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Single Malt Distillers Continue Their Creative Streak, With Less Focus on Age Statements

October 7, 2014

A year ago Diageo North America released its first single malt Scotch with no age statement—Talisker Storm ($66 a 750-ml.). Sales have been robust, and this fall Diageo is pushing the envelope with the broad rollout of its Mortlach brand. Two of Mortlach’s key expressions have no age statement—the Mortlach Rare Old ($130) and the Special Strength (£75), which is sold only outside the U.S.

Single malt Scotch continues to move beyond the traditional 12- and 18-year-old expressions. As older whisky stocks dwindle, master distillers have invested in better, more potent wood finishes for their young liquid. Critics are impressed. Talisker Storm garnered an award as the best Highland malt of the year from Whisky Advocate. Other no-age statement labels, including the Macallan Ruby (Best Speyside Single Malt) and Kilkerran Work in Progress 5 Sherry Wood (Best Lowlands/Campbeltown Single Malt) also were honored by the magazine.

Edrington Americas is also tapping into the no-age trend, last month releasing a new Highland Park malt called Dark Origins ($80), aged entirely in first-fill barrels. A new Macallan expression called Rare Cask ($300), aged in the top 1% of all the company’s Sherry oak barrels, was also released last month to a limited audience. So far, consumers are liking the trend. The Macallan’s sales leapt 20% last year to 186,000 nine-liter cases in the U.S., according to Impact Databank. That’s more than double the total category’s 9% growth rate (to 1.27 million cases) in 2013.

Last month, Beam Suntory introduced a new expression dubbed Laphroaig Select ($55) with no age declaration, advertised as a blend of Quarter Cask, PX Cask and Triple Wood (European Oak casks). The peat is subtler than in the Laphroaig 10-year-old ($50), and there are discernible oak and sweet notes on the palate. Beam is also complementing its Bowmore 12-year-old ($46) with a new expression called Small Batch ($40). Its Glen Garioch, which normally features the 12-year-old ($65), has a new release called Founder’s Reserve ($45), with no age specified.

With expressions such as Astar ($100), Lasanta Sherry Cask ($63) and Signet ($230), Glenmorangie has perhaps done more than any brand to move away from age statements. Its approach clearly is working, as U.S. depletions jumped by 17% last year to 108,000 cases. Glenmorangie’s Private Edition series is introduced each year with no age statement, has been particularly successful, the latest being Companta ($100), aged in a combination of Burgundy wine casks and other French oak. Lately Glenmorangie also has trumpeted a different kind of age statement—vintage dating, with releases of a Glenmorangie 1963 at $2,600, a 1978 at $5,800 and Pride 1981 at $3,600.

At William Grant & Sons USA, The Balvenie saw its sales rise 10% in 2013 to 69,000 cases. Balvenie is offering single-barrel expressions in both a 12-year-old ($70) and a 15-year-old Sherry cask ($100). This fall a single barrel Balvenie 25-year-old is being introduced at $500. Also releasing this fall is a new Balvenie 50-year-old, retailing at $38,000.

Pernod Ricard USA’s category-leading single malt, The Glenlivet, grew at nearly 7% last year to 385,000 cases, catching portfoliomate Chivas Regal, whose volume was 384,000 cases, for the first time. This fall The Glenlivet is introducing the Sherry cask-aged Glenlivet Nadurra Oloroso ($80), bottled with no age statement at 96 proof. Pernod’s Aberlour brand starts with the 12-year-old ($52) and then rises to the 18-year-old ($105). But the company is touting non-age label A’Bunadh (meaning “The Origin” in Gaelic), bottled at a cask strength of 59.5% abv and retailing at $82—filling a void between the Aberlour 16-year-old at $72 and the 18-year at $105.

At Anchor Distilling Co., non-age statements are all the rage. The company is introducing a label called Revival ($65) from the revived Glenglassaugh distillery, containing whiskies between four and six years old. Revival carries no age statement, and neither does Anchor’s Glenrothes Select Reserve ($50), made from whiskies aged eight to 15 years. Another Anchor brand, the BenRiach, is now available in 20 expressions, some with age statements and some without. “Consumers want more choice,” says Anchor president David King. “My job is to give it to them.”

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