For many years whisky distillers promoted their product using an age statement and we were told that older is better. 12 years old seemed to be the magical point where whisky became premium and became a ‘quality’ product. Increased demand for whisky in recent years has depleted distilleries stock and many are now struggling to maintain production of 'age statement' whiskies. We now have whisky marketing departments looking for alternate ways to promote such as by colour, or by different types of finish, or by selling single cask versions, or by use of catchy names. Unable to promote quality by an age statement we get flowery descriptions and premium pricing; a £50 bottle must be better than a £25 bottle – right?
So how important is age really? There can be no doubt that longer in the barrel will impart more of the barrel's characteristics into the liquid. But a barrel can be re-used a number of times, and each re-use will diminish the impact it has on the maturing whisky. The quality of the cask is the most important factor in the ageing process, so a shorter period in a high-quality cask will most likely produce a much better whisky than a longer period in an inferior cask. A first fill cask will impart more of the wood qualities than a second fill cask, and so on.
All we can conclude about age statements is that they give some indication of what we are getting for our money. The best way of deciding whether it is worth splurging your hard-earned is to understand your own preferences in a whisky, (Light. Rich, Delicate, Smoky) and read online reviews
Our October meet was a blind tasting of five age statement whiskies, 4, 8, 12, 16 & 20 years old. Only Sean, who led the tasting knew what the drams were and the challenge for the others was to guess the age of the whiskies. The 20 year old was obviously going to be far better than the 4 year old, wasn’t it? Read on to find out!
There was nothing devious in the way the whiskies were selected (nothing scientific either!). All of them were highly rated. All of them were Scottish, four single malts and one blended malt.
Dram #1- Praban Na Linne, Pot Dhubh 8 YO - 43% ABV - £36
Praban Na Linne was founded by Sir Iain Noble in 1976. Poit Dbubh is pronounced "Potch Ghoo" and means "Black Pot", the Gaelic term for an illicit still. This is a blend of Island and Speyside malts. Matured in ex- oak sherry casks and bottled fairly soon after marrying together.
This is a blended malt mainly consisting of Talisker, not surprising as Praban Na Linne is based on Isle of Skye. Some Speyside malts are added to the Talisker in this blend.
Non-chill filtered but may have some E150 added?
Nose: Salt, toffee, spice, honey sweetness
Palate: Full-bodied, salted caramel and vanilla, some chocolate
Finish: Warm with lingering ginger spice
Dram #2 - Glenburgie 20YO, 51.4 ABV - £96
This is a Douglas Laing Old Particular limited release bottling of 336 bottles, matured in a single ex-bourbon hogshead cask. Hogsheads are the second most common barrel used in Scotland after ex-bourbon and are slightly larger than a standard barrel, around 250 litres as opposed to around 200 litres.
Glenburgie was founded in 1829 and is situated between Inverness and Elgin. In 1936 it became closely associated with the Ballantines brand which became part of Chivas Brothers portfolio in 2005. Glenburgie is generally only found in indie bottlings. In fact, their only official release was in 2017, a 15YO under their Ballantines branding. Now discontinued and very difficult to find. The vast majority of their output goes into Ballantines.
Nose: Ripe apples, oak, wet grass.
Palate: Almond cake with vanilla, orange and honey, pineapple sweetness.
Finish: a long mellow finish, fading into white pepper.
Dram #3 - Murray McDavid Benchmark 4 YO Tullibardine Limited Release - 46% ABV - £38
This is a limited release Indy bottling by Murray McDavid from their Benchmark series. Murray McDavid is based in the disused Coleburn distillery in Speyside just south of Elgin. Interestingly they helped re-open the Bruichladdich distillery in 2000 with the help of Jim MacEwan. This whisky was initially aged in ex-Bourbon hogsheads then finished for 16 months in 1st fill PX casks. Release of 1338 bottles (three casks). Non-chill filtered, no colourants. On the cap of their bottles is the Gaelic logo “Claichan a Choin” which translates to ‘The Dogs Bollocks’!
Tullibardine is one of the most southerly of the Highland distilleries, situated between Stirling and Perth and founded in 1949. Was owned by White and Mackay until 2003 then acquired by a consortium of individuals calling themselves Tullibardine Ltd. Output around 2M bottles per year. They do not release age statement whisky, only by vintage year
Nose: Vanilla, toffee, as in Werther’s Originals, and dark fruits
Palate: Chocolate, crème brulee, dried fruit
Finish: Sweet and spicy with a tannic finish. A little one-dimensional
Dram #4 - Old Pultney 12YO - 40% ABV - £25
A Highland malt matured in ex-Bourbon casks this is part of their core range
Old Pulteney distillery was founded in 1826 is situated at Wick right up at the top north-east of Scotland, not far from John O’Groats. Has been owned by Inver House (Ancnoc, Balmenach, Knockdu Speyburn) since 1995.
Nose: Fresh and floral with lemon and orange notes
Taste: Fresh with sweet honey and citrus. Slightly salty. One person described it as alcoholic Lilt!
Finish: Oak spices, citrus fruits, salty tang.
Dram #5 Daluaine 16 YO Flora and Fauna. 43% ABV - £59
The only information I can find is that this is a Sherry cask bottling. Does that mean it is fully matured or finished in a Sherry cask? The latter I imagine.
Daluaine is Gaelic for Green Vale and was founded in 1852 and sits in the Spey Valley about 20 miles south of Elgin. It merged with Talisker in 1891. In 1899 it was the first distillery to be fitted with a pagoda style roof. The Iconic Pagoda style roof was designed by Charles Doig to improve ventilation in the malting area of whisky distilleries – nowadays they are more of a decoration as only a few distilleries still do their own malting. Now owned by Diageo, this 16YO is their only official bottling. There are some indie bottlings that tend to be expensive. The vast majority of their output goes into Johnny Walker blends. ‘Flora and Fauna’ is a brand used by Diageo to release single malt whisky from some of their lesser-known distilleries.
NOSE: Treacle sponge, butterscotch, apricots in brandy.
PALATE: Rich, sweet and warming. Some citrus fruits adding freshness, toffee. One person described it as a caramel cowboy!
FINISH: Warming, slightly nutty and drying.
So how did we all do?
Nobody correctly guessed the 20YO or the 4YO. Three got the 16YO, two got the 12YO, and four got the 8YO. This was never going to be an easy challenge. Maybe the most interesting result was that 6 of the 9 participants thought that the 4YO was in fact the 20YO. This is probably down to good cask selection and maturation of the 4YO Tullibardine by Murray McDavid.
When rated in order of preference we had
1st place – Daluaine 16YO - £59
2nd place – Tullibardine 4YO - £38
3rd place - Glenburgie 20YO - £96
4th place – Old Pultney 12YO - £25
5th place – Poit Dbubh 8YO - £36
The one most of us (6 out of 10) would buy was the Daluaine
There were no whiskies tonight that weren’t perfectly good drams. I could have chosen 5 different whiskies and we would have got different results. It was intended as a bit of fun, and at SWC we like a bit of fun!