I’m a sucker for a good port wine. The rich depth of the flavors make it a great way to cap off an evening — not unlike a good glass of whisky. And thanks to the wonderful innovation that is the cask finishing process, we are increasingly seeing bottles of port cask finished whisky on the market. For example, this bottle of 14-year Glenmorangie that tries to blend together the best characteristics of both port and scotch.
The Morangie farm, where the modern Glenmorangie distillery is located, has been documented producing alcoholic beverages as far back as 1703 (although alcoholic beverages are believed to have been manufactured in this highland Scottish village of Tain since at least the middle ages). 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, so 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 history, the Macdonald family had retained ownership of the distillery; however, 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.
- Learn More: What Is Scotch Whisky?
Glenmorangie scotch whisky is about as local as you can get, and this version is especially local. What makes it so unique is that this expression uses only barley that is grown and harvested from Glenmorangie’s own estate farms, which 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 are 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. Some 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.
This specific bottling is the product of Dr. Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling for Glenmorangie, trying to find a combination of maturation processes and blending of barrels to create, as the distillery explains it, “a whisky as unpredictable as his travels”. To accomplish this goal, the whiskey is matured in both the previously-used whiskey barrels as well as previously used port casks imported from Portugal for a period of 14 years. The results are blended to perfection and bottled for sale.
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 deep green color of the label is very close to the traditional British racing green (a comparison I’m not sure the Scottish distillery would be thrilled about). On that label is the bare essentials of information, and I think the small shiny embellishment on the edges and in the design in the middle of the label are 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 in and out of its spot in the whisky cabinet can be a struggle.
This is a good few shades darker than the standard edition Glenmorangie, thanks to the port cask finishing and also to the additional half decade or so that this liquid spent in a barrel.
And that depth and character isn’t just skin deep — it transfers to the aroma and flavors of the spirit as well.
The aroma coming off the glass is fruity and delicious. There’s the ripe pear aroma that I usually get from Glenmorangie, but there’s also dried figs, apricots, honey, baking spices, raisins, walnuts, and some flower blossoms on top. It’s like a crisp pear-forward version of a fruitcake, and I’m absolutely loving it.
Taking a sip, all of those components don’t necessarily make the transition from the aroma to the flavor. At first, there are some darker and sweeter flavors: caramel or brown sugar, mixed with some apple and baking spices. These flavors develop and change with a little bit of time, first taking on a more nutty dark chocolate tone before being joined by crisp pear, floral blossoms, and honey on the finish.
It tastes like the port wine cask finishing definitely had an impact, which is apparent both in the aroma and the first part of the flavor, but the true nature of the spirit shines through in the finish as it reverts back to being a more traditional Glenmorangie.
The good news here is that the flavors are still flavorful, and this is still a good tasting spirit on the rocks. The bad news is that none of that deliciousness is from the port cask finish.
Basically, at this point, this is back to being a standard glass of Glenmorangie. The added ice has stripped out all of the aromas and the flavors that were provided by the port casks, leaving behind only the components that come from the distillation and bourbon barrel finishing parts of the process. However, thanks to the additional four years of maturation, even those components feel a bit better saturated in this version compared to the standard version.
It’s a good sip, it just isn’t as amazing as it was when taken neat.
The original Glanmorangie is good, and I’m loving all of the variations that they are putting out trying to make it even better.
For this version, I like the direction and I think the aroma that they accomplish here is exactly what I’d want to taste. But those aromatic notes don’t all make the journey to the flavor profile, and to be that’s the tiny bit of disappointment that is preventing me from giving this a full five stars. Maybe just a hair more time in the port finishing cask could have helped… but even as-is, this is definitely a bottle worth picking up.
|Glenmorangie The Quinta Ruban 14 Year|
Classification: Single Malt Scotch Whiskey
Aging: 14 Years
Proof: 46% ABV
Price: $47.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 4/5
A rich, flavorful, and fruity take on the honey and floral blossom forward Glenmorangie.