Is a whisky’s age just a number?

With the ever-changing landscape of whiskies available on the market, whisky specialist Graeme Maxwell takes a look at ‘No age statement whiskies’. 

When pondering their next purchase, most seasoned whisky collectors and drinkers are used to judging a whisky by its age, assuming the older the better, but with the increased global demand for Scotch whisky, many producers are making the move to ‘No age statement’ (NAS) releases. So what effect does this have on the liquid we buy and drink, and should we be overlooking these NAS whiskies for those that promise a level of maturity?

Over the past 10 years there has been a switch in focus when it comes to marketing from many whisky companies, from ‘age = quality’, to ‘age is just a number’. 

When a whisky has an age statement on the bottle, this refers to the youngest spirit in the bottle, so if it claims to be 10 years old, it could have 12, 13 or even 18-year-old whiskies in the bottle, but it will never have a drop of anything younger than ten. By not putting an age statement on the bottle, the whisky could potentially be as young as three years old, which is why a number of enthusiasts are critical of the raft of new NAS whiskies. 

One of the most high profile transformations is that of Macallan, who have put their age statements on the backburner, and now focus on the ‘1824’ range, which is made up of the Gold, Amber, Sienna and Ruby. These bottlings do not possess an age statement, and are named after the colour of the whisky. The belief by some producers is that by discarding the age statement, they are free from the shackles of constrictive ages, can pick and choose whichever casks they believe to benefit the desired flavour profile, and bring balance to the whisky. So NAS does not necessarily indicate lower quality or younger whisky.

NAS whiskies are nothing new. Dalmore has the King Alexander III, Auchentoshan have been producing the excellent ‘3 Wood’ for many years, and the Glenmorangie Signet won Whisky of the Year at the International Whisky Competition in 2016. These whiskies are excellent examples of cask management and selection to bring some excellent whiskies to consumers without relying on an age.

Whilst many will always look for the quality assurance of an age statement, they will be missing out on some real gems without an age. And of course whisky, like any food or drink, is very much one’s personal taste, and each and every whisky is on the shelf because someone, somewhere emjoys it.

McTear’s sells more whisky than any other traditional auction house in the dedicated whisky auctions that take place monthly, run concurrently live online on a platform that attracts six million visitors annually from over 120 countries worldwide.


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