Your whisky's age statement might not be telling the full story

Whisky

The age statement is one of the most trusted indicators of quality in the world of liquor. Often the age of a whisky bottle also has a net positive effect on its price. However, in recent years, with the expansion of global liquor industry, the age statement of your whisky might not be telling the full story. In today’s post, we are looking at this indicator of quality through a different lens.

But before we begin, let’s briefly discuss the aging process itself.

How a Whisky is Aged?

With more time in a barrel, the concentration of flavor compounds increases in a spirit. Over time the liquid imbibes the complex compounds from the barrel while the net volume of spirit decreases due to evaporation. This lost volume is also known as the Angel’s Share in the industry. In case specific to whiskies, the oak character can imbalance the flavors from base ingredients and fermentation, if the spirit is kept in barrels for too long. That’s why whiskies are generally aged for no longer than a few decades.

If you are a supply chain guy or girl, you must have noticed another indirect connection between the aging process and the price of whisky. Since a quantity of spirit is lost due to the aging process, the distiller would have less supply of the same whisky that has been aged differently. For example, there is price difference between a 12-year and an 18-year-old Scotch of the same brand because due to the six extra years of aging, the producer has less volume of the latter.

While these equations seem fairly straightforward, things get complicated as they age and become mature, just like the whisky.

Age vs. Maturity

In recent years, a new debate regarding the age and maturity of whisky has arisen among producers. Some have even stopped including an age statement on their labels, considering them contextual. The main reason being the climatic conditions in which the whisky is being aged. For example, a whisky aged in Scotland, where annual temperature witness range between 36 to 66 degrees Fahrenheit with humidity of 70 to 90 percent will age faster in a hotter and more humid place like India or Australia. Hence, the evaporation levels or the so-called Angel’s Share is also higher, i.e., 1 to 2 percent versus 5 to 15 percent.

The change in climate also means the molecular exchange between the cask and the spirit is also sped up, meaning the whisky matures at faster pace. New age distillers estimate that one year of aging in a hotter climate can be as much as four years in a place like Scotland or Ireland.

Vessel Variations and Flavor

The other variation in taste comes from a variation in the casks. Distillers use different barrels for aging single malt and double grain whiskies. Former wine barrels are often used for this purpose; however, certain barrels can overpower the spirit. Especially if the wine held in them was bolder in nature. When combined with the extreme climatic conditions of newer locations (that are hot and humid), aging the whisky for longer durations can entirely ruin the product. Some say that the char levels in the barrels plays a more important role in achieving maturity rather than time a spirit is stored or the rate of evaporation.

Therefore, barrel conditioning in tandem with aging has become a hot topic among distillers from Indian and Australian shores to the arid regions as far off as North America. More producers are now releasing critically acclaimed spirits without an age statement. But while these wild variations in aging conditions happen, nothing beats a fully matured Scotch from the Highlands.


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