One question that comes up frequently about single malt whisky is this one: does the age of the whisky matter? You will see whiskies that are 18-, 25- years old, and even older being sold and usually the older the whisky then the more expensive it is. But is it better?
You can be certain about 2 things. Firstly – older whiskies are very rare and secondly they are very expensive. Take for example the blended Scotch whisky Johnnie Walker Blue Label, it has whiskies in the blend that are around 50 years old and will set you back around $300. There are a number of reasons for why older single malt whiskies are more expensive. First of all – the longer a whisky matures in the oak cask, the more of it is lost evaporation. Most distilleries in Scotland lose around 2% of the volume. So 2% every year for, say 25 years is a lot of whisky.
Then of course you have to take into account the time factor. 25 years is a long time to wait until you bottle the product. Sometime the whisky will be matured in different cask to influence the flavour. So all this time, patience and expertise all adds to the price.
There are basically two schools of thought in the whisky industry – “age matters” and “no, age doesn’t matter”. Most of the larger whisky producers will market a specific range of brands champagne delivery are various age points – 10, 12, 15 and 18 years old, and will often give these a specific name as well. For example there is a Bowmore 12-yr old called Enigma and a 15-yr old Glenfiddich called Solera.
For example the Chivas Brothers whisky company are on the side of the fence that ‘age matters’. They market their products specifically on this. Their tagline is: “Look for the number… a guarantee of age and quality”.
On the ‘age doesn’t matter’ side of the fence is, for example, Macallan. They have started to remove the age specification on some of their younger single malts and giving them names. Time will tell if this marketing idea pays off. They say that they are doing this to cater to different profiles and tastes, rather than just putting the single malts in an age bracket.
So to answer the question – does age matter? The answer is definitely yes, but only to do with price. Does age make a whisky better? Only you can decide that question.
Older whiskies are certainly more complex and have more depth than their younger counterparts. This is to do with the evaporation process (like if you are cooking and you keep simmering a sauce – you will be left with a thicker and more intense flavour). Also the more time the whisky spends in the cask then the more it draws in the flavours from the cast.
If you like strong tasting peaty whiskies, then you probably aren’t going to find this in a single malts.