If I said NAS to the majority of the public they would either look at me blankly or think I was referring to an American rapper. You know however (or you’re about to) that NAS is the biggest trend in the whiskey world at the moment. A movement of convenience and experimentation, but what exactly does it mean?
NAS, stands for Non-age statement and this refers to any whiskey which is produced without an age statement on the bottle. Instead of seeing names such ‘Jameson 12’ on a bottle we are now beginning to see more inventive and descriptive titles such as ‘Jameson Black Barrel’ or ‘Jameson Caskmates’. Gaelic is employed in both Scottish and Irish titles with abandon, think ‘Laphroaig Cairdeas’ or Midleton’s superb ‘Dair Ghaelach’.
These whiskies tend to have been created to emphasis a specific characteristic of the whiskey, such as the cask type used or some other defining feature. The conventional wisdom holds that the older a whiskey is, the better it tastes. All those years maturing in a cask adds immeasurably to the depth of flavour and complexity, but this may no longer be strictly gospel.
By law any whiskey must list the youngest spirit used in its blend, this means that if we use a spritely 3 year old to balance out the flavour of something which has been sitting in a cask for 20 years then the age statement must say 3 year old! This is a problem since it becomes extremely difficult for whiskey producers to convince a consumer to drop 100’s of € on a bottle barely out of playschool in age statement terms.
While this may seem like a great and wondrous new departure for whiskey the truth is that it is a decision which has been enforced on the industry due to skyrocketing demand for super premium aged whiskey in recent years. Take Jameson as a prime example, the last time Wexford won an All-Ireland Jameson sold a mere 500,000 cases worldwide. This past year they sold over 5 million!
This astounding and unprecedented growth means that the number of cases which were laid down 20 years ago is not in line with current sales and they are struggling to keep up with the ever increasing demand. Midleton have expanded their facility to increase production in line with future demand but barring the acquisition of a time machine NAS whiskeys are the best current substitute for the aged spirit.
All this pragmatism has not exactly received overwhelming support in whiskey circles with concerns of rising prices and changes to many brands’ core lines.
The truth is that the whiskey industry is reaping the whirlwind of their marketing. The push toward numbered bottles was encouraged by drinks companies in order to justify higher price points and give bottles integrity. In reality the only thing that should matter about a bottle in the majority of cases is how it tastes.
Some of the new NAS whiskeys are exceptional; they are new and different to what the market has traditionally seen. This can only be a positive. Diversity enriches a market and I’m looking forward to seeing some of the less traditional bottles in distillery pipelines.
So on that note, make mine a Caskmates. Slainté.