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Friday, April 12, 2013

Single Malt Report: Glenmorangie Ealanta 1993/2012

What is this?  Diving for Pearls reports on a NEW whisky?


Hell's thermostat needle is dropping.

Yeah, well don't get used to this.

I won't.


Well then.  I have a number of samples in the queue, but I was definitely looking forward to this one.

Glenmorangie's newest Private Edition, Ealanta, was released in late January / early February of this year.  "Ealanta" is Gaelic for "skilled and ingenious" (not "modest").  The whisky is a single malt matured in heavily toasted new (or virgin) American oak for the entirety of its 19 years.  Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie's famous Head of Distilling and Whisky Creation, didn't actually lay down this malt.  His predecessors did so, and Lumsden discovered the filled barrels during his first year on the job.  It seems as if they had attempted all sorts of experimental casks, many of which were released during the past decade: Artisan Cask, Post Oak, Truffle Oak, Burr Oak, Chinkapin Oak, and Missouri Oak.

Like with Glenmorangie's Astar release, the casks were made from trees in the Missouri Ozarks.  Ealanta's trees were specifically from the Mark Twain National Forest.  (On a side note: I find it adorable that we can be told the latitude and longitude of the trees that make up casks, but not a single word about the yeast or barley variety.  Yes, this a recycled gripe, but it's a gripe nonetheless.)  The Astar casks were heavily toasted but lightly charred, while Glenmorangie is only stressing that Ealanta's casks were heavily toasted.  They're both non-chillfiltered (yay!), but the Astar is about half Ealanta's age and much stronger (57.1% ABV).  I love the Astar, so I've been wondering how this new older whisky tastes.

Distillery: Glenmorangie
Ownership: Louis Vuitton Moet-Hennessy (accents and umlauts not included)
Age: 19 years old (1993-2012)
Maturation: Heavily-toasted virgin oak from the Mark Twain National Forest in the Missouri Ozarks
Region: Highlands (Northern)
Alcohol by Volume: 46%
Limited release: 3,433 cases
Chill-filtered: No
Colored: Possibly, but not much

While the color is gold, it's not as dark as one would think considering its life in new oak.  Perhaps this is due to toasting, as opposed to charring.

A lot of honey, corn flakes, and vanilla beans show up first in the nose.  Then fresh mint, white bread toast, and candied orange rind appear after further sniffing.  Give it 30-45 minutes, then it's cocoa and maple candy.  A minimum of spice arises from the oak, maybe some cinnamon.

The palate is full of creamy treats.  Eclairs, cream puffs dusted with cocoa powder, and whipped cream.  It even has a creamy texture.  Confectioner's sugar and barrel char swirl around the malt, then after some time Andes mint chocolate candies appear.

It finishes sweet and creamy.  There's the eclairs along with the Andes candies.  Sawdusty caramel sauce meets Phillies cigar smoke.

It's all very controlled.  I'm impressed that with all that new oak the whisky wasn't syrupy and liqueur-like.  Perhaps that's a result of the reduction to 46% ABV?  Or it has to do with toasting versus charring the barrels.  The downside to the control is a muted finish, a mere trace of spice, and a limit on its character.  It's a sweet treat, but nothing surprising or new, especially considering the relatively unique-for-a-Scotch maturation.

[Disclaimer Time!  I wish Ealanta was spicy.  Give me a spicy rye or bourbon and I'm a happy boy.  But in Ealanta, Sensei Serge Valentin does find some spice but little creaminess, while I find very little spice but heaps of creaminess.  So who are you going to believe: me or the guy who knows what he's talking about?]

A brief bit of price analysis:  If you do your research, you can find the Ealanta for $100-$110.  This is approximately $20 more than the 18yr in Glenmorangie's regular range.  Compared to the 18yr, the Ealanta has 3 more points of ABV, one more year of maturation within a unique cask type, and issued in a more limited release.  Also, in the current state of the whisky market, I have doubts that LVMH will allow Dr. Lumsden to keep such an unusual (but salable) whisky in the cask for so long next time.  So, if you find the Ealanta only $20 more expensive than the 18yr, then you're probably looking at good pricing for this "Private Edition".

Having never done a proper official tasting with the 18yr, I can't really speak for it other than to say it is good.  Instead, let me compare apples to apples, or new oak to new oak.  If the Ealanta's price equaled that of the Astar, I would still pick the Astar without a second thought.  But that's just my personal palate.  I like the youth, richness, bold spice, and power in the Astar.  I like it more than any other Glenmorangie release.

To me, Ealanta is a chocolate eclair of a whisky.  That is not a bad thing.  It just depends what your palate desires at this malt's price point.

Availability - Many liquor specialists, for now
Pricing - $100-$125
Rating - 83


  1. Most of the tasting notes make it sound like a particularly refined bourbon. There's nothing wrong with that, but it doesn't exactly get my pulse pounding given the price point (oh god, the alliteration).

    1. Josh is right about the toasted part, I think that kept it from going bourbony. It's a creamy one and has the soft GlenMo touch. Had I found the spicy kick that Josh Hatton (http://www.jewmalt.com/glenmorangies-ealanta-a-19yo-scotch-whisky-matured-in-heavily-charred-missouri-oak/) references in his review then I'd say, "Yeah, like a bourbon but better." (alliteration!)

  2. It doesn't come off as bourbon-like at all. The oak is toasted, not charred, and the base distillate is Glenmo's citrus-peachy light-n-floral malt. I really liked this one - but grant it a play on virgin oak malt that takes the sweet and spice close to the line.

    1. Josh, I should totally include a link to your review here:

      I agree that the toasted part must be what keeps it from going overboard on the new oak part. It's curious that you found it spicy too. Having read a number of Ealanta reviews, I can see where everyone else gets their notes from, but not the spicy part. Perhaps I set my spice expectations too high? The cinnamon and mint notes were the closest thing I found to the new oak zing. Weird.

  3. According to news sources (i.e. Whisky Advocate), the Ealanta casks have been refilled with new make and put back in the warehouses. Now this will be interesting because this might be the first case of single malt whisky matured in ex-single malt whisky casks (woah, try saying that sentence ten times fast). I hope Dr. Lumsden has those casks held back for a future Private Edition.

    Incidentally, there remains a debate whether the previous contents of a cask affect the maturing spirit or whether it's just the wood. Now I do feel that I can detect the sherry in a sherry matured whisky but there are other claims that it's the European oak that is creating those notes. So it will be interesting to taste whisky from a cask whose previous contents was just whisky.

    1. Some distilleries like Dalmore, Macallan, and Glenfarclas mention that they have their casks filled with sherry for 3 months to 2 years, THEN have the casks shipped and filled with malt. Personally, I find that some ex-sherry-cask-matured whisky imparts a ton of sherry, while others seem to impart notes that are distinctly not sherry yet still oaky. I like that second group better. The leather, tobacco, and menthol notes (love 'em!) don't seem to be coming from the wine.

    2. Oops, I neglected to reference the fact that the sherry is then emptied from the casks before being shipped to Scotland. Anyway, the whole adding sherry part seems like a bit of an expense and a long wait, so I think the distilleries are convinced that's a necessary part of the process.

      Plus, the distilleries used to add pajarette syrup to their barrels before the '80s, so that was an instance of purposeful sherry character being added.

  4. Oh f*%k (pardon my French), Jim Murray just awarded Ealanta World Whisky of the Year in his latest Bible.

    1. The man has a palate very few people understand. Yet he's made a career off of it. And his Whisky of the Year pronouncements have provided much "free" marketing, especially to one company in particular.

    2. Wow, David Driscoll also praised Ealanta as a potential whisky of the year on the Spirits Journal a whole day before Murray's book came out. And now he's regretting being in total agreement with Murray. Sadly there are no take backs on the Internet....

    3. I'm a total whisky hipster. I was so not into Ealanta before everyone else wasn't into Ealanta. :)

  5. What is wrong with me? I also decided on a buying freeze at the beginning of the year only for Dr. Lumsden to reveal Tusail and I am a total sucker for obscure barley varieties (still looking for that Arran Bere edition). The Maris Otter barley actually made this a very weird but interesting Glenmorangie (the first time I've ever described a whisky as a barley bomb).

    While I'm on the fence over whether Tusail is worth the money (I need to give this one some time), I think it's still interesting as an experimental whisky.

    1. The Tusail is the first of Lumsden's Glenmo Limited Editions that I'd think of buying. I really hope he (and everyone else) tinkers with barley varieties more often. A serious gap exists right there. Glenlivet did the Triumph, Arran did the Bere, Bruichladdich did the Bere. But that's it. The rest of the market's "experiments" are all of wine finishes and virgin oak. And man it is tough to get interested in those any more.