Man at His Best

Opinion: Age Statements On Whisky Still Matter

They may not guarantee quality, but they still matter.

BY Patrick Chew | Jul 1, 2016 | Food & Drink

It’s come to a point where the world is consuming whisky faster than it can produce it. Whisky drinkers can be rather snobbish, picky, and real sticklers for consistency in colour and flavour profile. Now add impatient to that list of attributes (whisky drinkers want, nay, need their whisky, and they need it now) and you start to see why whisky distillers and master blenders all over the world were freaking out.

That’s when they decided to replace the numbers on their bottle labels with catchy names while slapping great stories and even greater price tags on them. No-age statement whisky was born, and a seemingly impossible problem was solved. 

Brands started to reverse the tune the entire whisky industry had been singing for decades. Ask any distiller or brand ambassador today and you’ll get variations of, “Age statements aren’t a reflection of quality”, “It doesn’t matter how old your whisky is, what’s important is cask management”, and “No-age statement whisky removes restrictions and allows a master blender greater freedom to play with a wider range of whisky for more depth of flavours”. 

But what no-age statement whisky really means to them is less waiting time and higher turnovers. Stock profiles don’t have to spend decades in a warehouse before being bottled anymore. They can be taken out after five years and blended with some older liquids, and sold at 12- or 18-year-old prices. No-age statement whisky is a win-win—it makes producers more money and keeps drinkers hydrated. A swan song of an era and a cue for everyone else to start abusing this newfound cash cow. 

The reason no-age statement whisky, as a concept, has worked so well is because whisky drinkers, all said and done, are curious beings who are more than willing to try new expressions, and eventually keep drinking them as long as they taste good. 

So if age statements can’t guarantee quality, why then do they still matter? Two words: brand equity. A distillery builds its identity through its core range. Mention a brand like The Glenlivet to anyone and immediately tropical fruitiness, toffee and vanilla notes and an intense spicy finish come to mind. 

It is a perception that the brand took years to build and it will not do them any good to forgo it. So while the range of many brands’ offerings are widening by the day, you can be sure that age statements will always remain a priority. 

For consumers, it all comes down to romance, something that drew them into whisky in the first place. All that talk about the romance of angel’s share, seasonal changes and being lost in some dark, cold corner of a quiet warehouse that used to be echoed throughout the industry still holds true. 

At the end of the day, the “18” on a bottle of The Glenlivet isn’t a guarantee that you’d absolutely fall in love with it; it is a testament to the patience and confidence that the distillery gave the liquid and wood to take the oh-so vaunted journey to work their magic. If that doesn’t make you sit up and take notice more than a bottle born from a desire to make a quick buck, we don’t know what will.