Long has the NAS whisky debate raged on in the whisky world, everyone has an opinion, and lots of people seem to pounce on whatever is written so, after talking about it for months, I am finally putting fingers to keys and putting my position out there.
For those unaware, the NAS whisky debate centres around the increasing presence of Non-Age Statement whisky, acronyms to NAS.
There’s a large of part of the whisky world that believes the best whisky has a number of it, whereas there’s a growing rationale that says age is just a number and that a whisky should be judged on taste rather than age.
I’m in the camp of the latter.
I believe that, whilst clearly I would never say no to a 30 Year Old The Macallan or 50 Year Old Glen Grant or 40 Year Old Highland Park, I do appreciate that the number can be a real red herring, especially as I spend a lot of my time building brand strategies, responding to how people shop and changing behaviours.
Let’s think about the consumer for a minute.
The vast majority of consumers / shoppers do not think like whisky connoisseurs, geeks, writers, collectors, hoarders, distillers, blenders, marketers etc..
They shop the category often unaware of the difference between an NAS whisky and a 10 Year Old, have a perception that a 12 Year Old is better than a 10 Year Old just because it is two years older and have never tried a 50 Year Old and been genuinely gutted by the resulting liquid that has taken a half century to mature.
They have ben trained by the Scotch single malt category over the years to trade up through numbers where I work with brands to craft stories built on honest brand truths that genuinely resonate with those likely to be shopping the whisky aisle at some point.
Whilst putting this piece together, I spoke to a number of retailers with one prominent duty free retail manager commenting:
“Shoppers tend to look for age statements above anything else as a mark of quality, and as such those whiskies without age statements are missing out massively, in my opinion”
Whilst there is some truth in this, The Macallan for example lost about 30% short term sales at duty free when they took age statements off their bottles and pushed the 1824 series but that has more than bounced back and ended up returning superb growth.
Ardbeg, one of my favourite whisky ranges and brands have only one permanent product in their main range that sports an age statement… and it is a ten year old. Their other hugely successful products carry no such statement of age and still do bloody well.
It pains me that shoppers enter the single malt category, often through the Glenfiddich 12 that is in pubs and bars across the UK (let alone the world) and assume that’s the base. They buy into the 12 year old and trade up or sideways from there.
My view is simple: NAS whisky provides producers a chance to continue its phenomenal global growth.
With age-communicated whiskies you have a bottle that contains a plethora of casks, the youngest of which being aged the time denoted on the bottle, right? With NAS whiskies you have something different.
You have the ability for Master Blenders and Master Distillers to experiment, to play, to create, to ask ‘what if’, to craft something truly special and to define their time at the helm.
It has been driven by the surge in the global whisky demand depleting aged stock as, simply, distillers and brands 20 or 30 years ago did not think the market would boom like it has, and why would they unless they had a crystal ball but even then Mystic Meg would likely not have put a tenner on it.
As such they did not lay down the volume of stock that would respond to a sudden and sustained spoke in global demand.
So now distillers and blenders are a lot freer to craft these unique liquids as I mentioned and, in my humble opinion, that can only be a good thing for the market and consumer as we see new expressions and experiments coming to fruition from cask finishes to more diverse strains of barley to peat levels to all manner of different variables that are now showing up in bottles of our favourite liquor.
To summarise; I think NAS whisky is a great thing and can only benefit our long term enjoyment and exploration of this great spirit.
What are your views on NAS and the future of whisky?