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Issue 45 - Young at heart

Whisky Magazine Issue 45
January 2005


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Young at heart

It's a fallacy to state that the older the whisky, the better it is. Young malts can have their own attractions. Ian Wisniewski reports

With so many styles of malt to choose from, including cask strength, special finishes and vintages, age statements have become a common denominator that consumers use to finalise choice.

But with the industry establishing 10 and 12 year olds as a benchmark of quality, what does this say about younger malts, aged eight years or less ?

A certain snobbery towards younger malts is invariably based on a perception of youth, rather than flavour delivery. It's also easy to be cynical, and dismiss younger malts as the solution to a distillery's shortage of older stock; though a distillery would hardly release a bottling that might compromise its reputation, and future following.

Meanwhile, a flourish of younger malts, from distilleries such as Ardbeg, Benromach, Isle of Jura and Isle of Arran is turning this sector into a hot debate. And however short the maturation period, what happens during that time provides plenty to talk about.

While the complex reactions that occur during aging are still not fully understood, maturation divides into three essential elements: subtractive, additive and interactive. Although these occur simultaneously, they also have individual schedules.

Subtractive maturation deals with the loss of immaturity, while additive maturation sees the spirit gaining colour and character from the oak cask. Interactive maturation covers the complex reactions between the spirit and oak, promoting an additional range of characteristics that neither possess individual...

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