Sorry for the coming long opinion, if you just want to see the review on the whisky, scroll down to the end of the post.
After few weeks of calmness, the single malt NAS debate is raging again in the last week following the Interview with Dr. Bill Lumsden (of Glenmorangie/Ardbeg). Few more opinions and blog posts were published, summarizing how we (whisky geeks/aficionados) feel (somewhat angry and poorer after purchasing whisky), how the industry feels (caring for sales & $$$) but I want to cover another angle in this debate which I haven’t seen mentioned by anyone yet.
In the NAS debate, there are many comparisons to the state of the whisky industry a decade ago. Let’s go through the time tunnel and remember how things were a decade ago. There was internet but it wasn’t as prominent as it’s now – we didn’t have twitter nor Facebook (not really anyway). We were still reading newspapers for news, articles and long post blogs. We didn’t have smartphone and social networks at the tip of fingers and overall life pace was slower. Now, we’re welded to our phones, internet is truly here, impacting and changing our lives and one change which probably many of you have noticed is the change to attention span – or its almost nonexistence.
We now live and consume information in small portions, one blink and we’re looking at something else, and our stimulation threshold is rising up every year. And guess what? it impacts the whisky industry and our perception of it.
Also, did you notice that finishes are also on the rise? the special finishes were always a minor thing in the whisky industry, we had mostly ex-bourbon and ex-sherry (mainly Oloroso/PX) and now we see more and more experimental finishes: combining/vatting different casks (Jura Tastival, Lpahroaig Select), More wine finishes (Glen Garioch Wine Cask, the forthcoming Auchentoshan wine cask), virgin oak, more whiskies with different sherry finishes (Fino, Amontillado). What about different casks handling? Ardbeg Auriverdes cask lids, casks go through extra charring or conditioning (remember Glenlivet Alpha?)
And lets not forget – whisky takes time, quite lot of time till its ready.
So take time factor, add short attention span, mix rising stimulus threshold and and top it with what Dr. Lumsden told us about the dwindling aged whisky stocks and do you get?
Yes, the answer is exactly what you thought – you get rapid releasing of NAS whiskies and many experimental/different finishes.
NAS allows the industry to play with casks, finishes and vatting, allowing them to throw at us NAS whiskies and see which manage to catch our attention, sticks to the wall and becomes commercial success. It’s shorter time to market so failures are cheaper (I’m sure there are many experiments which never reache commercial stage, those costs too!) and if it succeed, they hit the jackpot.
So to sum it up: The whisky industry didn’t prepare to the current situation of huge demand for whisky. therefore stocks are dwindling so to compensate for it, they throw at us many young casks (although some are vatted with older casks), resulting in many NAS releases. They look at the market and hope one (or more) do succeed in capturing our attention.
And what’s in our future? I think that as long as the huge demand is there (and rising), even if they succeed in sellling us NAS whiskies, they can’t rest on their laurels as our stimulus threshold is getting higher, so they need to release another whisky quite often (which probably means another NAS) or our attention will drift to another distillery product and the shareholders won’t be happy with the sales figure…
You probably wonder what do I think of the current situation and what we should do. First of all, remember that NAS whisky was always here with us and it won’t go away. It’s a stage in the cycle where NAS is more prominent than age-statement whisky. As for what I’m gonna do, I’ll stick to one of my rule:
If you taste a whisky you like and value for money factor is good – go ahead, buy the bottle and enjoy it. It doesn’t matter if it’s a NAS whisky or a whisky with age statement on it. Taste and experience will vary (sometime vastly) between all kinds whiskies so be open-minded and try both kinds.
As mentioned previously in the debate, we shouldn’t assume automatically that NAS is bad by being bad whisky or for being sold for outrageous price. So instead of finishing this post on the pessimistic side, let’s taste and review a recent yet decent NAS bottling, Jura Turas Mara.
Jura Turas Mara (42%)
Nose: Sweetness of demerara sugar with strong fizzy notes of candied oranges , malt, milk and toffee chocolate, hints of spiciness in background and after a while there are sherry notes of raisins and red berries popping up along with some lactic impression
Palate: Sweet oranges & kumquat, chocolate, oak bitterness, promise of spiciness isn’t fulfilled
Finish: Medium-short length, oak, bittersweet kumquat peels
Conclusion: Younger and livelier than the 16 year old with more distinct character, may I dare say it’s less Patterson-y? It’s a nice session whisky and right now, at travel retail shops, it’s one of a handful exclusive expression I’d recommend you to buy, and it’s NAS whisky worth buying.