Age Statements Aren’t Going Anywhere

April 1, 2016

The increased prevalence of No Age Statement whisky has garnered plenty of attention, and rightfully so these days. NAS whisky isn’t a new phenomena, but more drama is unfolding and the momentum in that direction is continuing to build.

While talk of NAS whisky originally started in the Scotch sphere, in the past year or two the story has unfolded across both the bourbon and Japanese whisky landscapes, before coming full circle with more dire reports of disappearing age statements on an ever-increasing number of Scotch whiskies. (Goodbye, Laphroaig 18!) Yet, Scotch age statements aren’t dead, and some of the largest players have even unveiled new age-specific releases for their lineups.

New age statements are coming to market

Last fall, Glenfiddich released a wonderful new age-specific single malt to its core range, the Glenfiddich 14 Year Bourbon Barrel Reserve. It’s a U.S. exclusive product, and it’s a beautiful dram which finishes its aging process in new charred American oak barrels from Kelvin Cooperage after spending an initial 14 years in more typical used bourbon casks.

It joins an age-specific lineup which also includes Glendfiddich 12, 15, 18 and 21. Elsewhere in the William Grant & Sons family, while the Balvenie releases limited runs such as 2015’s delightful Tun 1509 Batch 2, the core of their lineup remains age-specific as well, whether it’s the DoubleWood 12 or 17, Caribbean Cask 14, or their single barrel releases.

Back to Glenfiddich 14, beyond the unique finish in new charred barrels, what’s interesting there is its exclusivity to the States (Go ‘Merica!). The U.S. standing as the exclusive home to an age-specific release is in line with what another major player is offering, the Macallan.

How has Macallan dealt with the problem?

Across the globe, the Macallan drinkers have been forced to adapt to an altered lineup known as the 1824 Series. These expressions are referenced by color rather than age, e.g., the Macallan Amber or the Macallan Ruby, along with Sienna and Gold.

Here in the U.S. though, the brand continues to sell its classic lineup, whether it’s the Macallan 12 or Macallan 18 in the Sherry Oak series, or the Fine Oak lineup, such as the Macallan 10 or the Macallan 15. All talk from the Macallan indicates that they don’t plan to change that, either, based on American consumers and our preferences both for familiarity, and the questionably accurate comfort of deriving quality assumptions based on age labels.

Age statements in other single malts

Other single malt brands are coming out swinging with more age-specific releases, perhaps looking to capitalize on the dwindling offerings from competitors. For instance, The Deveron debuted 12 year and 18 year single malts last fall in a number of global markets, along with a 10 year, which was specific to France.

This all follows Bacardi’s big push at the end of 2014, moving into 2015, to release and/or revitalize a line of five single malts they dubbed the “Last Great Malts”. These were unveiled with staggered release dates, culminating with the new offerings from The Deveron, and an entirely age-specific lineup of expressions.

“We have been patiently reserving casks and we are now ready to share the five distinguished malts with whisky lovers around the world – each release features an age statement,” said Stephen Marshall, Bacardi’s head of global marketing for single malts, in an official statement when plans for the Last Great Malts lineup were announced.

In addition to The Deveron, that also included Aberfeldy 12 and 21, Aultmore 12 and 18, Craigellachie 13 and 23, and Royal Brackla 12, 16 and 21. On top of all of that, there were several further Travel Retail exclusive or limited-run releases. As more rumors have churned in recent months of the demise of all things related to age-specific Scotch whisky, Bacardi sent out a reminder that they remain firmly in the opposite direction with all of those offerings.

The return of Johnnie Walker Green Label

Last but not least, one of the biggest recent pieces of news in relation to Scotch age statements was that Diageo was bringing back Johnnie Walker Green Label, complete with its 15 year age statement. This comes after Green Label was removed from the brand’s lineup in 2012.

Since that initial news broke, there has been some confusion as to whether or not this would be a full comeback, or a limited edition release. In this story, Dr. Nick Morgan, head of whisky outreach at Diageo is quoted as saying:

“Johnnie Walker Green Label has always had a following, and releasing limited volumes of it in the US and Australia this year to mark the 10th anniversary of its first introduction has revealed how much consumers have missed Johnnie Walker Green Label and want to see it back. We’re thrilled to be able to respond to that.”

The same story cites that the Green Label is currently available for sale in the UK with “global availability to follow”. That seems to set the record partially straight, although it’s unclear whether or not global availability will also be on a limited basis, or whether it’s here to stay. [Distiller is still waiting for official response to the above inquiries from company reps]. Either way, right now Green Label absolutely is on store shelves, so if it’s going into hibernation or extinction once again, you’ll want to snag a few bottles before it does.

Yes, Scotch age statements are disappearing from many big brands and favorite labels, and yes, that’s going to continue to happen. But other producers are ramping up and offering new age-specific releases, and standing behind their capability to continue churning it out. It may be easy to go into whisky panic mode, but by and large, there’s no need.

If you’re looking for a solid age statement whisky…

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