Earlier this week I was invited to a rather special launch of a new blended whisky (blasphemy!) and inevitably enjoyed a few drams among some great company. One of the fine gentlemen I had the chance to catch up again with was the Marketing Director for this whisky powerhouse brand and he started up a conversation about the progression of the whisky industry, age statements (always a hotly contested topic) and brand ‘authenticity’ in the market. For some people this kind of chatter could be enough to make you want to watch paint dry instead, but for me this is the kind of top-spirits conversation that gets my ear up and always keen to learn more. For those in the paint-drying category, probably best to stop here.
The whisky, or I really should say ‘spirits’, industry (a word I already write with caution as it’s often devoid of much meaning in itself) is an evolving beast. It moves, shifts, evolves, progresses and adapts. Individual tastes change over a medium-term, collective tastes change over a longer term, and within 12 months the entire spirits world can be in a totally different place. Without blowing my own trumpet (pun intended), that’s where I come in and help guide the Society in Australia with that shape and evolution as bottlings change, events change, and we seem to be enjoying an increasingly younger demographic of members who are getting into the category earlier. That’s not just members coming in earlier however and if you’ve kept a keen on eye on what we’ve released this year, some of the bottlings we’ve released have also been quite young and incredibly complex and diverse. In the past 12 months or so we’ve released a bottling that was 2 years old (B3.3) and a bottling that was 38 years old (G1.14) and everything in between. We’re seeing much more diversity of single cask spirits, not just whisky, which just deepens the rich appreciation for how unique a single cask can truly be. Bourbons, Scotch malt whisky, Welsh whisky, Japanese whisky, Rums, Cognacs, Armagnacs, and in the December Outturn something truly special that will make up the last remaining dark spirit category we’ve ever bottled.
I for one think this is simply fantastic as a member to have such diverse access to so many types of incredible single cask spirits that go through some of the most rigorous panel approval anywhere in the world.
So then at this event we start talking about age statement and how it’s disappearing from many contemporary bottlings of commercial whisky. I have nothing inherently against No Age Statement whisky (NAS), but with that in mind, I’ve never picked up a bottle of NAS whisky and said “Gee I’m glad they DIDN’T tell us the age of what’s in the bottle!”. Simply put, in my humble opinion, how long a whisky is aged for is largely unimportant as a piece of information, but it’s not irrelevant. As I’ve said before, I’ve had some absolutely stunning 4 year old whisky, and some really shockingly bad 50 year old whisky and visa-versa: age is not a guarantee of quality. It is however an important key to the overall transparency of what’s in the bottle. You’ll notice that whether a Society cask is 2 years old or 50 years old, we ALWAYS put an age statement on the bottle in an effort to be always as transparent as possible. When you’re spending money on a single cask, it’s nice knowing the provenance and what is exactly in the bottle.
We also always have: the country of origin, the distillery and cask code, the cask type and what it held prior if anything, the condensed tasting notes, the name of the whisky, the date it was distilled, and the number of bottles yielded from the cask. We still don’t put the distillery name itself on the bottle, but given how a lot of the time we’re releasing casks from popular distilleries in unusual casks (Cragganmore from ex-Sauternes, Penderyn from ex-Madeira etc) then knowing the distillery wouldn’t have made much difference. As I like to say: Judge on flavour, not on name.
I guess this is what we meant in that chat about brand authenticity. I’ve always viewed the Society as the ultimate exploration of flavour without any of the gimmick or unnecessary bling that some bottles seem to carry. The focus is on the spirit, the flavour, and the members like yourselves who made up the community of single cask lovers.
So in closing, I would say keep an open mind, follow your nose, and have a great festive season of dramming ahead!