So many of the well-known distilleries used to have their house style proudly displaying 10 or 12 years of age. Then BAM! Suddenly there are malts all around with no age statement and a catchy brand or buzzword in its place.
Macallan went for “Silver” and “Gold”, Laphroaig chose “Select” and Talisker put out “Skye”, to illustrate just a few. So what is this all about anyway?
This represents a move in the world of single malts to bring younger expressions to market. Some might say it's a way to get cash for younger stock and allow higher pricing of malts with an age statement - putting them in a reassuringly expensive category. I personally think more positively about the changes; whisky is capable of showing a myriad of flavours and sometimes less time aging in a barrel will allow more of these facets to be experienced. (A minimum of 3 years aging is required before the spirit can legally be called whisky.)
I do have a deep-seated love of the dram. The new wave of non-age statement whiskies truly gives the Stillman a broader palette with which to express their artistry. Barrel is not always best; I personally adore younger Islay malts. I find that a long time in barrel for these styles can often muddy the waters on the tongue and provide confusion. You wouldn’t add caramel to a salty style of fish dish just because salted caramel is a good thing!
If you like Distillery “X”, I would encourage you to try all of their expressions because you may find some very pleasant surprises! It’s your whisky journey and there are so many great things to try along the way. Older whisky is not the answer for everyone. Ignoring a whisky because it doesn’t have a (big enough) number on the label would be a little like buying an LP and only ever playing the track you heard on the car radio!
I've picked out a couple of malts without an age statement that I’d wholeheartedly recommend: -
Amrut Fusion from India. This is a colossus of flavour both sweet and savoury. Rated 97/100 by Jim Murray (who really is much more of an expert than me!) This malt is among the best on the planet. Amrut cheated - well, sort of. The heat in India gives this whisky a 10 year feel in half the time it would have taken in Scotland. They had to put this one out young because every year 15% of the barrel's contents would evaporate into the Angels Share. If you imagine Balvenie mixed with a bit of Bowmore you’ll get the idea of what “Fusion” they refer to in the name.
Bunnahabhain Stiùireadair. This is a Sherry barrel whisky from Islay which sits on the shelf where their 12 year old used to be. I actually had no love for the 12 year old; it reminded me of two things, neither of which were the fault of Bunnahabhain. Firstly, the scent of the rubber tube on the Bunsen burner in my A level chemistry lab when I was really struggling to get my head round Benzene rings. Secondly, using the 12 year old to numb some severe dental pain when on a bus ride back to Yorkshire from Manchester University at the tender age of 21. However, this new version is highly “scoffable” as our Des would say, and it's laced with gorgeous dried fruit, caramel and spice, much akin to Bundt cake.
Having said all this though, the next time I get chance to put pen to paper I will let you into a secret - how to find the best older whiskies without having to take out a bank loan.