...where distraction is the main attraction.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The Glenmorangie Taste Off: An Introduction

The Nina, The Pinta, and The Santa Maria
(and a surprise malt)
To begin with...

This was the largest home Taste Off I have done (up to this point).  I normally do two or three whiskies per 'Off; this allows me to compare and contrast with sensory clarity.

Bringing a fourth whisky into a Taste Off required some rules.  Firstly, I would only be consuming 25mL of each of the three minis.  The good news, less booze blur.  The bad news, less to test, so my senses would be allowed little room for failure.  The good news, I'd have some left over to enjoy sans-analysis on another night.

So, 25mL of whiskies 1 through 3, and all of the 30mL (actually 28mL) of whisky #4.  I allowed two hours for the full experience.  I had a stack of John Lee Hooker records on hand for the soundtrack.

Glenmorangie and I

In my whisky youth, after the Glenlivets and Glenfiddichs and Macallans and blends, there was Glenmorangie.  The 10 year old and the earlier version of the Sherry Wood Finish to be specific.

It was the step before Oban and Talisker and anything peated.  I remember spending many lunch breaks standing in front of the Montgomery County Liquor store whisky shelves, ogling the Sherry, Port, Madeira, and Burgundy Finishes.  I always wanted to get the Burgundy one (the hardest one to find), but never had the courage to just get it.

I have plenty of fond memories of the Sherry Wood Finish and I am certain that its current iteration, the Lasanta, isn't the same whisky.  Either that, or memories have been candy coated.

The Distillery

I want to be within this picture. (pic source)
Originally the site, standing on a Morangie farm, was used as a brewery.  In 1843, William Matheson (also co-owner of Balblair and relative of the Dalmore founder) bought a pair of tall skinny former gin pot stills, as well as a distiller's license, and set out to make some spirits on the site.  By 1887, funding and support had grown to the point that a full rebuild was done on the distillery and the Glenmorangie Distillery Company Limited was founded.  The company was sold to Macdonald & Muir and Durham & Company in 1918; about 20 years later Macdonald & Muir (M&M) became 100% owners.  In the late '70s a Glenmorangie single malt hit the markets.  In the early '90s they began tinkering with wine cask finishes.  In 1996, Glenmorangie Public Limited Company was formed.  In 1997 Glenmorangie PLC bought the Ardbeg distillery.  Seven years later, Louis Vutton Moet-Hennessey (LVMH) purchased the entire company.

Upon this big acquisition, LVMH set out to transform Glenmorangie into more of a luxury brand.  In 2007, all of the old bottles with their rustic labeling were pulled from the shelves to be replaced new slender bottles, contemporary labels and packaging, and all new cosmopolitan sounding names.  Sherry Wood Finish because Lasanta.  Port Wood Finish became Quinta Ruban.  "Private Edition" limited releases began rolling out every year, and rare old bottlings started hitting the market.

Luckily for LVHM, they had two whisky geniuses creating the products: Bill Lumsden and Rachel Barrie.  A company can make the packaging lovely, but the product within needs to excel as well.  And many of them do.

As far as sales go, Glenmorangie has been the best (or one of the best) selling single malts in Scotland for the last 25 years, and were fifth in the world (as of 2010).  The strength of that revenue is due to their classic 10-year bottling (now called 'The Original').

The Original, nude of fancy finishes, shows off the light citric spirit created by the extra-long 17-foot stills.  I'll go out on a limb here and say that The Original sells well not because of lovely packaging, but because it's an easy-drinking whisky suitable for all climates and has consistently been priced well.

My Taste Off included The Original, along with Lasanta, Quinta Ruban, and one of their Private Editions.  I'll cover two this week, then two next week (ending with the mystery malt) and talk about some conclusions.


  1. Looking forward to your reviews! Did you wind up purchasing one of the gift packs on Sunday? I'm very tempted to open mine, but the whisky currently on the shelf dictates otherwise, for the moment.

    1. Thanks JLR! Nope didn't get the pack. I think they'd sold out of it last I'd checked. Though Hi Time's getting in all sorts of holiday gifties over the next month. I hope they get the HP12 one.

  2. I'm glad to see the Original in the lineup, I was afraid you were going to compare only the finished whiskies. I won't preempt your review, I've opened three of their minis tonight and I'm eagerly awaiting your verdict.

    1. Yep! As you can probably tell by now, I'm becoming a fan of The Original. It doesn't hide that good GlemMo malt.

  3. Decided to break open my bottle of Finealta and it might be the oddest thing I've tasted in the Glenmorangie lineup. Thanks to the peat notes, this isn't as sweet as the Original or the Extra Matured line. In fact I have to say this might be the saltiest Glenmorangie I've tasted but that (light) salt plays well with the sweet (citrus and honey) notes I do taste. Definitely a fun experiment for Glenmorangie and according to the enclosed booklet a throwback to the old distillery style.

    How well it replicates an early 20th Century whisky is tough seeing as I don't have a 1903 bottle to compare to...

    1. I'll bet Doc Lumsden has some OLD goodies in a temperature-controlled secret stash.

      My old whisky buddy got a bottle of the Finealta for Christmas one year. That thing was gone by February. I wonder if Glenmorangie try out any other peated stuff.

    2. Well, after chocolate malt, PX casks, peated malt, Italian red wine casks, and new oak, I'm kind of hoping there's a rum cask hidden away in Doctor Lumdsen's laboratory. Apparently Glenmo did a rum finish a long time ago so it might be time for another one.

    3. Right you are! According to the MMs' Whisky Monitor Database, there was a 12yr "Golden Rum Cask Finish" and a 18yr "White Rum Finish" ten years ago. I'd love it if they gave it another go. I'm not crazy about weird finishes but I've liked all the rum finishes I've tried.