Scotch whisky tends to have a specific “fingerprint”, or flavor profile that defines the genre. The presence of a smokey aroma from the peat-fueled ovens tends to be that defining feature, and yet the best selling single malt scotch whisky in Scotland doesn’t follow suit. Instead, Glenmorangie seems to be chasing its own vision of what a scotch whisky should taste like.
Alcoholic beverages were believed to have been manufactured in the highland Scottish village of Tain since at least the middle ages.
The Morangie farm, where the modern distillery is located, began producing alcoholic beverages in 1703. Production was vastly increased when a brewery was opened on the site in 1730, sharing the water that was being used to irrigate the farm.
That brewery operated for over 100 years until William Matheson, a former distillery manager from another company, purchased the brewery in 1843 and converted it into a distillery using two second hand gin stills. He also gave the distillery its modern name, Glenmorangie. Having created a successful whisky production business, he then sold the distillery to their long time owner Macdonald and Muir in 1918.
Like most distilleries in Great Britain, the Glenmorangie distillery halted production between 1931 and 1936, and again between 1941 and 1945, but was back to full capacity by 1948. Within just a couple of years, the demand had dramatically increased and in 1977 the distillery doubled its capacity from two stills to four, and doubled again in 1990 to a total of eight. In the 1980s, the distillery purchased 600 acres of land surrounding the facility to preserve their water supply.
Throughout all this time, the Macdonald family had retained ownership of the distillery, but in 2004 the French spirits company LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE purchased the distillery outright. Until this point the company had focused on their flagship spirit, but the new owners brought redesigned curved bottles and the desire to experiment with different flavors and barrels for aging their spirit.
Glenmorangie has been the best selling single malt in Scotland since 1983, and globally they hold 6% of the total single malt whisky market.
Glenmorangie scotch whisky is about as local as you can get. The distillery starts with a selection of barley grown and sold by a co-operative of local farmers in the region where the facility is located. These grains are malted and cooked using water from the local Tarlogie spring that runs through the nearby hills.
After fermentation, the slightly alcoholic mixture is distilled in the tallest pot stills in Scotland. Standing at a towering 26 feet high, there’s two reasons why this is important: first, the height ensures that only the lighter (and sweeter) compounds make it over the top and into the collection barrels. Second, the added journey also exposes those vapors to the copper in the still for a longer period of time which (through a chemical reaction with the copper) strips out more of the offensive sulfur compounds.
For the maturation process, Glenmorangie actually has a unique arrangement to source their barrels. Famous distilleries like Jack Daniels and Heaven Hill don’t actually buy their barrels — they simply lease them from Glenmorangie. The charred oak barrels are used to mature American bourbon for a period of a few years before being shipped over to Scotland for the real reason they were built. The barrels are first filled with a neutral grain spirit for a few years to mellow out the flavors and extract some of the American bourbon from the wood, and once that process is complete the barrels are filled with Glenmorangie’s whisky and allowed to finally start the aging process.
The bottle definitely stands out on the shelf, which was the entire point of the early 2000’s redesign.
The bottle is tall and slender — much taller than anything else in my own whisky collection. The bottle has a flared base with an inwardly curved waist that flares again at the shoulder. From there, it’s a gentle slope up to the long neck, and the whole thing is capped with a plastic and cork stopper.
While the label is rather large, it thankfully isn’t that distracting. The golden honey color of the label almost perfectly matches the rich amber color of the spirit within the bottle. On that label is the bare essentials of information, and I think the shiny embellishment on the edges and in the design in the middle of the label is tastefully accomplished.
While I appreciate the size of the bottle, and the purpose that it serves (standing out on a bar or store shelf), I do think that it makes things a touch difficult. It’s about the same size as a normal wine bottle, instead of the typically shorter and stouter whisky containers, so getting it into and out of its spot in the whisky cabinet can be a struggle.
As with most scotch whisky, the spirit is very light in color – closer to the color of hay than to amber. The aromas coming off the glass are similarly light and fruity, which is actually a bit of a departure from the normal scotch whisky fingerprint. Normally, you’d expect a bit of peat smoke to come in and provide depth, but in this case it’s all sunshine and rainbows. Whatever smoky aromas there are, they lurk way in the background.
To me, it smells like ripe pears, a bit of banana, and perhaps some crisp apple. Very citrus forward, very crisp and yet dry. Like a good pinot grigio, but with much heavier alcohol content.
The flavor of the spirit follows the aroma pretty closely actually. The crisp pear and apple flavors shine through and are very apparent, with a bit of honey and sweetness but not to the point of being syrupy. It’s delicate, well balanced, and delicious.
Surprisingly, the flavors don’t change all that much with some added ice. Usually the expectation is that the lighter flavors will float to the back and only the bold flavors will remain, but in this case I don’t think that there are any bold flavors to win that battle. They were all removed thanks to the long necked stills and all we have are the light and fruity tastes.
If anything, this really brings out the apple in the spirit in my opinion. A little sweeter and a little more crisp, like biting into a freshly picked apple.
It seems like with scotch whisky there’s generally two camps: those that you can drink with a cigar and those that can’t stand up to that heavy flavor. In this case, I think this is the former — something truly designed to be enjoyed on its own, sans cigar. It doesn’t have the bold and brash flavors of something like a Lagavulin to power through the cigar smoke, which is fine. This is fantastic in its own right, and makes for a great sip after a round of golf or before your evening meal.
I love the process that they use to make this spirit. The local ingredients paired with the interesting previously-used barrels is a great story and makes for a delicious product. I can see why this is generally considered to be one of the greatest single malt whiskies in the world.
That said, I feel like it’s just a little one note for a whisky. The fruity flavor is delicious and crisp but I’d like a bit of complexity in my spirit.
Glenmorangie The Original 10 Year
Owner: LVMH Moët Hennessy – Louis Vuitton SE
Production: Tain, Scotland
Classification: Highland single malt scotch whisky
Grain bill: 100% local malted barley
Aging: 10 years
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $32 / 750ml
Overall Rating: 4/5
The champagne of whisky. Which makes their new corporate overlords quite appropriate.