NAS stands for "No Age Statement". This is simply a catagory of whisky where the bottle doesn't bear any clue of the age of the whisky. There is a lot of NAS whisky out there and the biggest sellers in the world are NAS whiskies, Cheap blends, Johnny Walker Red, Jack Daniels, Jim Beam White. It's not a new thing. And due to various labeling and production regulations, we know that Johnny Walker is at least 3 years old and that Jim Bema White is at least 4 years old
But this is not really the whisky people are referring to when discussing NAS whisky. It's usually when NAS whisky is replacing whisky with an age statement. The producers argument for bottling whisky with No Age Statement is that whisky should be bottled when it's ready, not when it passes a more or less random selected age mileage. If you go into a typical warehouse and open two casks of whisky, both distilled at the same, and lets say 8 years old, it's not uncommon to find that one is very good and perfectly ready for bottling and the other is not ready at all and do need more years in the warehouse.
But if the bottle line up of that distillery is that this whisky has to be at least 12 years old, that good cask can't be bottled as part of the standard lineup. It doesn't meet the age requirement yet.
So the producers say: Lets drop the age statement on the bottle and bottle the whisky when it's ready. Let's not be a slave of the age requirement. Let's just bottle the whisky when it's good.
Unfortunately, consumers say, reality is something else. The last few years we have seen a whisky shortage. A whisky shortage is when demand is higher than the supply. Whisky is popular. There is a whisky shortage both for single malts and bourbons. There is a few shortcuts the producers can take to meet the demand. One is to bottle at a lower alcohol strength. If you add more water to your whisky, you can produce more bottles. Another one is to skip the age statement. By bottling a whisky at a younger age, you shorten the production time. This will initially give you quite a larger volume to pick casks from, but also as the bottling catch up with the now extended stock there will be a slight increase in production from the fact that whisky in the cask looses 2% volume on average every year. So if you bottle whisky at 10 years instead of 12 you will eventually, apart from a shorter production time, also have around 4% more whisky to put in bottles.
Most entusiasts are not very happy with this trend. Myself included. When you go into a duty free whisky store you see a lot of NAS 40% whisky. For Scotland particular, younger whisky has a higher alcohol percent than older whisky when resting in the cask. As whisky matures in a cask the alcohol percentage slowly goes down. In short this means that if you buy a 6 year old whisky at 40% and a 15 year old whisky at 40% you can be pretty sure that more water has been added to the 6yo to get it down to 40% than what was needed for diluting the 15yo casks. So young 40% whisky is really the last kind of whisky you wan't to buy. It contains a lot of water
I like age statement for standard products. It gives a tiny little guarentee of what goes into the bottle.
Some of these you can drink when pregnant, some not
So we set up this blind tasting of one of the most popular NAS bottlings out there. Ardbeg Uigeadail.
It's Ardbeg. It's bottles at 54.2%. It, unlike most other Ardbegs, have a heavy sherry part in the vatting. It's the essential peat and sherry combo in many peoples opinion. Peat and sherry doesn't always mix very well, but this bottling has been popular for over a decade now.
We managed to gather 6 bottlings. 5 of them was the with old bottlecodes
L4 315, L6 109, L7 325, L9 327, L10 032
L7 325 simply means it was bottled on the 325th day of 2007
The 6th bottling was a very new bottling from the new bottle facility, and it had a bottle code like this L59501 29072014. I interpret this as bottled 29th July 2014
So we had a selection of Uigedails from 2004 to 2014. The earliest bottling of Uigedail I know of, was bottled in 2003, L3 282 so I think we covered the era of Uigeadail quite well.
So how did we set this up?. We tried to set this up as a blind tasting. And we set two aims for ourselves.
1. Could we identify the L7 325, which apperently should be a rather good one. Check out that link to The Ardbeg Project. A couple of years ago I tasted this at a another vertical and back then I picked it out as outstanding compared to other batches. Locating a bottle of this at one of my friends was what triggered organising this tasting.
2. Could we identify the L4315. Of the other 5 batches 3 was opened on the day, 1 a couple of days before and the 5th 3 weeks prior. The L4315 had been open for years. Untouched for years and with just around a 10cl dreg in the bottle we wondered if this could affected the whisky enough to be pinpointed amongst 5 others recently opened bottles
Fast answers: We couldn't identify the L4 315. It was easy to identify the L7 325. The cork broke and even though I tried to clean the whisky from small bits of corks it was identfiied by one of the participants.
I was pouring the whiskies and the other 3 shuffling them, I also knew which was the L7 325. I didn't need the cork bits to reveal that. It was considerable darker than the other 5.
2014 versus L7325
Here are my verdicts of the 6 bottlings. They were tasted blind. I knew which was L7325 though
Slight sourness on the nose. Parmesan and babypuke is what people often refer to when we meet this in whisky. It was also sulphured. The sulphurness carried over into the palate. As I am extra sensitive to sulphur, it meant I rated this lowest. This is a good example of a whisky that is not bad, but just get a low rating from me, cause I don't like it and can't cope with sulphur. Score 78
This had a very faint sourness as well on the nose. But the palate was fine. One of the particiapants really disliked this one, while us other three liked it. The nose couldn't drag it down a lot so Score 86
We knew what is was. But it was easy no brainer to pick it out. A lot darker. With a hint of old sherried Ardbeg. A great whisky. My guess is that some 70's Ardbeg went into this one Score 90
My favourite outside the L7 325. Just as a good Uigeadail should be with no flaws Score 87
Very well balanced and with substantial less alcohol burn than the other 5. I thought this was one that had been opened for years. Score 86½
Not very good. The nose was grainy, new boiled pasta and newmakeish. Not a havy sherry influence either. What a dissapoint. The L4315 got a low rating cause I didn't like it. This got a low rating cause it was bad whisky. Score 79. In hindsight today I feel I should have score it even lower
The whisky was served in this order: 2004-2014-2010-2007-2006-2009
When the whiskies were revealed even the atheists amongst us were paraying "Let #2 not be my bottle"
I couldn't help thinking that the reason the 2014 bottling was so bad was becasue Ardbeg Uigeadail is a NAS whisky. For this particular batch they seem to have used a lot younger whisky. I don't know for sure. Maybe the casks used were exactly the same age as the casks used for other ones. Maybe the whisky was just not very good. We don't know. But if I bought this bottle I would complain to the shop, and if I had this bottle in my shop I would complain to my importer
No matter if we averagied our scores or averaged our individual rankings we ended up ranking the 6 Uigeadails like this
3 out 4 had the L7325 as favourite. 4th participant had the L9 327 as favourite with L7 325 on the 2nd place.
If you wan't to read more about Ardbeg batches and Ardbeg bottle codes, I recommend The Ardbeg Project