Is “young whisky” a style?June 12th, 2009
I’ve been wanting to discuss this for some time now. First, let me preface this discussion by saying that, with Michael gone, the two people I respect most regarding whisky reviews and tasting notes are Jim Murray and Dave Broom. This blog topic focuses more on Jim, using him as a springboard to discuss how we perceive and rate young whiskies.
Ever since Jim and I have been reviewing whiskies, I have noticed that he and I are pretty much in line with whiskies we like and whiskies we don’t like. But there is one area where Jim and I part ways. It’s our rating of young whiskies. He rates young whiskies a lot higher than I do. I’ve been meaning to talk with Jim about this, but never remember to bring up the topic when we are together.
I thought this topic would make for a good discussion here, given that there are more new distilleries making young whiskies globally now than any other time in our lifetime. I’d like to know what you think about this.
First let me give you my viewpoint on this. I don’t classify and rate whiskies by age groups. For me, it’s all about quality, regardless of age. A whiskey (especially those in warmer climates) could peak at 5 years old, while others don’t peak until they reach 30 or 40 years old.
I have tasted many of the young whiskies by the new microdistillers worldwide. Some have disappointed me, while others have really impressed me. Having said this, very rarely have I tasted a whisky (or whiskey) in the 1-3 year old range worthy of a score over 90. The better ones usually peak in the mid 80s or so. But I’m going through Jim’s Whisky Bible and I’m seeing ratings consistently in the 90s.
For example: Kilchoman spirit (not whisky): 94, McCarthy’s 3 year old: 96. Stranahan’s Colorado whisky: 96, St. Georges (England) New Make Spirit: 93.5, Panimoravintola Beer Hunter’s (Finland) Old Buck: 96, etc.
I’m not trying to single out any given distillery. I’ve tasted many of the young whiskies that Jim gives mid 90s ratings to and I enjoy them very much, but I don’t find them to be in the same quality class of other whiskies I rate in the mid 90s, like Springbank 21 year old or Black Bowmore, for example.
I’m not even trying to question Jim’s ratings here. Like I said earlier, I respect his whisky reviews more than anyone else right now.
The point I’m trying to make here is that what I see emerging, from various sources, is a paradigm shift where young whiskies seem to become grouped together as a style, and then rated and scored based on the relative quality within that style, not on an absolute quality.
What are your thoughts on this?