An interesting experiment…

From Oliver of Dramming.com we received some samples a while ago to participate in his NAS vs. age statement blind tasting. He was hoping that these results would add another, less emotional, perspective to the ongoing NAS whisky debate. The results of it are just released and can be found by following this link.

The instructions were very clear we got from Oliver. We would receive 10 sample bottles marked 1A, 1B, 2A, 2B, and so forth. Every A/B pair would be a pair of a NAS and an age statement single malt from a Scottish distillery. It had to be tasted head to head from two nosing glasses of the same type. All he needed to know from us was the preferred sample of the pair. To let it be as waterproof as possible we were asked not to share results before the publishing of the results and not to talk about it with other participants. In the end 59 of the 70 participating in this shared their results with him and created an interesting result if I may say. There was a group A and a group B and in that way he could cover 10 distillery parings with AS vs NAS.

It is clear that I am still terrible in guessing distilleries right for sure (aka got them all wrong). But expected that one really a bit due to that being one of the most difficult things to do. It all depends on the time and moment tasted, the feeling, the memory. How are your senses picking up the flavours coming from the drams? It can change and be different al the time. But that is the thing we love about whisky isn’t it? The diversity in whisky available, but also the connection with the moment and place tasted, that influences the experience enormously.

The debates online and offline about non age statement versus age statement  has been going on for a long time now, and I think it will keep popping up, due to the market changes that are constantly happening. If you look closely, the market always has been going round and round really a bit in the same waves and motions. There will always be the same groups that have objections, groups who love it, and also will there be a group that was privileged to have known the “older and previous editions” of some whiskies.

Lets keep an open mind to the whole range of different spirits out there, young and old. Try them before speaking out, do some research, and then make an opinion. The same with the age statement discussion. Like it always has and will be, there will be whiskies that you don’t and do like. And another person has a different opinion, and view to it all. That is good, and lets talk about it for sure and share. Be critical about things, but stop nagging and discover the world and have some fun.

This is the same with all other things we buy in life. It is an industry, that needs to earn money by making a product. Yes, I agree that some of the prices are getting the last years are going crazy and that it is all too much looking like marketing driven stuff. But isn’t that what the rest of the world outside of whisky is also doing? We are hungry for the “craft” feel and shout out for it but don’t we also fall so hard every time for the marketing “rosy” sunglasses they put on us? I know I have, several times. But trying to see through it more and more and discovering the world behind that with the things yet to be discovered.

That is why I loved to participate in this experiment. Seeing it without any coloured glassware on,  not being influenced by anticipations that come with labels and ages numbers. But more and more that is also something I have found out besides this experiment that there is amazing good stuff out there, young and old, blend or single malt. You just have to keep an open mind, and let the people from the industry show you the passion behind it. Have a deeper look in the making of the product, understand why and how a certain flavour came to be. See that behind every whisky (even the ones you don’t like) are people trying to make a living and doing something they think is right. Respect that.

But we can ask the industry to please keep it down a bit with the over the top marketing, the “more is better” motto that seems to be going around. Please stop that, the whisky lover just wants to enjoy a dram, against a price they can afford, they are not looking for the bright screaming colours, flyers, girls in tight suits, celebrities, over the top displays and so much more. They want to see the stuff in the bottle and enjoy that. Not pay for the fancy bottle and box that comes with it. Please let us have a look into the science behind it, and how the product is made, make us understand and let us feel the craft even in the non craft organisations. Lets go back to the basic ingredients and make sure they are of solid quality, put some thought in it, and not just go for a quick and dirty result to make a quick profit.

Even with awesome marketing for a “quick and dirty” product you can have some revenue because there will always be people falling for the marketing, but haven’t we all in some point of our “whisky journey”? But will this help in the long term? Will people not see that attention to quality in the basis is always better in the long term, combined with the right follow up process of cask management attached? That all parts of the process have to be good to really make a solid product? Yes, there is more risks involved and more experimenting, and not generating quick cash flow directly. But it’s an industry when you look at it. Just like shoes, cars, food, household appliances etc. But there needs to be some balance for people and they will love in the end even more the quality and attention to detail given. They will talk about that, and that is something no marketing budget can buy. People sharing the passion and appreciating the effort.

People are willing to pay for quality, but we need to look behind the label a bit and look at the liquid inside the bottle and make an opinion about it. And decide if it is worth it. But don’t put the bottles on the bottom shelves in the store directly aside and think they must be crap because they are on the bottom shelf. There can be beauties to be found there, but maybe they just did not have the marketing money available to buy a spot higher up, to be in the centre of the display where your attention is drawn directly, and you automatic look at.

Thanks Oliver for having this experiment and letting us participate. Great fun and interesting results that hopefully will get people talking about it all without emotions and with another perspective to it. I have not been mixing myself in the discussions about NAS and age statement before, and not looking to do that in the future, but that does not mean I don’t have an opinion about it all, I just don’t see much point in “diving” in those discussions really. We can tell the industry what we really want and that we don’t like certain developments, but do they really listen as long as the product gets sold? In the end it all comes down to money, it always has been and always will be.

But we can ask why they are doing it and what is the motivation behind it for sure, make us understand and not with a marketing attached to it. Thank you that you have kept reading through my ramblings about the world of whisky and the debates going on in it. There is so much out there, and so much to say, so hopefully it all makes a bit sense to you.

Please share your opinions, looking forward to hearing other people thoughts on it. But please keep it real also, have fun, and if you don’t like a whisky, just move on to the next one and try that one. Know I am just one person with my own set of preferences, and not an expert, just sharing an opinion on the things I have experienced so far. And maybe I need more experiences on some things, I am sure of it, but working on that. Just as whisky it takes time. It is all about the journey. Please hang in there a bit longer and have a look below at my tasting notes and scores of the blind samples as tasted them on that moment. Looking forward to looking these bottles up now and having another nose and taste and seeing what they show me. 

Sample A1A vs A1B

A1A
A pinkish colored whisky with a nose that is sweet with dried fruits, honey, creamy, ripe fruits, chocolate and almost bit tropical fruit notes with an earthy layer also. On the palate there is also the sweetness and fruity feel with honey, creamy, pepper and dark chocolate. Bit dry note also, but not too. Vanilla, raisin, bit puff pastry sweetness and powdered sugar. The finish is a bit short and fades away quickly. Scoring this an 7 out of 10, because the nose is sweet and fruity and creamy, but the palate does not seem to deliver what the nose promises. It fades away quickly and leaves you with a creamy vanilla feeling.
A1B
A golden yellow color on this whisky with cookie dough and chocolate on the nose. Vanilla, red apple, fruits, dash of lemon and a bit dusty. So rinsed the glass with the whisky and then with smelling my hands it gives me not so pleasant flavours of a cat litter. Mhmm. Strange one this, also a bit sour/bitter note in it which I can’t place. On the palate there is sweetness again with chocolate, vanilla, raisin and with a bit dry layer underneath. Sweet, but nutty dryness almost also. Not a lively palate or long finish either. Hint of citrus freshness in the back. Finish is sweet and leaves a creamy mouth feel but with sugar cane feeling and caramel. Score for this one an 6,5 / 10.  

Compared head to head
A1B nose more dense en “stuck” together, more one blend of all notes then A1A, it feels a bit more flatetend out almost. On the palate the A1B whisky is not a “lively one” so to say and just sugary sweet. Getting some notes out of it, but not impressed by it really. Bit sour/bitter notes underneath. Sample A1A gives more the notes from the nose, but lacks a finish I find. It fades away quickly, while it hold lovely notes, but does not deliver as much as I got promised on the nose really. If I had to choose between these I would go for A1A, even with the lack of finish but it has just more depth in it, and with some time it opens up a bit more. The A1B gives me sour and bitter and very caramel sugary sweet feel.

Result

After results were released we know now that this one is from Glen Moray distillery, and being the following expressions, my preference being thus the NAS expression here.

NAS: Port Cask Finish (sample A1A) – €30
Age statement: 12 yo (sample A1B) – €30

Sample A2A vs A2B

A2A 
The nose was sweet, honey, vanilla, orange, grapefruit, fresh and sweet vanilla nose. But a bit one top layer with not much beneath it? Rich vanilla though. The palate gives me soap, bitter (earwax) and sharp citrus. After that fades away there is vanilla and honey sweetness. Becomes a bit better with some time, and showing more the fruit notes and vanilla/honey and balancing out the bitter/dry notes. The finish is not balanced and not long. Scoring this one an 6/10. 
A2B
On the nose sweet, more thicker then A2A for sure. Vanilla, cassis, red summer fruit, creamy, white chocolate, feels richer then A2A. Freshness of pomolo and green apples. Fudge, honey, subtle hint of wood and spices. On the palate a citrus bitter and mixed with the notes from the nose. Feels more balanced then the A2A. But more a caramel feeling? On the medium length finish there is some wood and vanilla notes. Scoring this one an 6/10
Compared head to head
Both I like more on the nose then the palate. But if I had to choose I would go for A2B
The nose on that one is more richer and shows more different flavours. But on the palate both have a bitterness and dryness that I don’t like. They both show after that sweet and fruit notes, but A2B has a more balanced feel and the bitterness/dryness is less then in A2A. The feeling of the finish on both I get is a bit sour mash and after that some dry cocoa powder
Result
This were to expressions of the Dalmore Distillery.

Age statement: 12 yo (sample A2A) – €33
NAS: Valour (sample A2B) – €39


Sample A3A vs A3B

A3A
On the nose it is softer then B and does not have the young spirit feel to it. Sweet, honey, fudge and fruit. On the palate there is the fruit sweetness, red & green apples, fudge, chocolate, creamy and fruit cake. The finish is soft and of medium length with notes of vanilla, raisin and chocolate/dried fruits. It does feel a bit too watered down? Scoring it a 7/10.

A3B
The nose is sweet, fudge, fruit and a bit young sharp spirit note. The palate is much like the nose and gives off a note of citrus, honey, sweet and dried apricots. But the sharpness of the young spirit feel makes me :-/ On the finish I got the feeling of strong orange rind bitterness. Scoring it an 6,5/10
Compared head to head
Preferred is the A3A over the A3B. Even if it feels a bit “watered” down, it is a bit too soft I feel, and could use some more strength to it. But nice and sweet fruity dram. The A3B is has more bitterness in the finish, and sharpness like young spirit.

Result
These were from the Glenlivet Distillery

Age statement: 12 yo (sample A3A) – €28
NAS: Founder’s Reserve (sample A3B) – €30

Sample A4A vs A4B
A4A 
Nose contains darker honey, bit earthy heather note but also sweet, fresh and soft. On the palate again lots of sweetness, honey, fruity, much like the nose. Soft and creamy with some warm spices and black pepper, lemon, grapefruit and mint. On the medium length finish there was a bit lemon cheesecake with hint of chocolate. Scoring it a small 7,5/10

A4B
The nose was a bit sharper then A, more “present”, with the same notes coming through. On the palate I found it to be a bit more bitter then A, citrus and nutty?
Same notes as A again very much. Very honey sweet, bit floral, heather and lots of fruits. Vanilla, raisin and chocolate. Scoring an 6,5 – 7/10 for me.

Compared head to head
The more citrus notes on A4B makes me want that one a bit less. A4A seems bit more balanced with A4B a bit rougher so to say. Both very sweet, fruit drams, and very much alike.

Result
These samples were from the Cardhu Distillery expressions.

NAS: Amber Rock (sample A4A) – €38

Age statement: 12 yo (sample A4B) – €30
Sample A5A vs A5B

A5A
Nose is sweet, floral, violets, roses, banana, kiwi, oranges, light fresh mint note and a light sherry influence maybe? Some darker sweet notes and cinnamon/light leather coming through on the palate with honey sweetness, fudge, red apple, banana, vanilla, raisin, like the nose. The not too long finish has a deep rich creamy chocolate and vanilla feel to it. Scoring it an 7,5/10

A5B
The nose is much like A but a bit more flatter/softer? All mixed up, less separate notes? The palate has a bit
more bitter citrus note, but fruity fresh and floral. Red apple, banana, creamy, chocolate. The finish is of medium length and has some creamy vanilla, raisin, chocolate, fudge, spices, cinnamon, white pepper, pineapple and mango creamy soft in it. Scoring this one an 7,5/10

Compared head to head
Both lovely, scoring the same in total review even with small differences that make them different but also the same.

Result
From the Macallan Distillery we got to taste next to each other the following drams:

Age statement: 10 yo Fine Oak (sample A5A) – €55 (price increase due to scarcity)
NAS: Gold (sample A5B) – €45

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