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Tuesday, 29 June 2010

Help The Aged

Yesterday, Chivas Brothers launched a “global campaign to advocate the importance and value of age statements to consumers”.

Chivas have done some research which basically comes to the conclusion that people buying whisky, be it single malt or blended, think that the greater the age on the label, the better the whisky inside*. As you will know if you read this blog, that’s a load of old bollocks. Last year, the winner of our Best In Glass Award was a 3 Year Old, in the Kilchoman. The previous year however, it was a whisky from the early 1970’s. The issue with whisky is not HOW LONG something is aged for, but HOW WELL it is aged. And neither should an increased age statement be used as an excuse to demand a higher price.

The most obvious example of these two factors combining that springs to mind is Lagavulin where you have a 12 Year Old whisky at a higher price than a 16 Year Old. And which is better? Well, in our opinion the 12 Year Old is better. A younger whisky which is better than its older counterpart, but also MORE EXPENSIVE. This is one example of a younger whisky being both “better” and more highly priced than its older counterpart.

If we were to expand this argument to a no-age statement bottling, then we should look to Aberlour: the No Age Statement A’bunadh comes out more expensive than their age statement 10 Year Old. And of course it’s more expensive because it is “better” (note: the word “better” is in adverted commas. This is because it is both our expressed opinion and that of the wider drinking community. You may feel the Aberlour 10 Year Old is blessed with flavours which could come only from God himself and if so, you’re totally entitled to these opinions).

So having said all that, let’s try and dig into the Chivas argument for the promotion of age statements on whisky. Let’s start with a little video on the matter:

Now, if you didn’t watch that (or you’re reading this via our mailout), then let me pick up on a major point made less than 20 seconds in to the video, where it states:

“Look for the number... A guarantee of Age... A guarantee of quality.”

Hummmm... no. There is no direct link between the age of a whisky and the quality of a whisky, as Chivas testify themselves with the Aberlour A’bunadh. Old whisky can be very good. But it can also be very poor. And the same is true with young whisky; it can be very good, or very poor.

From here on in, however the video gets much better. There is a genuine attempt to educate the consumer as to what an age statement means. It means that there is a guarantee of a minimum maturation length of the whisky in the bottle. And it is clear from the aforementioned research that a lot of consumers are not aware of this and thus it is important to educate and inform about the true meaning of an age statement.

It does sit awkwardly with me though that the initial frame of reference in this video is saying “Look for the age of the whisky as that makes it good.” This is a question I was able to put to Neil Macdonald, Brand Director for Chivas Brothers.

It’s all about educating the consumer”, Neil told me. “We’re in a global business and there are certain markets where drinking whisky is a new trend and not everyone understands the impact and importance of an age statement on a bottle. It’s time we went out and proclaimed the benefits of age”.

And I agree. The more the consumer is educated about the contents of the bottle, the more it will help them to see through the marketing and make an informed decision about the quality of the whisky behind the label. And at the end of the day, that’s what it’s all about. The quality of the whisky.

One of my top whiskies at present is Nikka From The Barrel, a no age statement whisky where I don’t even know what the label says as it’s all in Japanese. You see, I don’t give a toss about what’s written on the back or the front, because the stuff inside is so bloody good. Maybe we’ll start a campaign to ban age statements altogether... then you really would have to judge the whisky on the quality of the whisky...

*In their research, 94% of consumers believe the age statement serves as an indicator of quality and 93% believe that older whiskies are better quality.