Cox questions value of age

By Alan Lodge  2011-3-27 15:04:46
Using age statements as a selling point on whisky is merely a "marketing ruse" and does nothing to enhance consumers' understanding of the quality of a whisky, according to Glenrothes brand heritage director Ronnie Cox.

now-verification_image.jpgSpeaking to the drinks business at the Glenrothes distillery in Rothes, Scotland, Cox said: “Age statements mean nothing to the regular consumer, it’s better to have vintages.”

Cox was speaking from a slightly biased position, seeing as Glenrothes adopts a policy of releasing vintage whiskies as opposed to whiskies of a particular age, but his long-term experience in the industry has, in his view, affirmed his standpoint on the issue.

“You can get a three-year-old whisky that tastes just the same as a 12-year-old,” he said. “Age statements are just a marketing ruse to try to convince people of a whisky’s quality.

“When I started in the industry in 1979 there was no such thing as a ’12-year-old’ whisky, there were just ‘deluxe’ expressions, which could have meant anything.

“The first to try to introduce age statements was Chivas, which brought in the 12-year-old age statement, and then Diageo quickly followed suit as they saw Chivas was stealing a march on them in markets like Latin America, where people really bought into the age statement concept. It’s spiralled from there.

“What is not being communicated enough to the consumer is the impact of wood on a maturing whisky and the shape of a cask.”

The vast majority – as much as 95% - of whisky produced at the Glenrothes distillery is put towards providing the backbone of blended whiskies such as The Famous Grouse, Chivas Regal, Ballantine’s and Cutty Sark.

The remainder, however, is set aside to create the single malt Glenrothes expressions, including the vintage releases.

Brand owner Berry Bros & Rudd claims to be the first company to introduce the concept of vintage whiskies, utilising its experience in the fine wine market to produce a different concept in aged whiskies.

It remains to be seen whether this different approach to promoting aged whiskies to consumers will bear fruit, particularly in the face of Chivas’ concerted effort to emphasise the age of a whisky as its premier
selling point.

What it does serve to do, however, is to provide whisky manufacturers with food for thought if they want a unique selling point to set their whiskies apart from their rivals.

Glenrothes is unique in that it does not follow the status-quo. It does not allow the public into the distillery, and its primary focus is on providing the top notes for blends rather than extolling the virtues of its own single malt.

However, there remains a refreshing approach which suggests this is a distillery and a brand which is seeking to foster a greater appreciation for the craft and nuances of whisky which others might have lost amid the clamour for sales volumes.

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