Tuesday, 15 May 2012

Bright Young Things

So I was just talking about whisky possibly being “too old”. But what about youth in whisky? As I said in my last post, the impression you get when starting out in the world of whisky is that single malt has to be at least 10 years old to be any good. 10 or 12 seems to the minimum age of most distillery entry level bottlings.

Obviously whisky can be younger (although it needs to be at least 3) but most stuff released before it turns 10 goes straight into making up the numbers in blends. But is there any good single malt whisky under 10?

Yes, of course there is. I just didn’t know this until recently. The realisation came about during two distillery visits on Islay. The first was genuinely a shock. You may have heard of Octomore whisky – it is produced by Bruichladdich and is the world most heavily peated whisky. It is £100 a bottle.
Also it is only 5 years old.
It seemed amazing that they would try and charge £100 when you could get a 20 year old for that kind of money. Thankfully I was lucky enough to try Octomore 4.2 at Bruichladdich and it’s one of the most amazing whiskies I’ve ever tasted – it was fresh and smooth and surprisingly light given the extreme phenol levels. I didn’t take any proper notes and this isn’t a review but one of the things that surprised me the most, considering the age, was how smooth it tasted. £100 is a lot of money but I don’t think I’ve ever been so close to shelling out that much for a bottle.
So an exceptional young whisky – but maybe that was it, it was an exception. An experiment with high phenol levels that’s produced a freakishly good 5 year old.
The next encounter with young whisky also took me by surprise but mainly because I didn’t realise it was under 10 until after the tasting. I stopped by the Laphroaig distillery, firstly trying the 10 Year Old (a familiar favourite) and then tried the Quarter Cask for the first time. I was won over by this – it really is very flavourful and I’ll post a review in due course. However I had assumed at the time it was a variation on the 10yo but didn’t realise until much later on that whisky is only 6 or 7 years old. The whisky spends 5 years or so matured in full sized casks and then is finished in ¼ cask. The greater surface-area to whisky ratio of the smaller cask means its finished differently and more speedily. Not to the detriment of the whisky I hasten to add - quite the opposite.
So two young whiskies discovered within a couple of days. One of them an experiment but the other a widely available standard bottle.

And the more I’ve looked into this they seem to be everywhere (often referred to as No Age Statement). Sometimes it seems they are bottled at a younger age to get a preview of what they will be like later on. The consensus on tasting notes is that younger whiskies are shorter on the finish but a bit fresher in the taste.

So that’s it. My interest is piqued and it is another facet of whisky to explore. The next whisky in the crosshair is an expression of the highly regarded Kilchoman - the oldest of which is only 5. Watch this space.

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