This month we will dive into two relatively new developments in the world of Scotch whisky: NAS, or Non-Age-Statement whisky, and limited editions.
Since the worldwide explosion of single malt whisky that started with Glenfiddich promoting single malt in the U.S. in the 1960s, age statements have been ubiquitous in relation to scotch. The older, the better. But two things happened decades apart that brought on NAS. The same economic problems that affected the U.S. and the world in the 1970s with the gasoline shortage also affected our thirst for scotch. Between 1983 and 1984, 20 distilleries closed their doors forever. Others scaled back production. The market recovered after a few years, and life went on.
But in the early 2000s, the market in what’s called BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) exploded. Even though people in those countries drank mostly younger, blended whisky, there was not sufficient stock to keep up with demand. Prices rose. And rose. And rose again. The market was still wanting. So distilleries got creative, and they used younger stocks to fill the demand. Knowing that a 5-year-old age statement wouldn’t sell, they removed it. Purists railed against this idea. I’m firmly in the camp that the whisky speaks for itself. If it’s good, I don’t care if it has an age statement or not.
Dr. Bill Lumsden at Glenmorangie has become famous for his whisky creativity. When you think about it, experimenting with casks of scotch is an expensive gamble. You try something, and let it sit for a decade before you know if it’s turned out as something beautiful … or really expensive lighter fluid. Ten years ago, his first experiment resulted in a limited-edition series now known as the Private Collection. That first release was called Sonnalta, aged in Pedro Ximenez sherry barrels. It was well received (and quite good!) and now each year, Glenmorangie releases another annual bottle in the series. That first bottle now sells for upwards of four times its original $100 cost at auction.
In 2019, the Private Collection release is called Allta, and is based on one thing you NEVER hear talked about with scotch – the yeast. Allta is created exclusively using yeast that grows wild at the Glenmorangie Estate in far northern Scotland. Mated with local barley, Glenmorangie Allta is a true micro-provenance whisky. It was then matured in ex-bourbon barrels.
One friend described it as “like drinking a glass of sourdough bread.” And I would agree – super bready and yeasty on the nose. The first sip is very sweet, and that sweetness keeps coming. Then the bread and yeast returns early on the finish, then rolls into an aftertaste of fresh French loaf. On the second sip, I get a bit of spice, with some pepper on the finish. A rather creamy mouth feel after a few sips. Allta is definitely unlike any scotch I’ve had. I quite like it.
You can find Allta at The Still, N Street, the Hy-Vees on North 84th Street, Stacy Lane and Williamsburg, Meier’s Cork and Bottle, and Ken’s Liquor. Get it by the pour at Jake’s, The Oven Cellar, Marz Bar, Single Barrel and JTK, which has only one of two complete sets of Private Collection bottles I’ve seen, and the only one available to buy by the pour.