The last Whisky Lounge tutored tasting session in York was a detailed study of Glenmorangie, with a rare opportunity to trace the development of flavours from New Make Spirit through to the most developed Signet
As ever, Eddie’s talk covered way more detailed information than I could ever hope to note down, but unusually for one of these evenings, I can actually read some of my scribblings, although the words make noticably less sense as the whiskys wore on..
The evening started with a pint of remarkably good D.A.V.E. (Dark and Very Enjoyable) from Yorkshire’s Great Heck and a chance to chat to a few of the professionals in the audience, but soon we were swept off to go learn more about Single Malt Whisky.
I managed to scribble a few insider tips came out of the discussion: Isle of Arran is looking very good at the moment and Bruichladdich’s own Port Charlotte is consistently Outstanding. I’m wishing I’d bought a bottle or three when I was there last autumn.
Carrying on from something that Jim McEwan mentioned last September, Eddie said that this year’s Big Thing is wood management, even more whiskys are coming to market that have been aged in extremely specific barrels that the Scottish distillers contracted from the Americans to make and use from specific forests on north facing slopes in the best micro climates. Only time will tell whether this level of detail in the maturation process becomes noticable.
One of the more frequently asked questions is why is Scottish whisky aged in first or second fill Bourbon casks? It’s evolved from pure economy, a second hand Bourbon Cask can be had in quantity for about £50, whereas a top tier Sherry Butte from somebody like Chateaux Y’Chem or Sauternes can fetch easily £500. This is offset by the Sherry barrel being twice the volume of the Bourbon cask and that the sherry effect becomes noticable after only 2 or 3 months whereas spirit cannot be called Whisky until it’s been aged for at least 3 years.
Another Whisky Fact is why 40% and 46% are such commonly used bottling strengths. This comes down to marketing and consumer expectations, 40% is the weakest that the spirit remains clear to look at after chill filtering, whereas 46% is the minimum required if you don’t chill filter. Appearance is incredibly important to the mass market for whisky, which is why the majority is chill filtered.
Enough rambling, on with the whiskys. Glenmorangie’s house style is one of the lightest of all the Speysides, coming from some of the highest, thinnest stills in the country. Notes of fruity citrus and grasses should be present throughout, with perhaps a faintly nutty finish.
|1. New Make Spirit||“Single malt vodka”. New make spirit is nectar to what taste buds I have left to me, it tastes of everything at once and is the most amazing, golden, rainbow of sensation. Less prosaically, it’s also the essence of that distillery’s equivalent of terrior, the basic flavour template that’s rounded off and developed by the maturation process.|
|2. Glenmorangie 10 year old||The most popular expression from this distillery, the 10 year old is your common or garden Glenmorangie. It’s probably a mix of 60% first fill and 40% second fill bourbon casks which stops the incredibly fruity notes from being swamped by the oak. It’s a popular aperitif, one person said it was light enough to be a breakfast whisky. The finish is fairly long and creamy|
|3. Nectar D’or||This is the 10 year old that’s spent another 2 years in Sauternes oak, one of the best outcomes from GlenMorangie’s earlier experiments into sherry finishes and is most sought after than some of their heavier expressions. It scored well with the people who prefered a sweet finish, flavours like pears, lemon meringue, banana and honey came out, but the palette was disappointing, its nose promised lots that just wasn’t delivered.|
|4. Sonnalta||The first of the heavy hitting whiskies of the evening, this premium expression has been finished in Pedro Ximinez sherry, thankfully not for very long because you can still, faintly, taste the original whisky in there. It’s uniquely not very Glenmorangie, you get a huge hit of vanilla and sugar from the sherry, the rich dessert flavours led to a long almost sickly finish. The PX casks were allegedly specifically commissioned by Tain which means this very recent release will have strictly limited supply.|
|5. Astar (*)||This 57.1% whisky is slightly stronger than all the others, but was easily the most popular of the evening because it takes everything that’s distinctive about Glenmorangie and then turns it up to 11. This is one that’s been aged in the very slowly grown oak casks from the north facing slopes in Missouri’s Ozark mountains and demand for this has shown it was worth all the fuss. The palate was very elegant, with a refreshing almost invigorating citrus and malty zing. The finish was sharp and spicy with none of the raw esters you normally associate with a higher strength whisky|
|6. Signet||This crazy brew might only be 46%, but is incredibly golden and dark. It’s been put together by Bill Lumsden, their Head of Distilling and Whisky Creation, to include an amount of roasted malted barley, giving it a unique thick and chocolatey flavour. It’s almost like drinking an alcoholic swiss roll, I’ve never come across anything quite like it. The palate has many of the heavier flavours more normally associated with peated barley and tastes very expensive. It’s complex and needed more thought and attention than I had left by this time. The price and the packaging reflect the amount of effort that went into producing this, which puts it way outside what I would normally consider adding to my collection, but others who like a mellow, almost collectable drink might think again|
* The Astar was the whisky of the night for me, closely followed by the Nectar D’or. Neither are my usual preferred style of Whisky, but they’re both characterful and distinctive and would be a good addition to anybody’s collection.