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Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Taste Off! Glenmorangie 10 (old label) versus Glenmorangie Original

Do you need much more of an intro than that?

Well, of course you're going to get one.  The older labelled Glenmorangies (back when they were distributed by Brown Forman) were the amongst the whiskies that really hooked me on single malts, especially the 10 year old and "Sherry Wood".  They were simple but flavorful and relatively affordable.  Perfect for a starter drug.

I've seen the Sherry Wood selling here and there for amounts a bit too steep for me to chase, but I have lucked into a bottle or two of the 10 for a decent price.  This bottle (on the left in the picture above) is from 2005.

In 2007, Moet Hennessey started distributing Glenmorangie (which it had also owned since 2004) and gave the packaging a full makeover.  Gone were the old school bottles, tubes, and labels, now replaced by new names, new font, and curvy bottles.  The "Sixteen Men of Tain" went from center stage to somewhere off in smaller print.  Glenmorangie was now a luxury brand, it couldn't look stogy, it had to dress the part.

But did they change the whisky?  It takes considerable effort to "change" a whisky.  Thousands of casks are dumped and mixed each year, and a BRAND like Glenmorangie has to be reliable enough in nature for its fans to return for more bottles.  But if a BRAND is trying to expand, could the producers tilt the whisky a little sweeter, smoother, or softer?

My memory says that the old Sherry Wood kicks the crap out of its current Lasanta iteration, but that's for a future Taste Off to challenge or confirm.  This year, I had in front of me the old 10 year and the new 10 year "Original".  I actually like the Original, so this seemed like a win-win for me.

Here's were things take a little bit of a turn.  This was a different bottle of Original than the one from my 2012 review and it's different than the one sampled by MAO in his review.  In fact, this one was an L7, as in from 2007.  When I first planned this review, I had intended to compare the oldie with something absolutely current.  I was pissed that I didn't look at the bottle code before buying (I'm a nerd like that), but then I realized that now I could actually compare Glenmorangies at the point of switchover from old to new, in 2007.


Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts not included)
Age: minimum 10 years
Maturation: first fill and refill ex-Bourbon American oak casks
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 43%

Older Label (2005, L5 237) 
The color is light gold.  When I first opened the bottle, scents of melon and tangerine poured forth after being closed up for eight and half lonely years.  But now, with the whisky in the glass and a little bit of breathing time, the nose holds more peaches, toasted barley, and lemon-scented soap.  It also vacillates between jasmine, grape drink, and mild cheese.  Gradually citronella and cotton candy come forth.  Give it more air, then vanilla and cucumber notes develop.  The palate starts with lemon peel tartness and cocoa (or perhaps brown butter to some).  Lots of barley, then peach, and orange pulp.  The tartness progresses to tanginess.  The barley note grows with time and continues on into the finish.  It's joined by lemons and talcum powder.  It's of decent length, the citrus staying the longest.

New Label, "Original" (2007, L7 306)
Its color is identical to the older version.  Lots of rosy perfume on the nose.  The grape drink has become Concord Manischewitz (also known as kosher grape drink).  A hint of peach in there, but much more orange Jolly Rancher and cotton candy.  Toasted grains and grapefruit round it out.  As for the palate, it's pretty simple.  Peaches, sweet cream, tangerines, and limes.  There's also a slight bitterness and greenness that feels sort of young.  The citrus grows in the finish.  There's a green veg note alongside rubbing alcohol.  And it's brief.

Let's walk backwards.  The L7 is much less oaky than more recent bottlings of the Original.  But it's also less complex.  And there's also less barley character than there is in the L5.  The nose of the L7 Original is much more perfumed, bright, and focused than the L5.  The palate seems younger than the L5's and feels a little thin.  The L5 has a big lemony finish, while the L7 has almost no finish at all.

Did the Master Blender/Distiller/LVMH try to change the whisky?  The peach, citrus, and cotton candy notes show the L5 and L7 are very much related.  And neither have much barrel influence showing up.  The L5's nose is more fun, but it's also wilder.  The makers of the L7 seemed to have reined in that jazz and replaced it with pop prettiness.  But that process has taken something out of the palate.  The L7 seems more readily accessible at the start, but provides much less excitement at the finish.  Could the latter have been due to heavier filtration?  The former can be from cask selection.  Or am I reading too much into something that could be a bottle-to-bottle issue?  Even so, I'm much more sold on the 2005 version.

If you can find a bottle of the older label, I don't recommend airing it out too much.  Usually I do encourage folks to allow a whisky some time to open up, but not in this instance.  This whisky has been best at the top of the bottle or at the start of the glass.  It seems to kinda slow down with air.  Though if you find a really old bottle you can ignore this whole paragraph.

If you go to buy the Original, check the code printed faintly somewhere on the lower-half of the back of the bottle.  The 2012s and 2013s (L12 and L13, I think), while more oaky (possibly due to Astar-style casks), have more character and zip.  While the L7 isn't bad, it seems like something intended to be poured over ice and forgotten.  There are plenty of blends available to serve that purpose.

If you've had similar or different experiences with the old 10, let me know.  I may seek out another bottle if the price is right.

Availability - Happy hunting!
Pricing - I've seen everything from $35 to $70
Rating - 85

Availability - Most liquor stores, though it's usually a more recent bottling
Pricing - $30-$40
Rating - 80