How big? How long? How much and how strong? The creation of whisky is fundamentally a numbers game – a chemical endeavour where almost every variable can and is monitored, measured and quantified. And similarly, enthusiasts love to enthuse about numbers too. Usually not to the level of being curious about yeast attenuation (though it has been known) – but questions about quantities, percentages and times become easily stitched into the fabric of being a whisky geek. PPMs being a personal bugbear of mine when it comes to incessant enquiry. It's simply an extension of the passion to want to understand ‘why’ and why often means ‘how much?’. But outside of nerd circles, there’s still one number which pervades even the most casual of whisky drinkers – that of the age statement.
If you look back over the rise in popularity of single malts, you could easily be excused for believing that the industry has issued plenty of mixed messages (willingly or not) about age statements. The be-all and end-all, a by-word for quality, not as important as flavour, obsolete, illogical, and fundamental to preserving integrity. All over the space of a few decades and rarely with much consistency.
Whisky can be viewed from the outside-in as challenging and inaccessible, and for a long time the casual supermarket drinker would regularly intone that “they don’t like younger whiskies” – not based on any knowledge or experience of younger whiskies (which really aren’t sold in supermarkets), but as a method of trying to fit in – to conform with a perceived social norm that older whisky is somehow better.
But even that is changing now. Criticism of younger malts is fading. There’s a growing pool of high-quality young whiskies which are turning the notions of what 3-year-old maturity can look like on its head. And at the same time, whether some form of whisky political correctness, or a changing of the guard, newbies are actively fearing being labelled as a pariah for daring an utterance on youth. Suggesting you don’t like younger whiskies in 2020 is akin to admitting your inexperience. How times have changed.
Age statements are perennially tricky. And the Internet is awash with polarised viewpoints. But whilst many a commentary has been written on the relationship of age-statement to price (and that certainly is a thing), few analyses dig deeper into why this badly understood number cannot mean the same thing to every liquid and every distillery the world over.
Much of the confusion stems from the belief that ageing whisky is expensive. That leaving liquid in a barrel for 10,20 and 30 years results in ever increasing costs which necessitate higher asking prices. The reality is that presenting a 30 year old whisky for sale has prevented that liquid from being capitalised on for 27 years – warehousing is relatively inexpensive at scale – producing a larger age statement is almost entirely an opportunity cost.
Age statements are a commonality that allow for comparison but that don’t perfectly standardise. They’re not a constant. Whilst a car’s speed can be measured in mph and 50mph is the same speed no matter what vehicle you’re driving – 10 year whisky offers no such uniformity when looked at in terms of maturity. And maturity is a both a variable and a perception.
The Whisky Exchange have released a number of high quality Glentauchers over the past couple of years – all bottled displaying at an age statement which provides a firm advance steer as to the likely profile of the spirit – and each delivering on that promise. Today’s bottling comes from the quietly promoted ‘Single Casks by The Whisky Exchange’ which were debuted at the 2019 London Whisky Show. Those interested in sampling the full suite of nine releases can look to a The Perfect Measure sample set - The Dramble has reviewed a number of these already (Aberlour, Miltonduff, Glenburgie, Ledaig and the absolutely exceptional Laphroaig) and found a selection of very solid picks which will surely be expanded upon in the future.
The Glentauchers hails from cask #402, an ex-bourbon barrel which was laid down in 1997 and disgorged in 2019 resulting in 182 bottles at 54.5% ABV. They’re still available directly from The Whisky Exchange for £135.
Nose: Bright candied fruits – lemon peels, nectarines and melon slices – served in a well-polished oak bowl and dusted liberally with powdered sugar. Apple compote, pear drops and mango juice develops whilst in the background a tingle of white pepper is joined by freshly baked buns. The addition of water expresses ‘greener’ notes with hot house vines and overt grassiness alongside a syrupier consistency of fruit.
Taste: The arrival sets the tone with a wave of well-defined fruits – fresh comice pears and honeydew melon alongside lemon verbena. The mid-palate reveals a strong spirit-forward cereal character with a bowl of milky oats, whilst fruits offer both sweet and sour notes tempered by cask char and controlled pepperiness. Reduction is all on the malt – porridge oats, golden cereals, oat cakes and barley water.
Finish: Quite long with lemon drops, Alpen and fading polished oak.
Whilst the profile of this TWE 1997 Glentauchers might feel a little tight and constrained at times it’s important to remember that not every whisky needs to offer profound complexity or challenge-like aromas and flavours. Here the focus is firmly on crystalline clarity fruits and the underlying cereal character of the spirit. And when those are combined with a good quality ex-bourbon barrel as they are here, that’s more than enough to produce something that’s just delicious. No need for over-thinking – this is just for drinking.
Review sample provided by The Whisky Exchange