It is widely accepted, or perhaps more commonly presumed that whiskies, especially single malts improve with age. Now there will instantly be naysayers, those with more experience with Scotch that will say ‘age isn’t everything’ and ‘sometimes a twelve year old can be better than the eighteen year old from the same distillery’. Which is fair enough, however I feel those same people would struggle to suppress their excitement at seeing a Glenfarclas 30 year old. So what is in an age?
In 1915 a law was decreed that whisky must be matured in oak for at least two years, this was increased to three years a year later. While many often forget the plight of the distilleries in Scotland at the time who were not sitting on large amounts of aged whisky because a year before there was no need, today people are happy in the knowledge that regardless of packaging they can be guaranteed their Scotch whisky is at least three years old. Three years and a day some would argue.
If you jump forward to the 1960’s single malt Scotch is starting to make its way into the global market, largely due to the efforts firstly of Glenfiddich, followed closely by Glenlivet, Macallan and Glenmorangie. At the time the move towards age statements also came in to play with bottles proudly displaying the age of the youngest malt in the batch, a law still in place today. Now whiskies will be bottled at anything between 3 and 75 years old.
Young malts will often be very spirit heavy, although it is worth remembering that peat hides all manner of sins. You will get a lot of what are referred to as green notes, things like grass, green apples or floral notes. Some will enjoy this younger fresher style of whisky that displays the distillery style of spirit without it being all about the wood. A Glenallachie 6 year old single cask we have is a great example of this. The longer the whisky sits in the cask the more characteristics is takes on and often more and more oils from the wood. This will give the whisky more vanilla and coconut or tannins and red fruit notes depending on the type of oak. This is where the notion that older whiskies are better comes in as malts that have been in the cask a long time will often be very oily and thick, therefore smoother and have a more character at the same time. Distilleries such as Glenfarclas excel as they get older.
It really is all down to experimenting and finding what you enjoy, and as always with whisky, there will be exception to every rule.