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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Single Malt Report: Glenmorangie Astar

BOOM!  The mystery malt.
Bringing the American wood on this first Tuesday of November.
While the Astar (Gaellic for "journey") is one of the Glenmorangie's special bottlings (it doesn't appear to technically be a "Private Edition"), it isn't wine-finished.  In fact it spends its entire life in just one type of cask.  According to many non-Glenmorangie sources, Head Distiller Bill Lumsden did in fact travel to the Mizzouri Ozarks to pick out specific oak trees for his barrels.  Why pick out specific trees?  Because, according to 1001 Whiskies:
Oak grown on northern hillsides grows more slowly, which makes the wood finer-grained. Hence it will render more flavor during maturation.
Okay (or Oaky?), I'll roll with that.  How about a full 57.1% ABV?  That doesn't even sound like GlenMo.  Upon hearing these details last year, I was more than a little excited about this whisky.  But as time went on, the excitement was replaced by a more reasonable question, "Yeah, but does it taste good?"

The answer is...

...

...

Well, on to the details.

GLENMORANGIE ASTAR

Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts not included)
Age: approximately 9 to 10 years
Maturation: Missouri Ozark Oak (more info below)
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 57.1%
Chill-filtered: No.
Colored: Possibly not.

Some more stuff about this whisky:  Per whiskyfun's interview with Lumsden, this (or the first?) batch was a vatting from 10 heavily-toasted, lightly-charred casks that were air-dried for two years.  Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch notes that the barrels had held Tennessee Whiskey for four years before the Glenmorangie spirit was dumped in.  (Haven't heard this specific element anywhere else.  In fact, I'd read that this was new wood.  If anyone can clear this up, I'd be much obliged.)

But clearly this is an engineered modern whisky.  But that should NOT be a strike against Astar because what's most important is the answer to the question, "Does it taste good?"

Here's what I found:

Neat --
The color is brass, though darker than The Original.  Bundles of citrus are in the nose but they have much company.  Cookie dough, cloves, cocoa, elements of a light rye whisky.  There's a small dose of ethyl burn, but not too much.  There's also apple juice, more perky rye-like spices, toffee cake, and drippy sweet desserts.  The palate is very malty.  Some of that cookie dough note too.  Rich milk chocolate, caramel sauce, white fruit juices, Nutella, and delicious (yeah, very subjective).  A touch of tangerine citrus returns in the finish.  With some molasses, a cherry lollipop, and caramel sauce, it's long and sticky sweet.

With water (approx. 34.3% ABV) --
The cookie dough and rye characteristics are toned down in the nose now.  The young citrusy spirit remains afloat, joined by a bit of pineapple juice and some Jolly Ranchers.  The alcohol buzz is still present in the palate, but it's bettered by bushels of fresh fruit (think berries, grapes, and lemons).  Maybe a tiny bit of the milk chocolate too.  The finish is drier.  The fruits lead, followed by a green herbal note (like basil, oregano, and chives).

Despite all of those notes about sweets, the malt is neither cloying nor saccharine.  With the big ABV, it's quite muscular and develops nicely in the glass.  Of course, I'm a sucker for any sort of rye note, so there's that to consider.

On this election day, Astar gets my vote of confidence.  Yes, it tastes good.

Availability - Select liquor specialists
Pricing - $70-$85
Rating - 90

28 comments:

  1. From what I understand about Glenmorangie's barrel management, they own the forests and coopers in America, then lease the barrels to Jack Daniels and Heaven Hill. That way they have nearly complete control over the barrels from start to finish.

    It's also not surprising that you like Astar if you enjoy the Original. Bill Lumsden has stated that they are migrating the Original over to the new system of maturation by slowly blending more and more of it in, so the Original should eventually be watered-down Astar.

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    1. Perhaps those assets were one of the elements that motivated LVMH to buy them out. And that's interesting they're sending the Original that direction. I'm assuming LVMH has found savings that way too. Ultimately, I'd drink it.

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    2. I'm game too. I love that Bill Lumsden sweats the wood management to this extent. It shows dividends in Astar that has tons of white oak goodness - practically a clinic on Bourbon cask Highland Scotch in my opinion. I'm glad to hear that they will be taking their 10 in this direction. That will mean a more richly flavored product (hopefully).

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    3. This wood management is very reminiscent of Macallan which owns a sherry bodega that seasons their casks for two years before sending them to Scotland (I don't think Macallan owns a forest in Spain though).

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    4. Recently, Glenmorangie advertisements have emphasized the fact that the distillery only uses casks twice (a third or fourth refill might be going to the blenders or independents but the ads don't say). So I'm going to say Astar should be a blend of first and second fill whisky.

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    5. Interesting they're rolling out cask use references in their ads. Lumsden likes playing with oak and apparently the marketing folks are going with that. Sometimes new oak can be crazy sticky sweet with single malts, so far Glenmorangie has avoided that. I wonder if Ardbeg is experimenting with it too...

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  2. I decided to open my bottle of Astar even though I already have too many open bottles (this is either a good or bad thing). It's surprisingly sweeter than I expected. The standard Glenmo 10 I found a bit drier and bittersweet. This may be my favorite Glenmo.

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    1. Yeah, I REALLY like this one too. I do hope they keep it on the market, though their new Ealanta release sounds like the pricier, yet weaker, older brother. Of course, I want to try that one too.

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    2. I doubt they will discontinue this since Astar is a component of the 10 and 18. But I do worry they might temporarily stop selling Astar if more is needed for blending into the 10 and 18.

      Going through the whiskyfun archives, I noticed Serge reviewed a Glenmorangie Post Oak bottling where they experimented with another American oak, quercus stellata. Kind of makes me wonder what other crazy experiments Lumsden is doing with oak varieties.

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    3. Yup, losing the Astar to blending with the regular range is my worry.

      Just now, I looked up those Post Oak reviews. Too bad I didn't catch a case of the Whisky Crazies five years earlier because those bottlings are now either all gone or probably auctioning at goofy prices. Lumsden has to have had some dynamite failures in the lab. He could always sell them to Murray McDavid.

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    4. Possibly the oddest finish in Glenmorangie's history has to be Truffle Oak. Yep, the finishing casks were made from oak which had truffles growing on them (specifically the roots). I'd love to taste a sample but Master of Malt is selling those at $96 each...

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    5. Gah! Master of Malt with the tease!

      A shop in the UK is selling a full bottle for 500GBP. Apparently it comes in fun packaging and at 60.5%ABV.

      This wouldn't be a bad time for Lumsden and Co. to start selling those Post Oaks again. Imagine the prices they could charge...

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    6. Ouch, I seem to have fallen for the marketing. According to Malt Madness, Glenmorangie Truffle Oak is simply Glenmo aged in European oak, Quercus robur. Which means Truffle Oak is simply a variation on Astar and Post Oak. And there are no truffles involved in the flavor. I'm also not seeing any info on whether the cask was filled before with something or if it's new oak (like the latest Ealanta). But I'd love to try a Glenmo that's hit the 60% mark...

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    7. Thanks for the update. This is really the first I'd heard about the Truffle Oak bottling. It must be a youngin' with all that strength. Probably can't keep it in new oak too long.

      The Artisan Cask can still be found overseas for under 100GBP (for a 500mL). I THINK it's a new oak bottling too.

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    8. According to Serge of Whiskyfun, Artisan Cask is the same whisky as Astar but at a lower proof (46%) so we're probably not missing much. For a distillery that pioneered cask finishing, they sure love maturing whisky in plain oak varieties.

      By the way, I don't think Astar is part of the Private Editions line. The Private Edition moniker is reserved for one-off limited edition releases that aren't repeated whereas Astar (and Signet) are supposedly permanent parts of the range.

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    9. You may be right about the Private Edition designation. Their website really isn't helpful as it's missing Astar (http://www.glenmorangie.com/our-whiskies) from its lineup. Its original release came from only 10 casks, so it was very limited at first. They've definitely burned through that batch since then. But I haven't seen any announcement about it otherwise.

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    10. Oh, I had the answer near me the whole time. Glenmorangie Finealta comes with a handy booklet that states it is the second in the Private Edition line. The first was the Sonnalta PX which is pictured in the booklet next to the Finealta. Artein would be the third Private Edition and Ealanta the fourth.

      Specifically the booklet states, "Finealta is the second whisky created for The Glenmorangie Private Edition, a collection of rare, limited release whiskies." Since Glenmo seems to be producing new batches of Astar (though they don't bothering identifying the batch with a number), I'd say it's a permanent member of the lineup.

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    11. Yeah, I think you're right. I updated the reference to the Private Edition. Someone might want to tell their online team to update their site...

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  3. Glenmorangie hasn't really made any announcements but the grapevine says Astar has been discontinued. Good thing I've got two unopened bottles to enjoy in the future.

    By the way, I finally checked my Astar box and found the little booklet that comes with the whisky. The booklet confirms that the designer casks are filled with Tennessee whiskey for four years before they are shipped to Scotland (and I'll go with Jack Daniel's as the distillery since George Dickel is owned by Diageo which probably take the casks for their distilleries). Also the casks are toasted first and lightly charred second which is probably for locking in the wood flavors.

    If Astar is gone, I have to say I wish Glenmorangie would release a cask strength version of Original at the very least to take Astar's place.

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    1. Yep, John Hansell mentioned Astar's upcoming demise a couple times on twitter and may have referenced somewhere on his blog. I wouldn't mind getting a bottle before it's gone. California seems to have the highest prices on it, which stinks. Glenmorangie's single malt saw more volume depletion than any of the other major players last year, so I wouldn't doubt they're concerned about stock. Like you, I hope they someday release something at full strength.

      Thanks for the info about the Tennessee whiskey barrels. Since Diageo owns 1/3 of LVMH's drinks division there might be a slight chance Dickel gets used, but I'd bet on Jack Daniels too.

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    2. I'd completely forgotten Diageo owns a piece of LVMH. I brought up Jack Daniel's because Brown Forman has the ideal cooperage to make the Astar designer casks for Glenmorangie but neither LVMH or Brown Forman have ever confirmed this.

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    3. Yeah, you're right. I'd bet it's Jack Daniels. Thank goodness not a hint of that stuff has made it into the Astars I've tried.

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  4. Word of warning Michael. I'm over halfway done with my bottle of Astar and the taste has, well, lost some of the sweetness (sour and bitter seem to be taking over). I'm going to focus on finishing this bottle because I have a feeling oxygen has gotten to the whisky. I normally don't notice this in cask strength whisky and an open bottle of Macallan Cask Strength has improved over time for me. But it doesn't seem to be working on Astar.

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    1. That's unfortunate. Lasanta and Quinta Ruban get sourer and bitterer with time in my experience. Could it be something with GlenMo itself?

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    2. It might be the base spirit. GlenMo tends to be more delicate since their stills are so tall. I'll definitely need to finish my bottle soon.

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    3. Worse comes to worst, you can always do some high strength blending. And I think you may be onto something regarding the base spirit.

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  5. I just came upon this page after searching Google for a reason why my star has really lost its sweetness since being opened. It's unfortunate because a fresh bottle of astar was a really great thing. Any suggestions for something comparable?

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    1. Thanks for your comment. I've been waiting to see if anyone else had any thoughts on this.

      There are an increasing number of distilleries that are releasing new oak single malts. But none of them are quite like the Astar. Benromach has an Organic release (not the "Special edition" version") that I like, but it's very sweet. On the opposite side of the spectrum, there's Bruichladdich's Organic which is barley-forward and quite good. But neither of these is like Astar, nor are they bottled at Cask-ish strength.

      Apparently, much of what was Astar is now going into Glenmorangie's Original 10yo. Bill Lumsden likes tinkering with oak, and he likely knows he had something good with the Astar. But demand for Glenmorangie is pretty high, so he's putting that stuff into the Original. Original is still a solid malt, but it's watered down in comparison to Astar.

      If I ever find a respectable replacement for it, I'll post a review. Thanks again.

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