Old whisky gets all the attention. If I had a dollar for every time I heard some idiot utter “I only drink stuff X years old and over,” I could fill a pool with these fools’ favorite drams. The old stuff is all good and well, but shake things up a little and grab a single-digit bottle.
A lot of the old whisky mania has to do with marketing and perception – we assume older means better, more flavorful, and frankly, whether out at the bar or home with friends, a big number tends to get some oohs and aahs. But at the end of the day it’s the liquid that counts, not what’s printed on the label.
It helps to think about whisky in two parts: spirit and cask. The spirit already has a ton of flavor when it comes off the still, but it’s fiery, aggressive, and rough around the edges. What the wood-aging does is smooth out those imperfections, while also giving external flavor to the liquid. Over time, you start to lose some of what was in the initial spirit as you gain barrel qualities.
So aging is a give and take. When you want tannins, oaky flavors, and the deep, delicate taste of traditional earth-floored warehouses, old is right. But in young whisky you’ll get brightness, crispness, and vibrancy that old whiskies just can’t maintain after 20, 30, or 40 years in wood. In particular, peaty whiskies lose a lot of their smoke in the first decade or two of maturation.
Finding single-digit age stated bottlings can be tough, since whisky producers know young whisky doesn’t sell overly well for the reasons outlined above. Turning to independent bottlers, like Gordon & MacPhail or Signatory, can be helpful, since they’re more connoisseur-driven.
Gordon & McPhail offer a whole range of whiskies at 8 years old, which is quite unusual. Tamdhu, The Glenrothes, and my personal favorite of the bunch, Highland Park. I bought this bottle a year or so ago, but you can see I’m almost through it. Honestly, I’m surprised it has lasted this long. There’s something of a fresh sea breeze about it, which perfectly compliments the grilled pineapple and floral-honey that you also get on the nose. The taste is pretty similar, with some slightly burnt toffee, still green peat, and a gentle rolling smoke in the finish. Great stuff, and at $35 I’ll certainly be buying another bottle when this one sees the recycling bin.
As for young distillery bottlings, the Springbank, Longrow, and Hazelburn CV collection are all on the young side, though show no concrete age statement. The Longrow in particular packs quite the punch, and I mean that in the best way possible. Islay’s newest distillery, Kilchoman, is bottling stuff between 3 and 5 years because frankly that’s all they’ve got. All the better for us.
Whether you follow my lead and go for the Highland Park 8 or decide 8 years is still too far our of your comfort zone and buy an Old Pulteney 12 (the best Pulteney), drink the young stuff. Cheers to youth!