To add to this argument, I've read that term in barrel is far less important than the quality of a barrel - a fourth-run sherry cask cannot impart nearly the flavour of a first-run cask, and the "maturation potential" of the latter is better.
Your example raises a good point. A malt matured for 18 years in a fourth-fill sherry cask will be entirely different to one matured for 18 years in a first-fill sherry cask. (In fact, a fourth-fill cask would be considered "dead" and the scenario is unlikely.) However, as we recently found out with a Talisker bottling, too many years in a first-fill sherry cask can also produce a bad or disappointing whisky, so even if it is a first-fill cask, the length of maturation therein still has to be carefully monitored.
However, there are many things that contribute to one's enjoyment of a malt, and the austerity of age is one of those things. There is something magical about settling down to enjoy a well-aged malt, say a 25yo or 30yo. The moment is heightened and better than it may have been if you were simply pouring yourself some "regular" 12 year old.
The truth is, some whiskies reach their peak earlier than others. For example, Glenmorangie is a lighter, more delicate malt, and so they feel it peaks at around 10 years. It is too light to stand up to the wood if it spends much longer in a cask.
Other malts seem to happily sit for longer periods and still improve, but obviously you still need to have a good cask to begin with.
American, Irish, Canadian, and Scotch all mature at different rates because of the different conditions in those countries. American and Irish generally cant be aged as long as a Scotch.
The best wood for maturing whisky is European Oak apparently, because it has a different pore size to the American Oak.
Different distillers also put the whisky into the barrels at different abvs which would also make a difference.
American whiskey makers also use first fill chared barrels and so forth.
I am sure that there are a million more factors.
There is a magic to super-aged stuff, but I've got some 21 year old rum that really isn't even rummy at all - it's like a totally different thing altogether, and not a particularly good thing, IMHO.
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SasquatchMan wrote:I've heard varying stories regarding aging of whiskeys. Some people seem to say that aging past 12 years is silly, and that the whiskeys we find charming after 18 years would have been just as charming after twelve, but are better quality whiskeys to begin with
Thats quite a weird statement, and way to simplified. Ask any Ardbeg fan about a 25 year old Ardbeg, and if it would be as good as a Ardbeg at 12 year old.
Yes there are malt which would be best at a younger age, most likely those with very subtile fruit hints, as the wood might dominate too fast over this.
I do agree however that at some point maturing isnt adding anything anymore but wood notes wich totally dominate the malt. Not too long ago at a tasting I had a serie of Peerless Collection malts ranging from 34 to 37 year old. And they all just tasted the same; Vanilla, Wood and Leechees (the Chinese fruit).
IMO for most whiskies the border of what they could have when maturing seems to be around 25 to 30 years, after which they would simply loose their character to the wood too much.
It took some tracking down, but I found the tasting notes for the over-sherried Talisker:
It was reviewed in Issue 27 of Whisky Magazine, and it scored 6/10 and 5.75/10 by Martine and Dave respectively.
Their two respective comments were:
"The distillery character is buried far below the wood. One can hardly detect even a light puff of smoke. Water does not help."
"What is the point of this other than to prove that leaving Talisker in first-fill sherry casks for 20 years leads to oblivion?"
I also had a Glenglassaugh once that was bottled by the Scotch Malt Whisky Society. It was exceptionally sherried. At first it was liqueur-like and almost pleasant, but as I let it sit for a while and returned to it, it became unpleasant lolly-water, and nothing like whisky. I recall the age being somewhere between 10 and 14 years.
I just read your first post again, and I think you might find a vertical tasting a very helpful and worthwhile exercise.
If at all possible, try a vertical tasting of a particular single malt. This is where you taste a series of differently-aged malts from one distillery, usually from youngest to oldest. There are several I can recommend:
Macallan 15yo (if still available)
Glenfiddich 15yo (Solera)
If you go through each of these, I think you will undoubtedly find that all these malts get better with age. (Although there is some debate as to whether the Macallan 25yo is better than the Macallan 18yo - it often depends on the vintage of the 18yo)
Either way, I can scarce afford Macallan in the first place.
First, vertical tastings are seldom blind so there is an inherent large bias. Second, the woodiness imparted by aging is readily identifiable and is often seen as a sign of "quality".
From my experience, I would agree with the comments of many that malt whisky is at its peak between 10 and 18 YO. Older than 18 YO and one is paying mainly for snob appeal rather than quality.
There also is mood- at least for me. Sometimes I don't want something too subtle that needs nursing and time. If I'm in a noisy crowded environment, I don't want a 30 or 40 year old dram that deserves my full attention. At that particular moment I think a 9-15 y/o will do me better, but that's just my personal thought...
Older is not always better. We hope so, but it's not always the case. It costs more, that's the only gaurantee!
A good example of this is the Lagavulin OB 25yo. Being my favourite malt, I was full of expectation and anticipation when I came to taste a sample. And yes, I was expecting something "better" than the regular 16yo.
Sadly, I didn't find it better than the 16yo, (which led to a somewhat unjustified disappointment with what was still, in reality, a bloody good whisky). And when you consider that the 16yo cost AUD$80 and the 25yo is in excess of AUD$400, your guarantee is certainly correct!
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That said, there are old malts which much better, so much better that I don't mind spending good money on them (my wife minding is another matter...).
Good old ones are well chosen. With young and old, cask selection is very important, moreso than many realize.
For casual drinking I often prefer a younger malt that doesn't need time to develop and doesn't have to much to look for. On the other hand, a nice smooth one is good for casual drinking and young ones can be rougher. It is a bit of a waste to drink much of an expensive malt unless you don't particularly love it.
Many prefer blends for casual drinking but I don't like grain and malt whisky together for some reason. I like each separately but not together. The corn overtones on top of malt just seem wrong to me but just MHO.
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