Is Age No Longer Relevant?

The conversation about whether age statements should be removed in liquor categories from rum to Scotch to Bourbon has been growing recently. Aside from increasing press coverage from industry analysts encouraging brands to drop their age statements, I’ve spoken to multiple brand managers recently who are looking at whether it still makes sense to put an age statement on the label.

Financial benefits of not including an age statement include flexibility in bottling blended spirits (as consumer demand ebbs and flows), decreasing the likelihood of price swings. Releasing a brand from the requirements that accompany age statements also gives distillers more opportunity for experimentation.

But the larger question is whether today’s consumers care how long a spirit is aged. The average age of whisk(e)y drinkers is decreasing as Millennials develop a taste for dark spirits. Does the age statement actually impact purchasing decisions, or do price and brand perception play a larger role than in the past? Does the average Millennial consumer care whether their drink began aging when they were a teenager?

I don’t think anyone would argue that wine vintages shouldn’t be printed on the label, since fluctuations in each year’s harvest are extremely important to the desirability of the wine – but that’s not the case with many spirits that are blended using a combination of barrels from various years.

If the blend used in a 12-year-old has a better taste and quality than an 18-year-old, why should the lower quality spirit cost more and enjoy a higher marketplace perception simply because of its age? As far as I’m concerned, it shouldn’t. I’d rather see spirits compete on what’s in the bottle, instead of how long it took to get there.

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