Sunday, January 18, 2015

On the NAS Boycott of 2015

Ralfy Mitchell's announcement that he wouldn't review or buy "no age statement" single malt Scotch whiskies in 2015 inspired a number of other people to join him. (I don't know if that number is ten or ten thousand.) The goal of the boycott is to push the industry to produce only "proper, matured, age-stated whisky at an intelligent price."

The problem, again, is not quality. As Ralfy says,
...there are some good non age statement whiskies out there. But their reputation is being dragged down by the increasing availability of overpriced, mediocre stuff.
I wonder whether it might not be the other way around, that the good NAS is buoying the reputation of the mediocre stuff. I don't think I've ever seen an online conversation about NAS that didn't have something along the lines of, "But.. A'bunadh!" (Come to think of it, A'bunadh gives cover to both mediocrity and dopey Gaelic names.)

In any case, the very fact that it's not about quality shows how blunt an instrument a boycott is. There's nothing wrong with NAS per se. What's wrong is the release of improper, immature whisky at a stupid price.

Will age statements on all Scotch malt whiskies -- identifying the Scotch in the bottle by the youngest whisky included -- fix that?

Maybe so. I'm not sure how much a single number will tell the consumer, though if my 6 y.o. malt whisky had some 16 y.o. in the bottle, I'd want to indicate that on the packaging to distinguish it from the other guy's 6 y.o. with nothing older than 7 years (not easy to do with current Scotch whisky labeling requirements). And maybe not being able to use that crackerjack 5 year and 9 month barrel will be worth it, to producer and consumer.

Or maybe we should just take a Sharpie and write "3 y.o." on all NAS bottles.

Still, the root cause of the problem doesn't lie in a whisky bottle. It lies in the willingness of distilleries to engage in behavior like producing improper, immature whisky and selling it at a stupid price, and that willingness will remain even if all the NAS malt whiskies are taken away.

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