Glenmorangie’s symbol is decidedly Celtic. A signet with curling whorls that suggest water running over stone.
Originally, Glenmorangie was a brewery and farm distillery in the Scottish Highlands. It’s an old place with a recognisably 19th century Scottish design. Traditional brown and grey stones form the walls of a stout, sturdy building. The quintessential Scottish distillery.
It might surprise you, then, to learn that Glenmorangie has much to do places far beyond Scotland. America, France, and Iberia – just to name a few.
Wood and Wine
The stills at Glenmorangie are slender and tall. At eight metres tall, they are in fact, the tallest in Scotland. The new spirit rises through the towering columns, slowly shedding the heavier elements within it as if ascends, again and again.
The spirit that emerges has a light and crisp nature, light as air and spring water. This is no hearty and heavy whisky, but a elegant and subtle creation.
To mature its spirit, Glenmorangie uses ex-bourbon casks, made from white oak from Missouri. Floral and light fruit aromas waft from most Glenmorangie whiskies – apple, citrus, melon, banana. There is also a certain cereal note- the smell of a grain harvest.
In this state, the whisky is fit for bottling, and indeed, it is sold as the 10 year old Original. In that incarnation, the malt is a pale gold, the colour of fresh lemons.
If that was all there was to it, Glenmorangie would acquit itself as a distillery of fine quality, but merely that.
Fortunately, the Glenmorangie is the one of the premiere masters of wood finishing– particularly with the use of wine casks. While sherry cask maturation or finishing is commonplace, even expected, in the world of whisky today, there are more wines in the world beyond the shores of Jerez, Spain.
Strange cask finishings began to be released by Glenmorangie. Port, cognac, rum, truffles, and more were used. In 2006, the Glenmorangie’s Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation and Whisky Stocks, Dr Bill Lumsden, unveiled a malt finish in ex-Chateau Margaux casks. The vineyard has long been renowned as one of the world’s greatest wineries, but had never been mingled before that (outside of the bellies of some very discerning drinkers).
A Tasting of the Glenmorangie Range
Today, the distillery is still making whiskies with interesting finishes. We tried a few of the expressions that they have available.
The Glenmorangie Original 10 Years Old
Nose: Honey, apricots, oranges, giving way to cream, walnuts, and grain.
Palate: Oranges, lemons, honey and barley, then a flavour of walnuts jumps in towards the end.
Finish: Dry and spicy, though medium in length
Overall, as the vanguard of the distillery, the Original does a fair job. It’s not particularly fancy, and we prefer a thicker, longer finish. Still, it is not a bad whisky to start off with.
The Glenmorangie Lasanta 12 Years Old
Nose: Nuts and chocolate, some oranges and plums.
Palate: Plums, nuts and spice. Raisins, oranges and caramel. Hazelnuts and chocolate. The lovechild of nutella, plum pudding and whisky.
Finish: Oak and spice, again medium in length
A sherry cask finishing gives the Lasanta all the pleasant notes of the Spanish wine. The dram is a fair one, and stands up to sherries whiskies in the same price range, but remains light and elegant.
The Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban 12 Years Old
Nose: Dark, rich, chocolate. Blackcurrants and plums, with a tinge of oak at the end.
Palate: Chocolate, honey. Stewed apples, raisins and caramel. Black cherries, and finally rounded off with heavy oak. Not particularly sweet, and a little harsh compared to its peers.
Finish: Caramel, raisins and oak. Medium in length once again.
Quinta Ruban’s port finishing gives it a decidedly fuller flavour than its siblings. The whisky is powerful, and can be quite harsh. It does well when softened by water.
The Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or 12 Years Old
Nose: Cream, honey and orange blossoms. Sweet Riesling wine. Light wood and spice, with scent of vanilla custard. A light sweetness that tempts the nose.
Palate: Apricots, oranges and peach. Honey- or nectar. Mango, barley and custard. Dried apples and then, cinnamon.
Finish: Cinnamon and raisins, long in length.
Our favourite of the 12 Year Olds. This is matured in French Sauternes wine casks, and the influence is felt, without a doubt. Light, elegant, and floral, but with rich sweet notes that never become cloying. A very good dram indeed and excellent for people looking for something lighter in flavour.
A Private Matter
The latest incarnation of the cask finishing (or extra maturation, as they call it at Glenmorangie) is the Bacalta. The new whisky belongs to the Private Edition, which is something of an exclusive, experimental, range. The exclusivity is not purely a marketing term; minimal bottles are produced.
It’s not the first time that Glenmorangie has released a private edition bottling. The Bacalta will be the eighth release- but the first to come to Singapore. Word has it that our love for fine Scotch has been recognised in the Highlands. A fact that we should be very proud of.
The Private Edition has something of a pedigree. The first, the Sonnalta PX, was released in 2009 and won the IWSC 2010 Gold Medal. Most of the range has held this accolade since. From the Artein, finished in Super Tuscan wine casks, to the Ealanta, which was aged in virgin oak, the Companta, finished in Burgundy and Rhone wine casks, and last year’s Milsean, aged in bourbon and Portuguese wine casks.
The question is, of course, if the Bacalta will follow in its predecessors’ footsteps. In this case, that list includes the Glenmorangie Madeira Finish, the world’s first whisky finished in Madeira casks, made some 20 years ago by Dr. Lumsden.
And thus, we go to a place between the Iberian Peninsula and North Africa. Madeira, itself.
Seasons in the Sun
Madeira is an archipelago and autonomous region of Portugal, which is actually closer to Africa. The sun beats down mercilessly, and the climate is hot, almost tropical, and reaches 30 degrees celsius in some months. Chalky soil favours the cultivation of grapes, which are made into the eponymous wine.
Much like port, Madeira wine is fortified with brandy to help preserve it on long journeys by ship. There is one startling difference, however. Unlike its port cousins, Madeira wine is actually specifically heated to give it a unique flavour. Some people actually found that they liked the taste of wine exposed to extreme heat over a long ship journey. Thus wine was usually rounded and raisin-like.
Naturally, it would not make sense for Madeira wine to be made by sailing then across the ocean in ships, so techniques were developed to mimic the heating effect. The most famous of these was the use of estufas, rooms where wine casks were exposed or “baked” in the unrelenting sun.
Not coincidentally, Bacalta is the Scots Gaelic word for “baked”.
The problem with the process is its troubling tendency to destroy the casks used, thanks to the heat and ultraviolet light. It was difficult to procure intact, good quality Madeira casks, which spelt the end of the original Glenmorangie Madeira Finish in the early 2000s.
For the Bacalta, Malmsey casks were used. Malmsey is a style of Madeira made from a white grape, and is also the sweetest of the four major Madeira styles. After the maturation process, Malmsey takes on a thick, toffee-like texture, colour, and flavour. It is these flavours that are imparted into the Bacalta.
The story doesn’t end there, however. After the experience with the original Madeira Finish, the casks used for Bacalta went through a process specifically designed by Dr Lumsden:
• Casks were created specifically for the extra-maturation. Made from tight-grained, air-seasoned American oak staves, the casks were heavily toasted
• They were filled with specifically sourced Malmsey Madeira on the island and baked by the heat of the sun for two years
• The casks were then emptied out, transported to Scotland, and filled with whisky, already matured in ex-bourbon barrels, to create Glenmorangie Bacalta.
The Glenmorangie Bacalta Review
After all that effort, how did the Bacalta turn out?
Nose: Nuts, toffee and oranges. Honey and caramel richness. Ginger and cinnamon.
Palate: Sweet and full. Honey, oranges, peaches and apricot. Dates and almonds. Tart notes of aged balsamic. Butterscotch and gingerbread that coats the tongue.
Finish: Long and lingering, with heavy spice and bittersweet caramel as our companions.
Overall, the Bacalta is a splendid dram. It has a superb depth of flavours and a great balance of fruit sweetness, acidic tartness and bitter wood flavours.
A whisky that glows with summer flavours- the warmth of the sun seems infused in it, after all.
The Glenmorangie Bacalta can be enjoyed in Singapore at bars including Chop Suey Café, Dempsey — PS. Cafe, Liquor Bar, The Garage at Singapore Botanic Gardens, Monti, The Summerhouse, and 1-Altitude. Those interested to purchase a bottle of Glenmorangie Bacalta can do so from the following retailers: The Whisky Distillery, Le Vigne, 1855 The Bottle Shop, The Standish, Le Rouge, Bottles & Bottles, and online store Asher BWS (www.asherbws.com). The Glenmorangie Bacalta is produced as a small-batch special edition and will be available in Singapore only while stocks last.