How do you find a good single malt Scotch?

16th January, 2013 by Joel Harrison

For single malts, the age statement has long been the consumer’s prime navigational tool, but distillers are now questioning this approach. Joel Harrison investigates.

Scotch malt whisky barrels ageing

Does age still matter when picking a good single malt?

If you listen to the politicians in Scotland pushing for independence, you’ll hear them boast about a country rich in natural resources, rich in history and rich in entrepreneurialism. The television, radio, golf, Bovril, Scotch whisky and penicillin all trace their inception to Scots, and this roll call of inventors has unwittingly been the architects of many a person’s average weekend.

Agree or disagree with the push for independence, but following in the footsteps of TV and golf, the current Trojan horse for those supporting autonomy for Scotland – or “Brand Alba” – is now Scotch whisky. Loved the world over, it’s seeing dynamic growth in demand in key emerging markets, and while blends are the volume drivers, its flagship offering in terms of provenance is single malt.

With the majority of Scottish single malt brands occupying the luxury end of the market, part of the strategy to tempt new consumers into the category is with increasingly innovative entry-level offerings.

New recruits to the category, the theory runs, should become brand-loyal, growing into the arena while trading up through a brand’s own series of offerings in the marketplace. At the same time, core ranges are strengthened and underscored with unique offerings in global travel retail, as well as interesting single cask and vintage pieces for those really looking to explore a particular distillery’s repertoire.

However, providing new drinkers with a road map to their potential purchases has always been the biggest challenge facing the “Mad Men” of single malts. What are the flavours locked inside each bottle and, more importantly, why are those flavours reflected in the digits on the price tag?

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