The Age in Scotch Whisky
Age has been a hot topic for whisky lovers all over the world for the last couple of years. Most of the producers follow the "orthodox" approach but there are some distilleries that they start experimenting in various ways in order to give to the consumer a different perspective. As James Mackie (White Horse), said "Scotch Whisky should always be well aged and good quality".
In 1887, Canada was the first nation to put minimum age requirements on whisky. The minimum age requirement was one year, which was increased to two years in 1890.
According to the 2009 Scotch Whisky Regulations, Scotch whiskies have minimum maturation of three years in oak casks. Whiskies do not mature in the bottle, only in the cask. The "age" is only the time between distillation and bottling. The age statement on the label should state the age of the youngest barrel used for the production of the batch.
Vintage Single Malt Whiskies are permitted to list only one year on the label, and it can be either the "distilled on" or "bottled on" date.
Maturation time is important because more than two thirds of the colour, flavour and character of a whisky are developed during the aging in the barrel, while the other third in the production process of the "new make". Age statement is considered as a marker of quality and a lot of people are driven from this statement in order to choose a whisky. Sadly, the maturation process is not as simple as "the longer you leave it, the woodier it gets" and certainly not as simple as the older the whisky, the better it tastes.
If we follow the "orthodox" approach, ageing has a far greater effect the longer the spirit spends in the cask but only really becomes relevant if the other variables are made aware to us. The size of the cask, the type and condition of wood, charring or toasting level, temperature and location of storage and many other factors will play an important role as well. The alcohol will be converted into aldehydes by the oxidative effects, which in turn will be converted into fruit esters. Extractive effects cause reactions between hemicellulose in the wood and fatty acids in the spirit, softening and integrating the product. Finally, the infusion adds vanillin, tannin, spice and nutty flavours in various degrees to barrel-aged spirits.
An increasing number of distilleries are focusing on taste and moving away from age statements. The intention is to persuade whisky lovers that even a young whisky can taste great, and that's all that really matters. Some examples are The Macallan 1824 Series, Talisker Storm, The Glenfiddich Cask Collection, Glenmorangie Companta, The Glenlivet Alpha, The Singleton Tailfire and Sunray and Cardhu Amber Rock.
Another challenge to the distilleries is to upgrade the age instead of no age statement. This decision is not easy because the age would require sufficient stocks to be laid down for years. The demand should be scheduled for a period of more than 12 years with a view to the change.
Co Founder of www.singlemaltlodge.com