I’ve stood on the sidelines feeling perplexed over the past few months as the storm over the growing use of NAS whiskies has continued to rage. For those not aware of the term, NAS stands for No Age Statement and refers to the growing trend for whiskies to be released without traditional age statements.
So what’s all the fuss about? Well, for the major part, there’s power in provenance. People, and whisky fans in particular, are becoming far more discerning about the products they buy, and they want to know where it’s made, how it’s matured and, more importantly, what age the whisky involved in each bottling is.
Though some of the most popular entry-level whiskies happen to be NAS – Ardbeg’s Uighedhal, Aberlour A’bunadh, Glenfarclas 105 and the Auchentoshan Three Wood to name but a few – the recent trend for some of the bigger players, the most famous of which being Macallan, to replace their core range of age statements with NAS alternatives has sparked outrage.
A huge amount of discussion has arisen not only on fan forums and blogs but also within the industry itself. Nick Morgan, head of Diageo's whisky outreach spoke on the subject in a recent interview with the Whisky Exchange, in which he stated: "‘A lot of the comment is driven by hot-headed ignorance.
"There’s increasing demand for Scotch malt whisky, but it is a finite product, and in the face of increasing demand, it becomes increasingly difficult to guarantee a supply of aged stock."
And while he went on to confirm that this is now the nature of the beast the industry has created, Morgan did admit that being victims of their own success has seen the bond of trust being broken between producers and consumers, which he felt was 'regrettable'.
Many bloggers believe the prevaling use of NAS can only damage the industry in the long term, with one prominent blogger stating that those who continue to swap established bottling for poorer quality alternatives face "seeing their credibility with global whisky consumers plummet".
Tiger White of the Edinburgh Whisky Blog agrees and while he acknowledges that some NAS are of very good quality and actually enhance the range, there is growing concern over a continuing drop in quality across the industry, he said: "With demand for Scotch at an all time high, there's a growing concern that although these poorer quality NAS replacements may be making whisky more widely accessible to a global audience in the short term, but that they may damage the reputation of Scotch whisky in the long term."
It appears that the use of NAS is clearly a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it allows for innovation and experimentation, but on the other it does lend itself to exploitation where more cynical producers may use them to simply increase profits.
Obviously the problem isn’t going to go away any time soon; the demand for whisky will continue to grow, and good wood and liquid will only become harder to come by.
For me, the answer seems to be a simple one: only buy whisky from distilleries you trust to produce quality malts at fair prices. And yes, there are still plenty of them out there.