...where distraction is the main attraction.

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


  1. I have to say I like the old bottle and label. It looks more like a whisky bottle to me.

    I'm currently sipping the Exclusive Malts North Highland 14 year old (a.k.a Glenmorangie with the serial numbers filed off) which is a bit more woody due to that extra four years of maturation. In fact I'm thinking about getting a new bottle of Original to blend a bit into the glass to see if the younger whisky will possibly tone that aspect down a bit.

    1. Agreed. I love the old bottle and label. One of my favorites. It's spartan, looks like it's from generations past, and doesn't feel like it was created by a marketing department. LVMH could even switch back to it (a decision made by Marketing of course) and promote the brand as being a classic vintage malt. Just keep the glossy shiny stuff off.

      Was that North Highland 14yo refill sherry-ish like the Faultline one?

    2. Also, beware of the possibility that the Original is getting oakier due to those Astar casks we've discussed before.

    3. The label doesn't say but the North Highland has no sherry notes. I'm betting it's an ex-bourbon cask.

      The North Highland is still really good despite the extra wood notes. My impression as I've come to the halfway point is an older Astar. Exclusive Malts seems to have acquired several casks from Glenmorangie since they are releasing a 17 year old North Highland this year.

    4. That 17yo could be fun if EM kept the oak in check, which isn't guaranteed after the K&L Bowmore and Aberlour. It'd be nice to see how a second or third fill cask would highlight the Glenmo spirit.

  2. I recently noticed Beltramo's had some Glenmorangie 10 miniatures (I have never seen these before in my part of the world) so I decided on getting one over a full bottle. Even though my last full bottle was finished two years ago, I will say from memory that things haven't change much. The sweet vanilla and citrus notes were still the same as before. One thing I did note was my 2012 bottle had a drier sour finish. I might end up getting a full bottle because the mini was pretty good. Incidentally I didn't add water as I did previously which tells me either Glenmo 10 is just right at 43% or my palate has gotten more experienced over the last two years.

    Also I grabbed a Springbank 10 miniature since it was another mini I had never seen before (plus I've never had the 10 even though I have had the older versions). I wonder if the distributors are simply getting more minis out to stores for people to try?

    1. Get a full bottle again, I mean. I got the Explorer's Pack (full 750 mL Glenmo 10 and three minis of the Extra Matured line) in 2011 and another standard bottle a year later after that pack was finished.

      I'm still not sure why the single malt miniatures are so limited in the Bay Area. BevMo tends to have the 12 year olds of Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Macallan. However Balvenie Doublewood and Glenmorangie 10 are obvious bottles that should have minis (indeed Whisky Exchange has them). They are great ways of introducing newbies to single malts without breaking the bank.

    2. I didn't know that there were Springbank 10 minis in the States. Wonder if that's a new thing. Though minis may be a bit of a pain to produce, they're such a good way to get people to try (and pay) before they buy a full bottle. If prices continue to go up, more companies may want to put out minis so that they can convince someone to pay $75 for a 10yo.

      To me, Glenmorangie 10 is one of the best of big selling beginner malts. It's also the one of the best malts for hot summers, probably due to the citrus and vanilla. I think a little bit of those Astar-style casks may actually be helping things out in the newer bottlings; and I don't say that casually because I'm getting tired of other companies' rejuvenated/new oak stuff.

    3. I think it is a new release (at least for the US). Springbank must be trying to increase brand awareness with a release of minis. Incidentally, they must be trying to save some money by using generic mini bottles rather than create a miniature version of the Springbank bottle. Which isn't a bad thing since it means emphasizing the whisky over the fancy packaging.

    4. I'm going to keep an eye out for those minis. I'm all for spending less on bottle design and more on the stuff within.

    5. I thought $8.99 was a decent price for a Springbank mini except I later noticed Macallan 12 minis are $5.99 and Glenlivet 12 minis $4.99 (by the way a Speyburn mini was a shocking $2.99). Springbank's new distributor is even raising prices on minis...

      By the way, Glenmorangie is changing Lasanta with an ABV drop to 43% (LVMH is claiming that their Asian customers don't like the strong alcohol/flavors at 46%) and mixing in some ex-PX casks (most likely from feedback on the Sonnalta PX). The good news is Lasanta is keeping the 12 year old age statement. Now I'm on the fence about this because while I like PX maturation, a drop of ABV is usually not good.

    6. Damn, LVMH's marketing department is hideous. That's one of the worst excuses for lowering ABVs I've heard yet. Does anyone hear "Asian" customers complaining about the strong alcohol in Nikka's 45%ABV (and higher) regular range? LVMH also has the ability (like Diageo, Edrington, Beam,and Pernod) to release different ABVs in different markets. Or, if customers are still tasting ethyl after all of Lumsden's oak calisthenics, then maybe something is wrong with the whisky.

      What's ironic is that Glenmorangie volume sales have experienced a lot of growth over the past few years. Though you'll read me questioning unsubstantiated reports about massive industry-wide sales growth, I won't question GlenMo's growth. When independent(-ish) figures come out about volume sales GlenMo is always at the top. So they can actually use the scarcity excuse with a higher level of truthiness.

      Sorry for the rant. :-(

      I've seen Speyburn 10 minis for very low prices too. One warning though. The mini I bought and reviewed two years ago was terrible. It was nothing like the whisky in the 750mL bottle.

    7. BevMo had the new 43% Lasanta on sale and I have to say it's decent but not mindblowing. I don't mind spending $45 (which is also the K&L price) but it seems the list price is above $50. I think it's a bit better than the 46% Lasanta because the sherry funk in that version might be off-putting. The new Lasanta has that aspect toned down considerably. The PX casks also made the whisky sweeter which is fine when you have a sweet tooth like me. If LVMH had kept the same ABV, I might actually consider buying more bottles.

      In related news, the Quinta Ruban and Nectar D'Or are also getting label updates. While it looks like Quinta Ruban will remain the same, I've heard rumors Nectar D'Or is losing its age statement. Let's hope that's a rumor.

    8. They're going to have to make those new labels extra sexy so that they can keep boosting the prices. I'm sure Lasanta will continue to do well, not only does it have a pretty big following but I keep hearing complaints from non-geeks about the flavor of its biggest competitor, Macallan 12.

    9. Funny you should mention Macallan 12 because I think the old Lasanta had a similar sherry funk (that's the best way I can describe it) on the nose and palate that is likely from the European oak or the Oloroso sherry. By blending in ex-PX casks, the new Lasanta seems to have gone the other direction by imitating Glendronach.

      Of course, in either case, the Glenmorangie character stays in the background which is still the issue with Lasanta.

    10. Yeah, that's part of my issue with Lasanta......and most of Lumsden's winey creations. I like Glenmorangie with a minimum of tinkering, but Dr. Bill's wine/oak either pushes the spirit deep into the background or never merges with it at all.

  3. On a related note, I recently picked up a bottle of Lasanta on sale just to get a bottle before the retool. And I have to say I'm liking the Lasanta more as the level goes down. It's something I've noticed with the Original in that Glenmorangie improves with air and time. Lasanta's powerful sherry notes toned down enough that I could taste the Glenmo character (there's that dry finish for one). While Nectar D'Or is my favorite of the Extra Matured line, I have to say I'm liking the Lasanta.