Single Malt Whisky – Does Age Matter?

A frequent question that is often asked about single malt whisky is this: does the age of the whisky matter? The average age of a standard single malt whisky is around 10 to 12 years. However many distilleries also produce whiskies that are 18-, 25- years old and even older. Usually the older the whisky then the more expensive it is. But does this meant that it is better?

Rare Single Malt Whiskies

You can be certain about 2 things:
  1. Older whiskies are very rare
  2. Aged single malt whiskies are very expensive.
As an example, the blended Scotch whisky Johnnie Walker Blue Label. This blend contains whiskies that are around 50 years old and will set you back around $300. However, the blend is such that the overall taste is a very smooth one.
There are a number of reasons for why older single malt whiskies are more expensive.
  • The longer a whisky matures in the oak cask, the more of it is lost evaporation. Most distilleries in Scotland lose around 2% of the volume. So 2% every year for, say 25 years is a lot of whisky.
  • Time. To wait something like 25 years is a long time to bottle the product. Sometimes the whisky will be matured in different casks to influence the flavour. So all this time, patience and expertise all adds to the price.

Opinions on Single Malt Whiskies

There are basically two schools of thought in the whisky industry:

  • age matters
  • age doesn’t matter

Age Matters School: Most of the larger whisky producers will market a specific range of brands are various age points – 10, 12, 15 and 18 years old, and will often give these a specific name as well. For example there is a Bowmore 12-yr old called Enigma and a 15-yr old Glenfiddich called Solera.

For example the Chivas Brothers whisky company are on the side of the fence that ‘age matters’. They market their products specifically on this. Their tagline is: “Look for the number… a guarantee of age and quality”.

Age Doesn’t Matter School: On the ‘age doesn’t matter’ side of the fence is, for example, Macallan. They have started to remove the age specification on some of their younger single malts and giving them names. Time will tell if this marketing idea pays off. They say that they are doing this to cater to different profiles and tastes, rather than just putting the single malts in an age bracket.

So to answer the question – does age matter? The answer is definitely yes, but only to do with price. Does age make a whisky better? Only you can decide that question.

Characteristics of Aged Single Malt Whiskies

Older whiskies are certainly more complex and have more depth than their younger counterparts. This is to do with the evaporation process (like if you are cooking and you keep simmering a sauce – you will be left with a thicker and more intense flavour). Also the more time the whisky spends in the cask then the more it draws in the flavours from the cast.

If you like strong tasting peaty whiskies, then you probably aren’t going to find this in a single malts.

In reality, some older whiskies are better than their younger expressions. There are more flavours and more depth to the taste. However some are definitely not, having become almost ‘too old’.

Find Out More About Single Malt Whisky

To find out more about Scotch whisky and single malts you can visit the The Whisky Exchange where you can find out more information and browse through the products. So find out more about single malt whisky.

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