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Time is very important to single malt whisky.
Although the minimum age of whisky is three years, most single malts remain in their wooden wombs for much longer - usually ten years or longer.

While the young spirit matures it is imbued with chemicals and characteristics from the wooden casks. The barrels can be 'fresh' oak casks, but may have contained sherry, bourbon or port as well. After a whisky is bottled, the maturation process stops. This means that the time the liquid stays in the casks is one of defining factors that shape the character of a whisky. Reason enough for an E-signment, methinks.

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E-Signment #2
(Contributions by Patrick, Louis , Davin and Klaus)

'Pro's and Con's of Age' by Patrick Whaley

This is a great topic. As a beginner I have limited experience in this area, given that I haven't tasted anything older than 18 yrs.  But nevertheless, there is much to extrapolate.  Of course the first thing that comes to mind with older malts is the hefty price tag that some of the older malts command.  Even with my experience, this is quite evident with the Mac 18.  If you read my report you know that I think the Mac is overrated.  Time to expand on that.

    A few months ago I sat down with the Macallan 12, 15, and 18 yo (1979), tasting them in that progression.  The 12 was just not likable, too rough, sharp, too much bite.  The 15 was better, the extra 3 years showed that it started to round off the edges, becoming more defined, and a bit softer.  The 18 was excellent.  The 18 makes me respect Macallan, unlike the 12.  Sometimes I feel I have an on and off relationship with the 18.  I attribute this though to bad nosing/tasting days.  But when the senses are on, the 18 may have the best nose I have experienced, incredible.  Those extra years make it a beauty, soft, smooth, delicate, silky, sweet, yummy.  This makes me wonder how I would feel about the 25, since I like the 18 so much.  The prices these malts are offered for in my area are $33.99, $49.99, and $75.99.  I think that $49.99 is fair for the 15.  As for the 18, yeah $75.99 is steep, considering that before the price went up it was $56.99.  So, to ensure that I wouldn't have to pay that much, I bought 3 bottles before the price went up.

    Another experience I can comment on is Laphroaig 10 and 15.  In my view, the biggest difference between these two is that the 15 is very quiet compared to its brother.  I really like this pairing for the mood factor.  At times I feel the need for a loud, aggressive, brash malt which the 10 is perfect for.  Other times I want something softer and more delicate, like the 15.  I think the prices I pay for them are fair, $33.99 and $45.99 respectively.  Now I can only speculate about the 30.  In my opinion the best pro of age is that the older malts seem to be more soft, delicate, and refined.  But I have read that the 15 and 30 are worlds apart.  Fifteen years between malts is quite a leap isn't it?  People say that the 30 lost some of its Islay characteristics and is too woody.  The price tag on this one is $229.99.  If I had that kind of cash I think I would spring for some other malts.  I think it would be nice to see Laphroaig release a 21 yo and see how it stands up between the two.  On a side note, the liquor store that I frequent has an amazing sale the last 2 weeks of the year.  All single malts are 20% off.  That is when I go for the spendier malts.  I figure it makes more sense to wait and save on a more expensive bottle instead of getting a few bucks off on a cheaper bottle.  The last time I was there, they had a closeout price of $149.99 for the Bowmore 30 yo, if I only had the money.

    To sum things up in my view, the age element depends on a few factors.  Sometimes you want something big and bold, sometimes you want soft and delicate.  Price tags can prevent some of us from sampling older expressions but we can get a glimpse of the taste through malts that are old but not the oldest.  I wish I could be one of those lucky few that wouldn't consider a price tag a con.

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'Pro's and Con's of Age' by Louis Perlman

Old Age, this seems kind of cruel, something I am reminded of when I see how many gray hairs the barber has to sweep up when I get a haircut nowadays. STOP, wait a minute, it's the whisky, not the author. OK, that's better.

Actually, there does seem to be a parallel between whisky and life when it comes to age. It's been a theory of mine that many people act like a preferred certain age, no matter how old they are at the time. I have one friend who is two months younger than me, but he was in his fifties before he hit 30. He even started wearing one of those fuzzy (stuffed animal) fur-like hats in the winter. One the other hand, one of my co-workers is 47, but acts like he's still in college. Divorced 3 times with a daughter from the third, he has to be juggling at least two girlfriends at a time.

So it seems with whisky.
Various things I have read seem to converge on this thought. The lighter whiskies definitely don't do well into old age, since the barrel starts to dominate. The Glenmorangie 18 is 50% sherry matured, since the standard whisky doesn't make it that far on it's own. Also, there are very, very few older GM's offerred by the distillery, which may also be why GM doesn't get quite the reputation of some other distilleries. On the other hand, Dalmore comes into it's own at 21 years and beyond. I enjoy the 12 year old, but only as an entry level dram. My 23 year Glenhaven and a miniature of the 30 year Stillmans Dram that someone sent me are much superior.

Other distilleries are more conventional, with things geting better as the whisky gets older. Macallan 12 is a quality dram, but the 18 rates a good bit higher. Interestingly enough, I once read an interview with someone from Macallan who stated that the 25 year old isn't much of an improvment over the 18 year, but the market demands it (the Mac 25 is the darling of the Wall St. crowd). Then again, they released the 30 year old at $350 last year too, but Macallan always seems to come up with all sorts of 'special edition' older bottlings. There must be all sorts of interesting things in the corner of their warehouse.

As for my favorite three distilleries, there are a number of variations. Highland Park starts good, and just keeps on improving. But after 18 years, good as it is, the extra years kick in dramatically. The 1977 is a big step up from the 18, and the 25 year has a legendary reputation.

Ardbeg seems to have two tracks when it comes to aging. The most recently distilled younger expressions are let-it-all-hang-out drams, as is the 1975. But the older Gordon and McPhail's, particularly the legendary 1974, are different. Sort of like a velvet covered boxing glove, they present the smoke, peat, and tar one element at a time. There isn't the initial overwhelming punch, but just a few sips last for what seems to be an eternity. And this at only 40%. To the more recent SMS converts among the  readers of this page, if you are ever offered a sample of the G&M 1974, savor the moment, as you'll being tasting history.

And finally, I'll conclude with Springbank. This is one whisky that reaches it's lofty hights with age. Until a few years ago, anything less than the 21 year old didn't have that great a reputation. But that changed sometimes in 1997 with the 12/100 (proof)
bottling, which Springbank said something like 'has older whiskies vatted in to give a hint of what they are like'. This turned into a delightful bonus for the consumer as one batch had WAY too much 25 and 30 year old whisky mixed in (which apparently caused shortages of them). The result was something that was absolutely incredible. The 25 & 30 take a turn to the left (assuming that peat, smoke and tar are to the right), and that is very evident in the 12/100 Double Dark, as it became known as. Of course, the Single Dark was pretty darn good too, but the DD is another legend.
HINT: whenever you are in a liquor store, look up at the expensive stuff for the Springbanks. If you ever see something that says 100 Proof, buy it!!! If the bottle is medium dark, it's the standard bottling, but if it is very dark, it's the good stuff. If you aren't sure, then it's the SD. By the way, forget about popular liquor stores, their stock would have been long gone. Look for the small mom and pop stores.

All I can say is that we all should do so well in our advancing age!!

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'The influence of Age' by Davin de Kergommeaux

    The influences of age are many.
In an article in Whisky Magazine, Matthew Gloag the Fifth, of Famous Grouse, is quoted as saying "You'll never drink whisky until you're comfortable drinking alone."  For me, that took fifty years, but in my circle of whisky contacts I know at least two budding connoisseurs in their early twenties.  Age does not always equal maturity.

    A general drop in consumption of spirits in recent years has had some whisky makers cultivating the youth market and so have emerged sweet 'whisky coolers' often packaged like soft drinks, in an attempt to attract the youth and thus lead them, as mature consumers, to make whisky their drink.  Also in this vein, we have the not so wonderful Loch Dhu which, though called a single malt, bears little resemblance to any chosen to cross the knowing adult palate.

    But what about the age of the whisky itself?  A Canadian whisky is ready at 3 years; an old one may be matured for 8.  Similarly with American bourbons.  Until tasted, a whiskey called old may strike us malt Scotch drinkers as still pretty green.  Ten years seems to be about the youngest age at which our Scottish potations become enjoyable and among the uninitiated the older the better has become a rule of thumb. But what is ageing, and what does age really contribute to the flavours of whisky?

    To the Canadian distillers, ageing often seems to be a process of waiting 3 years until the law says you can call it whisky, then shipping it off to the bottling plant. The Canadians are master blenders though, and our 'youthful' whiskies can be smooth as silk and no where near as brutal as a young Scotch.  Some Canadian whiskies are aged longer, and more and more of these (truly excellent) premium whiskies are beginning to be released.

    American bourbon makers see ageing primarily as a period for leaching flavouring agents and congeners out of oak barrels into the whisky.  Their theory is that alcohol expands into the wood when it is warmed, and is expelled as whiskey when it is cooled, flavoured with a number of wood chemicals that have dissolved in the alcohol.  Since ageing is to them a matter of drawing flavouring out of oak barrels, many American distilleries artificially speed up the process by raising and lowering the temperature of their warehouses creating up to 5 cycles per year.  In Scotland, on the other hand, where temperature is a function of the seasons, only freak conditions would create more than one cycle per year.  So, a three year old American whiskey, in terms of number of passes into the wood, could be equivalent to a malt Scotch up to 15 years old.  Though they disagree with my cycle numbers there is a good description of this on the Early Times website at: http://www.earlytimes.com/heritage/5step.html

    The American maturation process is further sped up by their use of only new, first-fill barrels in which the concentration of congeners would be high.  The Scottish use barrels that have already had at least one and often several previous uses ageing other spirits.  Thus Scotch malt whisky displays the influence of two prior changes in the oak.  Any highly soluble flavourants, such as oak lactones, will have been greatly depleted by previous spirits, and the barrels may have absorbed new flavours from the spirits previously aged in them.  Therefore longer ageing of Scotch may be required to pull the somewhat depleted flavours from the already used barrels.

    For example, the Glenmorangie 10 year old is a pleasant, run-of-the-mill whisky - sweet, and malty.  For me the Glenmorangie 10 is unique in having a distinct flavouring of buckwheat honey.  It has some spiciness, and develops a metallic feel in the front of the mouth and a lingering bitterness on the tongue.  It's enjoyable, but not wonderful.  Given 8 more years in oak though, and Glenmorangie becomes woodier and mustier and altogether much more enjoyable.  The spiciness is now out front and there is more character in a strong black pepper feel.  The sweetness remains, but the buckwheat flavour is gone to be replaced with clover.  Glenmorangie is a whisky that greatly improves from the 10 to the 18 year old version.  This appears to me to be a clear case of the whisky needing more time to pull the spiciness out of the previously used wood, and one that given time, becomes quite a treat.

    In Scotland though, ageing whisky involves at least two other deliberate processes besides leaching flavour from oak.  One is the slow but steady evaporation of the so called 'angels share' which decreases the proportion of alcohol in the remaining whisky, but also decreases and often eliminates some (usually undesirable) flavours that are a component of the new-make spirit that comes off the still.  I have never tasted new-make, but I did try a two year old Isle of Arran once and the flavour was dominated by unpleasant chemicals.

    A good example of driving out undesirable flavours can be found in comparing Laphroaig 10 year old with Laphroaig 15.  While most connoisseurs will opt for the 15 year old any time, there is a rough primitive quality in the 10 year old that is lost in the more complex and refined 15 year old version.  After 15 years, Laphroaig smells like the 10 year old, but with the addition of a mild, sweet tobacco.  It is milder than the 10 year old, and many of the rough edges have been worn off.  It's wonderful stuff, but it's lost the aggressive, in your face attitude of its younger sibling.  While the gain outweighs the loss, Laphroaig 15 is an example of a whisky that has lost some of the extreme components that draw so many to the 10 year old.  There are many rich peaty, smoky  complex whiskies.  There is only one Laphroaig 10 year old.  Fortunately both are on the market, though only the 10 year old makes it to Ottawa.

    Another effect of slow maturation, is more time for the many chemicals that make up whisky to interact and to react with each other. This is best exemplified in the 'marrying' process that takes place just before bottling, when a homogeneous batch of whisky, drawn from many barrels is allowed more time in wood  to interact and become one whisky.  Glenfiddich  makes much of this process with their solera system.  But it is a truism in the Scotch whisky industry that barrels of mature whisky cannot simply be mixed, brought to standard flavour then bottled.  Once the correct flavour has been obtained, some time is then given for the mixture to sit in wood, as the components marry into a single fabric.  This is true as much of single malts as it is of blended Scotches, though for this one, I have no explanation.

    One thing certain is that different malt whiskies do reach peak maturity at different ages, and different palates will identify different peaks.  In a previous Malt Madness article, I mentioned a 30 year old Ardbeg Rob Stevens had given me to try.  It was woody to say the least.  He likened it to chewing on a log, and actually recommended that I not buy it as it had aged past its prime.  I loved it, and still remember it as probably the best whisky I have ever tasted.  But age alone is not the only determinant.  The Ardbeg 17 by comparison is quite mild and mellow, though it is said to contain some very very old Ardbeg.  It is a product however of a much less peated distillate and no length of ageing would give it the bite of it's 30 year old sibling, or, I'm told, the new and much more aggressive Ardbeg 10.

    So call it ageing, or call it maturation, there is no question that our malts do change as they sit in the wood.  At first all changes are for the better, but at some stage, for most, while ageing continues, maturation changes to senescence.  The goal for us, the malt mad, is to determine that point for each of our favourites.  Unfortunately there are few generalizations that hold true for all.

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'Ages of Macallan' by Klaus Everding

First attempt at age research of The Macallan.

This time our tasting session was more civilized than usual. Three different Macallans on the program (7y - 10y- 12y). Apart from some minor differences the three bottles looked the same, standard whisky bottle with the white and gold Macallan label. Nice. Furthermore the colour of the malts was always amber. A small developement with age to deeper tones could be observed (12 almost full amber). Well, - that's all I want to say about these two points. Doc Michi had spent his holidays in Italy. That's why our first candidate, a 7 year old Macallan, was available. As far as I know the 7 year old stuff is only sold in Italy.

Macallan 7 years
Scent: The scent is very intensive, overwhelming sherry, sweetness - but not  pointed, raisins, fruits, wet leaves. So far to the pleasant notes. But there is also a distinct smell of alcohol and some nasty chemical aldehyde note. When you let the whisky breath for some minutes in the glass the unpleasant note is reduced but nevertheless detectable.
Taste: surprisingly smooth, there is no burning even if it is the first glass. The tasting starts with a sharp bitter/sweet note on the tip of tongue. Hard to define. Just a flash. When the malt runs down your throat a satisfying fruity sherry note develops. Maybe there are also some vague impressions of toffee and coffee. All too soon the whole thing is finished.
Score: Nice malt for 7 years. It easily beats some malts which are 16 year or older. But the scent and the short finish hint that this whisky can do better, provided that you give him enough time to develop in the cask.

Macallan 10 years
Scent: intensive fruity note, sherry, woods and wet leaves. The smell is resinous,  honey and malty notes are also present.  The scent comes very quickly and it is the winner of the tasted Macs when you judge by fruitiness.
Taste: Ahh, - this is like the Macallan should taste. Smooth and round in the mouth. There is the bitter/ sweet head note on the tongue. This time more developed. Mint? Bergamotte? Wood?  Then it comes. The parts which I love on the Macallan. Fruits and
sherry notes pass over to sustained impressions of toffee, honey and wood. Excellent!!! And the story goes on and on and on...
Score:  The 10 year old Mac is really delicious. It is marvellous what three additional years in the cask can do. All evident errors are corrected.

Macallan 12 years
Scent: Compared with the 10 year old Macallan this malt is a bit reserved. The aroma needs more time to develop. Fruity notes are reduced in favour of malt and wood impressions.
Taste: Hard to tell the difference between 12y and 10y old Mac. It seems that all the good impressions are just one pixel better. Could be the difference between a normal and a wide-screen film. The development of the taste is just spread a little.
Score: The winner of the evening is Macallan 12 years. The difference between 7y and 10y Mac is huge compared with difference between 10y and 12y Mac. I can't put my finger on the point but I prefer the 12 y Mac. Especially the strange calculation of my malt shop 0.7 l bottle 10y (price 27 = 38 /l)  compared with the 12 y Mac ( 1 l =  35.5)  confirms my judgement.

Conclusion: This tasting session has somehow confirmed my theory:
The lower price limit for resonable  malts lies somewhere between 15 and 20 (at least hear in Germany). In the region between 20 and 35 the value for money reaation rises very steep. Above 35 the saturation limits is reached. For every centigrade of more satisfaction you have to pay a lot of money.

The End
I am just a beginner with malts. Having tasted 50-60 different malts leaves me at least the same amount of reasonably prized malts too explore.  Until that day I hope that my taste buds will not get too ambitious or I will have to pay 3-4 times more for my hobby.

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