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Saturday
Jun302012

Macallan 12 Losing Age Statement?

Macallan has just announced that their 10, 12, and 15 year old whiskies will be losing their age statements, to be replaced with colors (a la Johnnie Walker): gold, sienna, and ruby.  That means no more Macallan 12, perhaps the most popular premium single malt in the entire U.S.  Granted, Macallan has announced that these changes will only be taking place in the U.K. so far, but I have to believe it's only a matter of time until they trickle down the entire market. Macallan 12 is consumed in large amounts stateside, so unless they plan on sending every drop here, we're bound for the color scheme sooner than later.

Why would they dream of doing something like this? It's likely because they don't have enough whisky. We've already been through two brief shortages of Macallan over the past six months, so removing the number allows them to bottle whisky younger than 12 to prevent further droughts (remember 12 is the minimum age). While some of anti-NAS people go on their tangents, I have to say that, personally, I don't have a problem with this move because I'm in favor of keeping whisky affordable. Not doing so would result in a shortage of 12 while we wait for younger stocks to age, and leave only one other option: price increases.  If Macallan sold 20 million bottles of Mac 12 last year and this year they've only got 10 million to sell, they're not just going to eat that loss.

I'm not a Macallan drinker, but if I had the choice between Macallan Sienna for $40 or a newly-inflated Macallan 12 for $60, I'd probably take the former, hoping that the blenders got somewhere close to the original flavor. It all depends on what the final product tastes like.  I happily drink Ardbeg Uigeadail and Corryvreckan, two outstanding NAS (no age statement) whiskies that use young whisky in large amounts.  I'd rather have the Uigeadail at an affordable $58 than an Ardbeg 15 that would run me $100+ due to the scarcity. While I respect the passion of enthusiasts who want to know exactly what's in their bottle, I don't see the importance of such details when drinking younger Macallan. This is one of those moments where I think it either tastes good or it doesn't.

Ultimately, the pressure will be on Macallan to deliver quality whisky regardless of the age. If it costs the same as the 12 year, but tastes significantly worse, then they're really in trouble. Secretly, I'm kind of looking forward to this happening in the U.S. because it will force more discussion about age statements. There's a running joke about Americans and whisky in Scotland, that we'd rather buy a number (age and points) than quality. I can't argue with that one bit. It's the way we've decided to determine quality or value. Hopefully, a NAS Macallan will force us to question more what we're paying for with whisky, especially if it's good.

-David Driscoll