We’re still on Island expressions, and the first No Age Statement release I’ve reviewed is coming Real Soon Now (Laphroaig’s Quarter Cask). But let’s talk NAS first. The lads at Whisky Waffle did an entire week on NAS; they tightened their belts and screwed down their green eyeshades and really went at it with as much seriousness as they can muster (they were pretty tough, actually). Their series is worth a read for getting some background on NAS, so I’m not going to re-fight that campaign. However, before I get to Quarter Cask, I’d like to get a couple facts about the NAS expressions we are seeing out in front.
The odd Supply and Demand Curve for Whisky
My feeling is that, while these days of rising sales and a limited supply of aged whisky have led to high prices for aged single malt, NAS should be a way for distilleries to produce more volume of good whisky. They can be a bit creative and mix in some newer whisky with the old and bottle more product. NAS should be a way of increasing supply, thus reducing price. I know this, I took a major in Economics, ceteris paribus and all that.
However, the opposite has happened. We’ve got more expressions than ever, and I have to surmise more whisky being shipped, but at higher prices. That’s counter-intuitive, and that got me curious. Here is a short survey of current aged and NAS offerings in my home state, Oregon. (Prices are set by the state, so are not affected by locality or time of year.) I have rounded to the nearest buck.
Highland Park 12-year (43%): $55
Highland Park Dark Origins (NAS, 46%): $80
Laphroaig 10-year (43%): $50
Laphroaig Quarter Cask (NAS, 48%): $60
Old Pulteney 12 year (43%): $47
Old Pulteney Navigator (NAS, 46%): $57
Talisker 10-year (45.8%): $62
Talisker Storm (NAS, 45.8%): $68
There’s a trend:
- Different aging — port or sherry casks, quarter casks, etc., for all or part of the maturation.
- Higher ABV.
- Gussied up presentation: fancy cases, lightning bolts, stories about storm-tossed mariners, etc. The term ‘inspired’ shows up a lot.
Prices are 10 – 45% higher for the NAS expressions. Odd, at first blush, and it makes you ask, why am I paying more for younger whiskies? The distillers say blending different-aged whiskies gives them freedom to pick the right whiskies without having to worry about age. I don’t see the selecting and blending as having a big impact on price — they do that anyway (a ’12-year’ is often a blend of 12 and older whiskies). There must be a reason, a value-add — either effort or inputs. We’re got two value-adds that are common to all.
One, ABV is typically 3% higher in the NAS expressions, which is nice. More of the spirit, less dilution. But more of what spirit? If you’re diluting my 12-year with some 6-year aged spirit instead of water, it isn’t necessarily going to taste better. It might taste more, but not better.
The second value-add is also in our trend list: different finishes. The maturation of most of these NAS whiskies is in different casks than the standard expression. The aim is to jam in more flavor in less time. Laphroaig’s approach is using Quarter Cask (smaller casks, more oak-to-whisky ratio) where Highland Park’s Dark Origins uses more first-fill sherry casks than the regular 12.
While the distillers can claim all the unique casking and selecting and mixing is what makes these NS whiskies more pricey, here’s your counterargument.
Glenmorangie 10-year (43%): $37
Glenmorangie LaSanta 12 (10-years bourbon, 2 years sherry, 46%): $50
That’s a hefty upsell (35%) but less than Highland Park’s premium for Dark Origins, and I know what I’m getting. Plainly stated, kudos to Glenmorangie for delivering a clearly-designed and declared product.
In the end, it’s about the taste. The intrepid Wafflers focused on taste, and had mixed results. Over time I’ll get to some NAS expressions, meanwhile there are plenty of other review sites where you can get the lowdown on that Gaelic-named, dramatically-cased, inspired by crusty mariner NAS expression tempting you down at the shop.