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Issue 99 - Age Concern

Whisky Magazine Issue 99
October 2011


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Age Concern

Tom BG began writing about drink 20 years ago, starting with wine and progressing to whisky when he moved back to Scotland in 1998. He has worked for The Sunday Telegraph, Decanter, Harpers and Whisky Magazine. He wrote The Scotch Whiskybook in 2002 and has co-written two other whisky books. He has a weekly drinks column for The Herald.

Bottle maturation, as we all know, is a proven fact with wine. Red Bordeaux for example has always been famed for its firm, age-worthy tannins which taste bitter in youth, but gradually soften after many years in the cellar. If not drunk, the wine will eventually die a slow lingering death in the dark until fit only for sprinkling on fish and chips.

Of course when it comes to whisky, bottle maturation does not officially exist. The age statement refers only to the years in wood. What happens thereafter is considered irrelevant since all the flavours and aromas created in the new make spirit and evolved in the cask are locked in at the time of bottling, never to change.

But I have my doubts. I think some whiskies probably do evolve very slightly if left in a bottle for long enough. Of course I cannot prove this, but neither can those who take the official line.

To do so would involve time travel and the ability to taste something straight off the bottling line and then fast forward through the decades to taste it again a few seconds later.

Personally I suspect the dogmatic line on bottle maturation stems from the industry's age-old obsession with consistency. For years we were told how the likes of White Horse blended Scotch were a constant in a changing world. Yet with distilleries swapping hands, falling silent and occasionally disappearing, the recipe for any blend has always been a moveable feast.

Similar variations exist in single malts. If in doubt visit the Vintner...

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