Will consumers embrace no-age-statement Scotch whiskies?

29th July, 2014 by Tom Bruce-Gardyne
Scotch-whisky-regions

Could communication of Scotch whisky regions replace the perceived importance of age statements?

Regional approach

The company’s special releases have taken this approach for some time, and yet core expressions like Glenmorangie Original is a 10-year-old and destined to remain so.

Of course the first thing any whisky book would tell you about Glenmorangie is that it’s a Highland malt, as opposed to an Islay, Lowland or Speyside. This regional approach to single malts, what Lumsden calls “that old chestnut”, has long been used as a flavour signpost to direct consumers around the category. As Ken Grier says: “Purchasing a bottle of single malt is pricey, and if you get a flavour you don’t expect, it can be a bit of an expensive mistake. Regionality can give you an indication of the type of the spirit.” Lumsden, however, is unconvinced: “I think regionality has as much capacity to confuse as it does to clarify.”

For Chivas Brothers, regionality is an important factor when educating consumers about Scotch, particularly when helping them discover the whisky in the first place. But the group veers away from using the Scotch whisky regional flavour map in its consumer communications. “We do provide some information about the regional differences to consumers where relevant – our single malts carry regional definitions on their labels, for example – but if we do reference the regionality flavour map on our websites or social media channels, it’s always alongside other information,” explains Nikki Burgess, international brand director for malts at Chivas Brothers.

Journey of flavour

When Diageo entered the category in the late 1980s, their six Classic Malts were entirely built on the regions with Islay represented by Lagavulin, and Speyside by Cragganmore for example. The UK supermarkets later followed suit with regional malts under their own labels, while the Classic Malts doubled in size and ultimately required a different approach altogether – namely the so-called “Flavour Map”. Developed in conjunction with whisky writer Dave Broom, it displays malts – and not just Diageo’s – plotted on a grid between “delicate” and “smoky”, and “light” and “rich”.

“We play two tunes when talking to consumers,” Nick Morgan explains. “There is a flavour tune and there’s a regionality tune, and broadly speaking they tend to align. So, if you think of the Flavour Map, Speyside whiskies will group in one particular area, and Lowland ones in another distinct area, although there will always be exceptions. Regionality is a very emotional way of talking about whisky while flavour is far more functional. I think they both offer us a very useful way to reach out to consumers.” He also describes the Flavour Map as a useful gift-giving tool, and adds: “Remember in excess of 50% of all single malts are bought as gifts.”

This approach favours Diageo simply because it has more malt distilleries in Scotland than any of its rivals. The Macallan and Glenmorangie see themselves as far more than a pinpoint on a map, and you can hardly blame them. But if you’re a big force in the market you outgrow concepts like regional identity and age statements, because all that really matters is the strength of the brand.

6 Responses to “Will consumers embrace no-age-statement Scotch whiskies?”

  1. Jason Debly says:

    “Will consumers embrace no-age-statement Scotch whiskies?”

    Yes, if it is good, and there’s the rub.

  2. Jason Debly says:

    Consumers will embrace no age statement whiskies if they are getting good value for money. So, if a blend is priced cheaply or reasonably, and tastes good, people will buy. The trouble is that there are a lot of no age statement whiskies that do not offer value for money. Macallan’s Sienna is a fine drink but not at the retail prices I see. At a 50% less price point I can enjoy the equivalent flavor and enjoyment in a number of 12 year old single malts.

    Finally, age is always important in whiskies. It just depends on the whiskies. Some whiskies need more time to reach their zenith and if bottled too young will invariably disappoint, even if they are used in blends.

    It’s a tricky balancing act that I think the drinks companies will engage in. Some will succeed and others will fail.

  3. ray says:

    age IS NOT A GUARANTEE of quality, i agree there.

    but age offers a GOOD CHANCE, or a BETTER chance,,,, that the whisky you are drinking has taken the so much vaunted time and patience for the wood to do its magic together wit hthe spirit.

    how will that MAGIC happen otherwise??

    and i am not inventing this,,,, we have been told all these years about the nostalgia of angels share, patience, time, humid dark corners of forgotten warehouses bla bla bla.

    or has the dogma changed now?!?!

  4. Jared says:

    No the dogma hasn’t changed. Age matters always will, what they are doing coincides completely with the SURGE in popularity of whisky and bourbon. They want to drop age statements so they can mix younger whisky in their flagship brands while still maintaining ever increasing sales, and you can GUARANTEE ever increasing prices and profits. So to take the approach that the recent attempts to drop age statements from all distillers, is all under the guise of being better able to vat whiskeys to maintain desired color and flavor profiles is complete dishonesty and disintegrity from the whisky makers. Its pulling the wool over consumers eyes. This is all because stocks are running low, and this is no coincidence its at the same time as SOARING popularity and sales of bourbon and scotch. Its just driving them insane having whisky that is say…11 years 10 months old, and they have to wait 2 more months before it can get blended in and bottled with other 12 year barrels in their 12 year scotch or bourbon. Maybe the distillers have integrity and would resist this, but its going to happen because of corporate and financial pressures. I will do exactly what most of you should do, put your money in the brands that still maintain age statements, and if they want to drop age statements my money will go elsewhere. Sure age isn’t everything, but its a good indicator when you’re searching for a new brand. And when I want to spend my hard earned dollars on a new sample of a bourbon or scotch, you can guarantee I’m not dropping $75-100 USD on a No-Age-Statement Scotch, or bourbon but its a bit cheaper here.

  5. john mccheyne says:

    The age of whisky was a big selling point for many years , probably since the modern era birth of the Single Malt category over the last 40 years. In that period the industry used age as a quality differentiator and created the view that age was all important. I can even recall films where ’12 yo Scotch ‘ has been mentioned as a big reward for something.
    So it will be difficult to quickly change that perception. The vast majority of whisky buyers don’t understand the intricacies of why NAS has come about. Even Bells dropped their 8 yo a few years ago , and I don’t think they took a big hit,although some Blends still sell premium age statement expressions.
    I believe the Chivas campaign was frowned upon in certain sectors because it added more pressure to those moving in a different direction.
    But it’s here to stay. Customers will still buy if the quality is good. But , interestingly , if 50% of Malts purchase is as a gift , and the non-whisky drinker buying as a gift used the age statement as a mark of quality , how will they make their decision if age disappears ? And have age statement whiskies seen an uplift in recent years as a result ?

  6. Paul H. says:

    For me the age statement certainly does matter. I realize that it’s not a perfect measure, but currently the only whisky available locally without age statements is really young stuff, mostly blended, that is only suitable for mixed drinks, and it’s not much cheaper than much better quality low-end single malts. Given a choice I will only buy what I have more certainty with.

    If I go into a liquor store and see to variants of the same brand, which I’ve never heard of before, on the shelf, at much different prices, it is reasonable to assume that the older batch is worth a higher premium. If they can only be told apart because of a name (Generico Super vs Generico Premium) it really tells me nothing about value, hence nothing of value.

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