Saturday, February 22, 2014

Whiskey dialectic

It took me a while, but I finally figured out that
A. What matters is what the whiskey tastes like, not how old it is.
is not a counter-argument to
B.The trend toward No Age Statement whiskeys is bad for whiskey.

In fact, "What matters is what the whiskey tastes like" is a premise that leads to the conclusion, "The NAS trend is bad."

Statements A and B aren't contradictions, because they have very different scopes. "What matters is what the whiskey tastes like" applies to particulars -- don't tell me how old this whiskey is, tell me how good it is. "The NAS trend is bad" applies in general -- don't tell me how good this whiskey is, tell me how good whiskeys are overall.

Statement A (which, by the way, is how I reacted to the news that the Macallan was moving away from age statements) is also an over-simplification, since it doesn't address the potential impact of the NAS trend on prices, remaining for most enthusiasts a critical part of the whiskey buying equation.

Price is an objective, measurable part of making decisions about whiskey, and one thing an NAS bottling does is fuzz up the relationship between cost to produce and price to purchase. An NAS Scotch might be 1 part 14 yo to 6 parts 18 yo, which would lead to a "fair" price considerably higher than would be suggested by the "14 Years Old" that would otherwise be on the label.

That's the sort of example the whiskey producers want whiskey buyers to think of when they think of NAS expressions, rather than of a bottle of 6 yo Scotch playing dress-up as an exclusive limited release. The point is that an NAS could be either, and could be priced.... well, however they want, but probably not as a loss leader for the brand.

It's not enough, then, to wave away the risk of overpriced, underaged whiskey by saying, "So don't buy it," because the existence of such whiskey may well have an impact on the existence of the fairly priced, properly aged whiskey we want to buy.

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