, much like a teabag if used for a second time.
Therefore, there exists a trade off between time spent in wood to help mature spirit and too long in first fill barrels that may result in the wood overpowering the subtle, more nuanced spirit.
Some new distilleries claim that first fill barrels exhibit a peak in maturation of around 7 years, with refill barrels potentially offering more than 20 years.
That’s not to say that you can’t mature beyond 7 years in a first fill barrel, but the spirit can take second place to the wood and its previous contents.
Is there a correlation between age and quality?
For existing distilleries, their ability to produce or introduce high age statement release, they view as a sign of prestige.
For new or young distilleries, many of them discuss that decision today will affect stock levels, and therefore flavour profiles, of future 15, 20 and 25 year old age statement whiskies.
Every distillery speaks of the finest quality ingredients, attention to detail and care in production, so to be able to carry that through to a 30, 40 year old whisky, it has to be argued that this is a sign of quality.
However, that doesn’t mean that only high, often prohibitively expensive, age statement should be considered as high quality, as one thing is certain, there are some unbelievable whiskies across the non age statement, age statement, blend and grain spectrum.
At the end of the day, it all comes down to your personal taste, preferences and what you enjoy drinking.
So, do age statements matter? The short answer is: it depends.
Age statements can be a good indicator of the quality of a whisky, but they are not the only factor to consider.
There are many great NAS whiskies on the market, and some older whiskies can be disappointing.
Ultimately, the best way to choose a whisky is to taste it yourself - if you find a whisky that you enjoy, regardless of its age statement, then that is the best whisky for you.
Here at Fib Whisky, we pride ourselves on putting as much information as possible on our bottles to ensure you know exactly what you're drinking.... so no 'fibs' here ;)
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