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Non age 

Communicating non aged whisky confidently can be challenging. How many of us know the correct response when a consumer asks the difference between a Dewar’s White Label and Signature? 

Age puts forward the case the longer the time spent interacting with wood the more flavour the whisky draws. With up to 60% of the whiskies final character coming from the cask, it is certainly a viable argument. However, with such high percentage of flavour coming from the wood, the debate requires further examination into the distillers wood policy. Age does not inform us how many times the cask has been refilled, the oak type and what fortified wine it may have previously held lending more flavour. 

The magic of wood may surprise some that it can also have a negative impact. Keeping a whisky in the cask for too long can make it dry, tired (pending quality,) and woody. Should the distiller retain the whisky inside the cask to give it transparency for an age statement or draw the whisky when it has reached its individual peak of maturity? Applying this view to our debate would suggest that age is only a part of the overall equation. 

Macallan and Johnnie Walker hold this philosophy at the very heart of their non aged ultra premium expressions. Both acknowledge that consumers shop the category by age which is evident by both offering aged stated whiskies. However, the 1824 range by Macallan along with the Johnnie Walker Blue Label extended range do not carry an age statement. Departing from the age ‘straight jacket’ enables both Master Distiller/ Blender to select the casks at their optimum maturity to reach their desired style. Providing greater freedom enables the use of different strengths, ages, cask types and even Silent Stills (in the case of the Johnnie Walker range) to get optimum flavour, balance and rarity within non aged deluxe offerings. 

Non age allows distillers to drive innovation. Both Glenmorangie’s Signet using chocolate maltings and Ardbeg Supernova have been incredibly successful in highlighting the distillery’s unique characteristics and drive points of differentiation. Both expressions sit at the pinnacle of each respective brand retailing in excess of Y1,200. 

The higher ambient temperature in maturation sheds in Taiwan and Tasmania also offer a strong case for non age. At Taiwanese distiller Kavalan a staggering 7% of the casks overall volume is lost to evaporation every year. Compared to just 2% in Scotland, a 12 year old cask will not yield the same volume, share the same strength and certainly not sit at the same price point compared to its Scottish cousin. 

However, unlike its aged counterpart, non aged whiskies do lack transparency forcing consumers to rely on price as the point of differentiation. This brings whisky lovers into a ‘gentleman’s agreement’ with the distiller placing trust at the very heart to ensure that the liquid is not over priced along with guaranteeing integrity of all the component whiskies inside each and every bottle. 

Managing inventory and simple economics are also fundamental drivers to the renaissance of the non aged statement. Some may raise this as the primary reason why some brands have decided to migrate aged expressions to new non - aged offerings. The debate continues! 

無年份威士忌

 

要輕鬆談論無年份威士忌,其實需要一定經驗。有多少人能分辨出Dewar’s White Label跟 Signature之間的分別?

年齡是甚麼?威士忌於木桶中陳存愈久,在木中萃取的元素就愈多。既然「60%的味道元素來自木桶」,蒸餾廠當然需要慎重考慮用木的原則。年齡並未透露威士忌經過多少次換桶、木桶的種類、又或者木桶是否曾經存放其他加烈酒。

如果說木桶會帶來負面影響,可能不少人會感到驚訝。用桶過度會讓威士忌變得乾身、帶有木味、甚至變得難以飲用。當威士忌陳年了一段日子,並已到達顛峰,蒸餾廠應該繼續讓其陳年以達至一定「年齡」的要求,還是終止陳年然後裝瓶呢?抱持這種看法,就會明白年齡只是整條釀造方程式中當中的一小部分。

Macallan及Johnnie Walker 的高端作品正是前者的典範,兩者均看準消費者看重年齡的消費模式。相反,Macallan 1824 系列及Johnnie Walker Blue Label 則沒有年份標示。擺脫年份的束縛,調酒大師們將有更大的空間,據自己的喜好挑選成熟度合適的酒來混調,他們能使用不同酒精度、不同年齡的原酒;以各種木桶來陳年,甚至使用已關廠的威士忌(Johnnie Walker系列),以達致最終理想的味道、平衡及整體風格。

無年份推動酒廠發揮創意。Glenmorangie的Signet及Ardbeg的Supernova,都採用朱古力麥芽,結果兩者都成功凸顯出各自品牌獨有的風格,並且成為品牌中最高端的產品。

在台灣及塔斯曼尼亞,較溫暖的陳年環境為無年份威士忌提供條件。在噶瑪蘭酒廠,每年有7%的陳年威士忌從木桶中蒸發掉,而蘇格蘭每年平均流失率只是2%。因此釀造一支十二年陳、酒精度跟一般蘇格蘭威士忌相若的噶瑪蘭,其所耗用的原酒多很多,當然價格上也不能跟蘇格蘭的同儕相比。

相比年份威士忌,無年份威士忌缺乏的是透明度,讓消費者根據陳年的長度評估其價值。威士忌愛好者傾向相信有信譽的酒廠所使用的原酒,跟其所賣的價格相符。

庫存管理及簡單經濟學也是推動無年份威士忌風潮的動力。不少品牌已由年份威士忌轉向無年份威士忌。這場變革將會延續。