Single Malt Scotch and the Real Deal Behind Age Statements

PMA agent Lana Heiman stopped by the shop this evening with Country Manager Steve Doyle of William Grant and Sons (of Glenfiddich and Balvenie Single Malt fame) to discuss the current state of the Scotch industry and look for possible ways to adapt to the very real problems in the market.

As you may know, over the past 10 years prices for Single Malt Scotch have gone through the roof (and the roof above that) as a result on an explosion of interest in whisky around the world, particularly in Asia. While this might sound like a big win for Scotch producers, it also brings huge challenges, namely availability, affordability, and integrity.

First, just supplying enough of the whisky that people want to buy in order to stay in the market means making tough choices about the integrity of your products and what people expect of them. Some producers have abandoned putting age statements on their whiskies (12yr. 15yr etc) in favour of calling them “expressions” (Macallan’s Amber, for example) that allow them to blend in quantities of (sometimes quite) young whiskies in order to make up quantities and stay in the market at relatively reasonable prices. I have always viewed these kinds of products very skeptically, as they almost invariably involve taking shortcuts such as “baking” the spirit to speed aging and/or adding some strongly flavoured finish to cover up the harshness of the young spirit, much as some wine companies add a ton of sweetness to their products to mask the flaws of industrially produced “wine”.  At Liquor Select, we sell age statement Scotches almost exclusively and wouldn’t have it any other way.

At the same time, Scotch producers risk losing a whole generation of customers unable or unwilling to pay the inflated entrance cost to the world of Single Malts, never mind what it costs to taste the magic of a truly fine bottle. There are many other fascinating, and more affordable, taste universes to explore these days, such as Bourbon or Craft Beer, that are diverting younger consumers, and Scotch producers have to find a way to keep them interested or risk losing them forever.

For us, it was really refreshing to discuss these issues with Steve and see that Grant is serious about finding ways to stay affordable, available, and interesting to the market while maintaining the integrity of the products they sell. Steve was very open to discussing these issues and hearing our concerns and besides that, he was a helluva nice guy. I don’t even resent him for not bringing us a wee dram!

[author] [author_image timthumb=’on’][/author_image] [author_info]Jeff Sparling is the general manager of Fine Wines by Liquor Select and a wine and scotch enthusiast.[/author_info] [/author]

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