Tasting With Glenmorangie - 1/19/10

Again the priviledges of being the spirits buyer for a major retailer - the master distillers for the world's great whiskies come to see you! Hopefully I will be able to visit them someday, but for now I'm just happy that they take the time to visit K&L.  Dr. Bill Lumsden, the distiller and whisky creator for Glenmorangie, was in the Bay Area this week and brought his whole lineup of fantastic Highland malts with him to make sure that I was familiar with them.  I've been a fan of Glenmorangie since I first started seriously drinking, mostly because they're so accessible and tasty.  I feel like they do something many drams only wish they could do - appeal to both beginners, with its rich and coating mouthfeels, and experienced tasters, with a complexity of flavor that extends throughout the entire portfolio. 

I am usually inclined to sum up Glenmorangie with a story about my two good friends at last year's Whiskies of the World extravaganza in San Francisco.  I had two extra passes and two old buddies who were interested in drinking whisky, but knew very little about the producers.  They tasted at about three different tables until they got to Glenmorangie and then they simply posted up there for the rest of the evening.  They absolutely fell in love with the Nectar d' Or and marveled at the different expressions that were clearly influenced by the barrels they had been aged in.  They had the whole room at their disposal, but Glenmorangie whiskies are undeniably delicious, and after tasting some pretty peaty Islay malts, they simply wanted to stick with something that truly hit the spot, and that's exactly what these malts do.

The core of Glenmorangie's range is the 10 year, and then a series of 12 year old whiskies all aged 10 years in Bourbon casks before distinguishing themselves in how they spent the last two, and we began the tasting by sampling them.  With the exception of The Original, I believe they are all unchillfiltered.

Glenmorangie "The Original" Single Malt Whisky $35.99 - A classic 10 year old whisky aged solely in Bouron barrels that is a paragon of restraint and subtlety.  The citrus (which is clear and apparent in a few of their malts) really shines in the nose along with honey and vanilla.  The vanilla continues on in the supple and creamy palate, and the finish lingers with a touch of sweetness.  This is a great whisky for anyone's collection and it's very reasonably priced.  Who wouldn't like this?

Glenmorangie Lasanta Extra Matured Range Sherry Cask $47.99 - The Lasanta gets the extra two years in sherry casks and really captures the dried fruits and nutty flavors that I associate with traditional Speyside malts.  The aromas are toffee and raisins and the finish showcases them again.  This whisky is less expensive than many Speysiders and it tastes better, so I'm glad we revisited this.  I will make sure that I pass this on to people who think they want Macallan!

Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban Extra Matured Range Port Cask $47.99 - This dram really stands apart from the others with its dry and spicy flavors - completely lacking the sweetness that the others all display.  You get the dark chocolate, the baking spices, the orange peel on the palate, and the aromas are pure incense and sandalwood.  I can't remember trying this in the past, so I'm definitely excited about having gotten the chance to taste it.  I've had some other port-matured whiskies and I haven't been nearly as impressed.  This is distinctive and very good.

Glenmorangie Nectar D' Or Extra Matured Range Sauternes Cask $65.99 - This had previously been my favorite of the Extra Matured Range, and it still tastes as lovely as it always has.  Since the Bruichladdich 15 year in Yquem cask ran out, this is where I've gotten my fix.  The lemon custard, honey, and sweet syrup flavors leap out on the palate, and the nose is pure vanilla and orange peel.  The finish is all lemon tart and cream, however, despite the dessert-like descriptors, the whisky isn't all that sweet.  I still would drink it after dinner however as a substitute for something sweet.

The rest of the tasting consisted entirely of whiskies I had never before tasted and bottles that we have not yet carried, therefore I do not have a link to our website for them.  They were very exciting and of amazing quality, so I hope to make them available very soon.

Glenmorangie Private Collection Sonnalta PX - This whisky follows the formula of 10 and 2, but the sherry barrels used for the final aging are very different than those used in the Lasanta.  First of all these are Pedro Ximenez barrels - the sweetest and richest of sherries. Second, they are custom made for Dr. Lumsden - they are not simply used PX barrels.  Dr. Lumsden has spanish oak barrels made and then toasted on the inside.  He then requests that they be filled with PX sherry for one year so that the charred wood soaks up all the flavor.  The result is an aging vehicle that inflects its flavor deeply into the malt whisky.  The aromas are gigantic, punch-you-in-the-face aromas of dried fruit, toasty oak, and roasted nuts.  The palate is suprisingly soft on the entry, but hugely concentrated with plenty of raisin fruit and sherry notes.  This was supposed to be for duty free stores only, but they decided to release it into a few international markets.  The finish goes on forever.

Glenmorangie Astar Single Malt Whisky - This is almost cask strength, pure and unadulterated Glenmorangie whisky that spends all its time in designer casks made from American white oak from the Ozarks.  It is bottled at 57.1% ABV and really sings of toffee, butterscotch, and honey all the while intermingling with peppery herbs and gobs of fruit on the finish.  It is delicious and big in everyway.  I think it retails for around $80, but probably a bit less from us. 

Glenmorangie 18 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - This is a very rare expression of Glenmorangie that sees 70% of the whisky spend its entire 18 years in Bourbon cask, while the other 30% does 15 years in Bourbon before being transfered to sherry for the final 3.  The nose is extremely fruity and full of floral aromas.  The palate shows citrus fruit with honeysuckle notes and the finish is all hazelnuts with dried fruits.  It is absolutely top notch whisky that I think I would pay top dollar for.

Glenmorangie 25 Year Old Single Malt Whisky - This dram used to retail for $900!!!  I couldn't believe it, but yet I could because I can easily say it's one of the finest whiskies I have ever tasted - EASILY.  I think they are dropping the price to around the $500 mark, which helps, but I'm not sure that even this gushing review is going to help them sell it at that price either.  It sees Bourbon wood for the first 20 years and then 12.5% goes into used Burgundy barrels and another 12.5% sees sherry casks.  The nose is stupendous - tons of aromatics with marzipan, berries, mint, and an oily characteristic that I love in a Scotch Whisky.  Everything about this whisky is perfect especially the balance.  The weight, the mouthfeel, the hints of sweetness, and the level of richness are all majestically in tune with one another.  If you are going to Whiskies of the World in March, go to their table first and try to get a taste of this right away.

Glenmorangie Signet Single Malt Whisky - Even though the 25 year was my favorite, I am saving this review for last because it was the most intriguing and the one bottle I am most likely to bring into K&L in the near future.  The Signet is one of the most complicated whiskies I have ever had explained to me.  It begins with Dr. Lumsden's love of coffee bean and chocolate roasting.  He decided that instead of drying his barley in a heated kiln, he would roast the barley like coffee beans in a heated revolving barrel.  The result was that the little buds of barley actually looked brown roasted beans and they are then used to make the beer and then the whisky!!  He calls it "high roasted chocolate malt."  The whisky is then aged up to 34 years and is then blended with other ancient Glenmorangie malts including a rare 1974 and another 40 year old from their archives.  The flavors are like almond biscotti and dark chocolate.  The color is dark and the palate is brimming with super soft dried fruit and loads of richness.  But it's not overdone.  That's the amazing part.  The SWA obviously took some time off from bothering John Glaser to pay Dr. Lumsden a visit and make sure this "chocolate malt" thing was kosher, but in the end they though it was brilliant.  I concur.  Well played, doctor.

-David Driscoll

David Driscoll