My 2 cents on Non Age-statement (NAS) Scotch Whisky.
I feel like this review is an appropriate time to weigh-in on the discussion. There is a lot of hate in the whisky community towards distilleries for not disclosing the age of their product. Some even flat out boycott purchasing a bottle without a number on the front. Being relatively new to the game, I just don’t understand why. I’m a student of business, and although I hated business class (and eventually changed careers), I understand their (the producer’s) side of it. I get it, profit is king, and marketing is how you get there. Now, before I say anything more it’s important to preface my argument with the fact that the MAJORITY of people purchasing entry-level and mid-level Scotch are just average Joe’s with little to no knowledge of the product. The average person will purchase with their eyes. They see a crisp, clean presentation, a nice dark colour, or a big age-statement, and associate that with quality. It’s why distilleries spend so much time and money on marketing. It’s why they add colour, and chill-filter, and it’s also why age-statements or non age-statements are so important. Take these two Ardbeg’s for example; part of the core-range along with the 10 year old. I’m going to assume the youngest whisky in the Corryvreckan and Uigeadail is around 11 years old (I think that’s a relatively safe assumption). Imagine all 3 on a shelf side-by-side. Now, how could Ardbeg possibly put an 11 year age-statement on the Corry or Uige and justify the price compared to the 10? Using Master of Malt pricing at the time of writing this, there is a 21% increase in price from the 10 to the Uige and a 56% increase from the 10 to the Corry. With only one year (*estimated) of additional age, that would probably not be the smartest way to price and market their product. Of course we know there is probably some older whisky in these expressions, and they have some added maturation in sherry and french oak, but Ardbeg couldn’t possibly release those whiskies (as they are) with an “11” on the label. Yes, there are some bad NAS whiskies out there. Macallan makes most of them, haha! And I’m a huge fan of Macallan! But Macallan also releases some really good NAS whisky. The Edition No. 2 for example. Which is why the whisky community is so important. People who review whisky do us all a great service. Having some insight and opinion about NAS bottles before you buy is so imperative. Yes, I would love for producers to list not only the age of the whisky, but also how it was matured, and what portion makes up what. I think Compass Box does an amazing job advocating towards that, but for consumers to demand it? I don’t see how that’s something worthy of a boycott.
Ardbeg Corryvreckan, 57.1% ABV, £65
- Nose: Big but clean peat note, new leather, fresh potting soil, smoked meat, mild pepper, wet suit material, fresh tennis balls, paint thinner, shoe polish, lime and pine.
- Taste: Black pepper-corn steak, hickory sticks, Montreal smoked meat with mustard, lemon peel, spicy and peaty.
- Finish: Long and lingering, slightly drying, very well balanced, and nicely complex.
- Thoughts: What a gem! Rich and smoky, a definite peat monster! I love the boldness, it delivers a punch and is unforgiving. What peated whisky should aspire to. Well priced in the UK and US, not so much in Ontario. I will have to pickup another bottle when I can.
- Score: 91.5 + 1 value point(s) = 92.5/100
Ardbeg Uigeadail, 54.2% ABV, $79 USD
- Nose: Surprisingly mild peat level (for an Ardbeg), salt, sea air, wet rocks, vanilla, sherry with mild chocolate and raisins.
- Taste: There’s the peat! And it’s fantastic. Also, campfire ash, smoked meat, pepper and spice, malt, sweet sherry influence again, liquorice and some honey.
- Finish: Days-long finish, very well balanced, peat lingers.
- Thoughts: Just so good! The sherry maturity works really well here.
- Score: 90 + 1 value point(s) = 91/100
Overall thoughts: The Corry wins in my opinion. I think it brings a little more of what I like in peated Scotch; boldness and complexity. But both are so amazing, you need to stock them at all times!
After my initial score I will add or subtract points relative on how I perceive value (based on what I paid for the bottle). A zero value means I think the price is justified.
2 thoughts on “The great debate: Corryvreckan or Uigeadail?”
Here’s my (abbreviated) opinion of NAS whisky:
1. Age affects whisky. Older doesn’t mean better, but it is different. Marketing people who trot out the “age doesn’t matter” line or the “we want to liberate blenders from the shackles of age statements” are flat-out lying. (I’m lookin at you, Macallan.)
2. I’d love to see full transparency: age of all component whiskies, cask types etc. I realize the Scottish Whisky Regulations don’t currently permit it, but this is my wishlist, so I’m putting it out there.
3. Average Joe is not buying $100 bottles of Ardbeg Ten (or Oogie, or Corry). He’s buying JW Red or Ballantine’s. The person who is dropping $100 or more on whisky knows a thing or two and will not be put off by younger whiskies. Case in point: Bruichladdich’s very successful Octomore whiskies sell for $250 or more here in Ontario. Everyone knows it’s 5 Years Old, yet it’s difficult to find and it sells out quickly, even if you’re willing to drop that kind of coin on whisky.
4. I have no problem with the multi-vintaging concept, it’s the shady marketing that grinds my gears.
5. I think Oogie and Corry (and every other Ardbeg NAS) contains whiskies younger than 10 years old. Just a hunch.
6. Boycotting NAS seems kind of pointless. 85 to 90 percent of scotch sales worldwide are blends. I’m betting most of those blends are of the cheap/nailpolish remover variety. I don’t think Compass Box’s This Is Not A Luxury Whisky is THAT popular. There’s no way a boycott could ever be effective. Besides, there are people who will always buy whatever overpriced, underwhelming liquid certain brands put out (sadly, I am again referring to Macallan).
Yes, that was the abbreviated version.
Thanks for review. I would add that higher price for mentioned NASes based on higher APV as well, and I think there are younger spirits present, maybe not much it does not taste young, but who knows… CS (or high APV) releases are usually more expensive, cause there is less water and more whisky.