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Issue 71 - How old is too old?

Whisky Magazine Issue 71
April 2008


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How old is too old?

Charles K. Cowdery looks at the best ages for whisky and bourbon.

I blame the English. For hundreds of years, the Scots and Irish made whiskey, and only they drank it. They didn't market it to themselves, they didn't have to, they were born drinking it.

Then,in about the middle of the 19th century, London merchants decided the stuff might sell if they softened it by mixing in the light, almost flavourless whiskey made in Aeneas Coffey's new stills. Blended Scotch was born, and with it international Scotch drinking and international Scotch marketing.

This new whisky – then a brand new concoction – was marketed to people who drank, but who didn't necessarily drink whisky or any other aged spirit. Although it was brand new, blended whisky wasn't advertised that way. It was promoted as old. Why? Because what most people knew about ageing then is what most people know about ageing now: older is better.

So,whisky was better than gin because it was aged, but also because it had an ancient pedigree; old whisky made by old methods in old distilleries; old, old, old.

And older was always better. Age wasn't positioned as a style difference, the way reposado and añejo tequilas are positioned, it was positioned as a quality difference.

And because scotch is whiskey to most of the world, it set the standard for oldness.Ten years is good, 12 is better, 15 is posh, 18 is superb, 20 is sublime.

American whiskey is on a different scale.

Why? Two words:new barrels.Wood flavours are so much of what makes bourbon bourbon that only new barrels will d...

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