Would you pay 85 euro for a 4-year-old whisky? If you had asked me that 5 years ago I probably would’ve booked you a one way ticket to the insane asylum. But times have changed. And yes, I probably would pay that for the (relatively new) Starward 2016 Single Barrel that was bottled for the Netherlands.
It wasn’t that long ago when No Age Statement whiskies were extremely controversial. It was a time when demand for Scotch whisky was high, and the distilleries had trouble keeping up. Even so much so that Glenlivet, one of the biggest Scotch whisky brands in the world, decided to drop their flagship Glenlivet 12 Years in favor of the Glenlivet Founder’s Reserve. Overnight the industry new tag line became: “It’s not about age, but about maturity.” That’s true in essence of course, but it made me a sceptic. It felt like an excuse to unload younger, inferior whisky.
All of sudden whisky drinkers like myself were having to decide wether they’d be willing to pay for a single malt whisky without knowing how old it was. There wasn’t much transparency in Scotch whisky to speak off, so age was one on of the most important factors to go on. Sure, there had been whiskies without an age statement, such as the Aberlour a’bunadh or the Glenfarclas 105, but around 2014 we saw a big spike in new NAS releases.
If there’s no age on a bottle, all that you know for certain is that the whisky is at least 3 years old. So that’s what you have to go on. Undoubtedly some NAS releases contained much older spirit, but most of them were young, and honestly not very inspiring. As a consequence, I’ve avoided most NAS whiskies, as have many others. It didn’t make much sense to pay 40 euro for a young whisky.
In recent years my attitude towards young single malt has changed. Not NAS whisky, but young whisky. I had to. So many new distilleries have released their whisky since that NAS era, and they’ve proven time and again that there’s so much more to whisky than age. I still want to know how old a whisky is, but that doesn’t really influence how much I’m willing to pay for it. Which has not always been the case in the past.
I’d like to emphasize that I still believe that all else being equal, older is usually better. But with so much young, yet really good whisky out there, it certainly is no longer one of the main factors. Unlike my attitude towards the established distilleries during the early NAS era, I’m not sceptic of these new producers releasing young whisky. After all, it’s all they have to offer. And if a whisky’s quality warrants a price tag of 85 euro, even if it is only 4 years old, than that’s fine by me.
In certain cases, young whisky is even part of a distillery’s philosophy, like Starward. They rarely release anything above 4 years old. Their exclusive single cask for The Netherlands is no exception. It matured in a French oak red wine barrel (like most of their whisky) and is truly delicious.
Starward 2016 Single Barrel (56.2%, OB for Netherlands, C#10611)
Nose: Whiffs of crème de cassis and aceto balsamico, followed by Maraschino cherries and plums, but also strawberries with powdered sugar. There’s a few floral notes here as well, like green leaves and geraniums, followed by sandalwood and a slight resinous edge. Rich and enticing. Taste: Creamy mouthfeel followed by a peppery arrival, but plenty of juicy fruits as well, such as plums, but also berries and a touch of tobacco leaves. I get coffee grounds and aniseed too, followed by walnut skin and even a whiff of Armagnac. Finish: Drying and slightly tannic, then settling into strawberries and marmalade.
Heavily influenced by the cask, yet this Starward 2016 Single Barrel for The Netherlands never becomes too wine-y and still retains some of that berry fruitiness that I've come to associate them with.