Age ain’t nothing but a number?

Whisky ain’t nothing but a drink?

graph showing growth
On the up

Good news whisky is on the up, its official!  There are several new distilleries planned or recently built and put into production, or still awaiting production, but whisky is definitely back on the up again, at long last.

Queen’s Dock The plans by whisky industry entrepreneur Tim Morrison (who sold Morrison Bowmore, to Japanese drinks giants Suntory) to build a distillery at Queen’s Dock, Glasgow will see the first distillery to be built in Glasgow for more than 100 years, and Mr Morrison will spend around £10m buying the site of the old pump house on the docks.  There will be both a visitor centre and a small-batch distillery capable of producing approximately 500,000 litres of whisky a year, although it’s more likely that the actual output will be capped at about 150,000 litres (200,000 bottles).

Kingsbarns Distillery (@KingsbarnsDist) is currently being built, with Doug Clement as Founding Director and Wemyss (@WemyssMalts) as the financial backers.  The distillery is situated in the East Neuk of Fife not far from St Andrews, the home of golf, on the beautiful Cambo Estate overlooking some of the richest agricultural land in Scotland, much of it barley, to “Scotland’s 2011 & 12 Golf Course of the Year” (Golf Tourism Scotland Awards)  Kingsbarns Golf Links and the North Sea beyond.

Glenrothes (Fife) A new £6.7m distillery is to be established in Fife following a tie-up between Indian drinks group Kyndal and Perthshire distiller John Fergus & Co.  The two firms have entered into a joint venture for a micro distillery and bonded warehouse in Glenrothes and aim to be operational by 2015. The facility will focus on exporting to markets in India, Africa and the Far East and create 15 new jobs. It expects to generate exports worth £3.6m over the next three years.

Daftmill One of Scotland’s newest and smallest malt whisky distilleries, run by the Cuthbert family and set in the heart of Fife, they use their own barley, grown at Daftmill Farm, and sparkling water from their own artesian well to produce the finest of malt whiskies.  At the moment their whisky is not yet for sale as it is still maturing.

Falkirk Still very much at the early stages, the intention is that alongside the distillery itself there will also be a visitor’s centre and retail facilities. The whisky itself must not be overlooked and will replicate the spirit of the past, producing a triple distilled whisky unique to the area and put Falkirk firmly back on the map as a whisky producing area.

Kilchoman, (pronounced kilhoman) established in 2005, is a farm distillery and the first to be built on Islay for 124 years. Kilchoman (@Kilchoman05) gives everyone the opportunity to see all that is best in the grass-roots traditions of malt whisky distilling – from barley to bottle.  The inaugural bottle was released in 2009 and Kilchoman tend to release “Vintages” rather than age statement whisky.

Abhainn Dearg (@AbhainnDearg) this distillery is the most Westerly of the Scottish distilleries and can be found in Uig, on the west coast of the Hebridean Isle of Lewis, the Outer Hebrides. Abhainn Dearg, (pronounced Aveen Jarræk) or Red River Distillery is a very new distillery in an ancient landscape.   The spirit they produce is new to the market, but is true Outer Hebridean Whisky. In 2010, for the first time in almost 170 years Abhainn Dearg New Spirit, The Spirit of Lewis, left their shores.  2011 saw the launch of a limited edition of three year old single malt.  This is the first legal single malt produced not only by Abhainn Dearg Distillery, but from the Outer Hebrides!

Mark Tayburn the founder of Abhainn Dearg was determined to produce a whisky that was unique to Lewis and to be able to have it available for the 2011 MOD. It seemed ridiculous that the Outer Hebrides couldn’t supply its own whisky, which is as much a cultural heritage as the MOD and as a tradition is much older. There will always be limited amounts of Abhainn Dearg, the aim is to produce a quality Single Malt for those who take the trouble to visit them.

Gartbreck This will be Islay’s 9th distillery.  Not much is known about this new distillery but there are some known facts; The new farm distillery will be called Gartbreck and will be situated at Gartbreck Farm (at the end of Moss Road) near Saltpan Point which lies south-west of Bowmore at the shores of Loch Indaal, just off the Low Road from Port Ellen to Bowmore.

According to several whisky industry insiders and internet rumour, it will be the smallest distillery on the island.  It would appear likely that the future managing director will be Jean Donnay who is the director of the renowned French distillery Glann Ar Mor (@Celtic_Whisky) and the Celtic Whisky Compagnie which lies in Brittany. Donnay’s pot stills are very rare in the industry as they are fired directly by coal or wood. The firm Gartbreck Distillery Co Ltd had been registered on May 22, 2013 with Jean Donnay holding the position of “Managing Director”. The website http://www.gartbreck.com was registered by Martine Rochard Donnay in July 2012 with Jean Donnay listed as the administrator.

As so little is known about this latest venture, no one can say for certain exactly when the distillery will open and when they will produce a whisky.

Ardbeg Cask
Ardbeg Cask

The more distilleries there are, the more whisky there will be on the market, the more choices for you and me. This is very positive and can only be a good thing for the industry and consumers alike, right? Short answer yes, long answer, potentially yes, but how long in the future will it be until we see the wares of these new distilleries, we all know that for Scotch whisky to be legally called whisky it needs to be aged for at least three years in oak barrels.

What will the whisky market be like over the next, five, ten, twenty years?  Will it continue to grow or will it decline?  This isn’t something anyone can really predict, personally I hope and believe that the market will continue to expand, as market, social media and bloggers help take whisky to a new generation.

So what happens next…either there is a long wait for these distilleries to recoup costs and start making profit, or, whilst potentially maturing older vintages to be released when ready, there will be a flood of new, young whiskies hitting the market.  Which brings us back to the age old question, when it comes to whisky does age matter?

30yo Laphroaig
30yo Laphroaig

Well let’s have a look at what Distilleries themselves may think, Macallan (@The_Macallan), appear to be moving away from age statement whisky, the whole of the 1824 range was named after the colour of the whisky and as such was NAS (non age statement), they cut part of their Fine Oak range, including the 10, 15 & 18.  Ardbeg (@Ardbeg_com), whilst still releasing the iconic Ardbeg Ten, have now released Uigeadail, the Corryvreckan and festival bottling Ardbog have all been NAS.

Most distilleries, however, release age statement whisky, Diageo (@diageo_news), the world’s largest producer of sprits and owner of Glenkinchie, Dalwhinnie, Oban, Lagavulin and Caol Ila to name but a few are all age statement.  Bruichladdich (@Bruichladdich) are a distillery that mainly release age statement whiskies, all the Valinch range and most of the Laddie core range are aged.  Laphroaig (@LaphroaigWhisky) have an extensive range, including 10, 10 Cask Strength, 18 and 25. 30 year old and even 40 year old whiskies have been released in the past.

It could be argued, that as very major players in the whisky market, if Macallan and Arbeg have decided to “move away” from age statements, then age in fact does not matter.  Is this the only reason they have chosen to do this though?  Ardbeg have had a number of closures, most recently 1996 – 1997, and as such will just not have the older stock needed to release at the moment.  Macallan however, are a very large company and have a very high production rate, which should mean a high stock level, however, as Macallan’s popularity in the Far East grows and grows, so does demand for stock, it is likely that Macallan too, are limited on just how much older stock they have and that NAS whisky is the way round this.

As mentioned previously, most distilleries and whiskies (including supermarket “own brand”) is aged. There is obviously a reason for this, is it because whisky is better with age, or is it merely the fact that most consumers and some whisky experts believe that whisky is better with age? I personally have had some amazing “old” whiskies (the Laphroaig 30yo Cairdeas being one notable example), I’ve also tried some fantastic “young” and NAS whiskies too.

Kilchoman bottle
Kilchoman

Kilchoman, are an excellent example of a distillery producing young and NAS whisky to great effect, they are still able to produce a varied range of products despite being so young, as detailed below;

Vintage The Vintage releases are created from specially selected fresh and refill Bourbon casks. The bourbon casks selected for the Vintage releases are some of the oldest we have maturing. Being matured exclusively in bourbon barrels gives these releases powerful peat smoked fruit on the nose and mouth-filling butterscotch and clove sweetness on the palette.

Machir Bay The Machir Bay range is Kilchoman’s core expression, first launched in 2012 when it won the prestigious IWSC 2012 Gold Award – Best in Class. Bottled once a year, each release contains more mature casks allowing Kilchoman fans to follow the development of the unique Kilchoman malt as it matures. Matured in a combination of both bourbon and sherry casks, Machir Bay has a well-balanced combination of rich tropical fruit, peat smoke, light vanilla and intense sweetness.

100% Islay All parts of the production process for the 100% Islay have taken place at the distillery – from barley to bottle. The barley is grown, malted, distilled, matured and bottled at Kilchoman making for a unique character. Bottled at 50% abv and peated to a lower level to that of other releases, 100% Islay has a lighter, fresher feel to it. Citrus and lemon notes come through with soft peat smoke and a long smooth finish.

Loch Gorm Named after a famously peaty loch at the end of the Kilchoman drive, Loch Gorm is the only fully ex-sherry cask matured release from Kilchoman. As with other ranges in their portfolio, Loch Gorm is periodically re-released as a more mature expression. Each bottling is differentiated by distillation and bottling years printed on the label. Loch Gorm combines rich sherry fruits and spices with smouldering peat, cloves and lingering sweetness.

Single Cask A variety of single casks are released throughout the year in various markets around the world. All Single Casks are released at cask strength from a range of Bourbon and Sherry casks maturing in the warehouses.

numbers
Numbers

All this does is bring us back to the age old question (you see what I did there?) does age matter?  On that you will have to make up your own mind, there are whiskies out there that I love that others won’t enjoy as much and vice versa, at the end of the day with whisky it’s about enjoying it, if you think that if it’s not at least 30 years old it will be rubbish, well that’s your opinion and you are entitled to it, but maybe, just once, for me, try a young whisky, pick up something out of Kilchoman’s, Ardbeg or an independent bottlers range and see what you think.  As a famous American Soft Drinks’ Advert says, “What’s the worst that could happen?”

Kirsty Clarke (@kirstypryde1)

4 thoughts on “Age ain’t nothing but a number?”

  1. Excellent review of Scotch’s expansion and the issue of NAS vs. aged. Personally, I’m with you. More new distilleries means more choice, more competition, and more whisky in general. It also means more young whisky – particularly over the next decade or two. I’m OK with that. As you point out, Kilchoman has made amazing young whiskies. There are some who say they have optimized their product to be best young. A wise move economically. Make no mistake, however, not Islay is almost uniquely situated for the desirability of young fierce peaty drams. Kingsbarn and Wolfburn will not have this luxury.

    1. Thank you very much for your kinds words. It will be interesting to see if Kingsbarns et al put anything out really young or not. Agree with you on the peaty whiskies, the peat can certainly mask the age, so will be exciting to see how non-peated whisky holds up at a young age.

  2. Another great read, really good to hear of all the new distilleries opening up and recently opened, will keep an eye out for them. Interesting thoughts on the NAS whiskies as well, you have a good point about some of the distilleries maybe having low stock.

    I agree with you about having both very enjoyable NAS whiskies as well as aged ones, they can all be enjoyed but I find an age statement a good guide, mainly on sherry casks which can do with a few more years.

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