Many times, distillers will change up the finish on older releases. They’ll go with a peated version rather than the unpeated 10 or 12, or they’ll finish in sherry barrels, where the younger releases are not. The whisky under review today, the “Extremely Rare” 18-year-old Glenmorangie, is fairly true to its 10-year-old sibling. But they do decant a chunk of it (about 30%) and age it for the last three years in Oloroso sherry casks before the final blend.
The other changes are superficial. The bottles are similar, although not exact; the 18’s bottle is a bit stouter, more curvaceous, and a bit shorter as a result. The whisky is a bit darker than the 10, which could be the small amount of sherry finish or a bit of E-150; they don’t claim not to use it.
This is a whisky for special occasions or folks who can afford to lease a new BMW every few years. (I don’t, and this was a gift from a colleague.) According to the Oregon OLCC web site, this goes for about $116 — more than double that of the 10.
In their video ‘a story about wood,’ Glenmorangie tell the story of their barrels. As with the 10, the American ex-bourbon barrels used for the 18 are air dried, rather than blasted with hot air. You do have to give them credit for taking care of the wood, especially as they claim to use the barrels only twice, afterwards they are most likely sold off to producers who use their barrels five or six times. Apparently barrels can be used for up to 60 years in Scotland (!).
Scotchnoob mentions that Glenmorangie’s barrels are produced by themselves and lent to the American bourbon distillers, specifically Jack Daniels, but I think that may have changed; there is no claim to that in the current web content, and they mention bourbon as well as Kentucky whisky barrels are used. ‘Bourbon’ could mean anybody.
Glenmorangie’s water is from a spring, filtered through yards of limestone–no peat here. That and their 167-year-old stills (well, two of them are that old) are quite tall which theoretically gives them their light character. That’s probably debatable. The temperature at which they divert the distillate, splitting the feints from the distillation heart, is the key to keeping unwanted congeners from the spirit.
Most likely their mellow taste is a factor of the water, lack of peat, and the creaky-looking old buildings where they age. Photos and video clips on their website (see sidebar, from Glenmorangie’s site) indicate old rock or wooden walls and brick floors and a nearby pond, a moist environment. That should result in a mellow spirit:
“The nature of the warehouse is also very important. A damp cellar or a dry cellar will influence the evaporation of the spirit differently. In a dry cellar (with a concrete floor), water will evaporate mainly, letting a dryer whisky with a higher alcoholic percentage. In a damp warehouse (beaten-earth floor) the alcohol will evaporate, letting a rounder whisky, with a smoother taste.” from whisky-distilleriesinfo.com
Glenmorangie 18-year old Highland single malt, 43% ABV
Nose: More caramel than honeysuckle on the nose than the 10. Red apple, plums. Less astringent, more oak; older oak.
Palate: A more coherent palate than the 10 but not as many contrasting or forward flavors. This is smooth, unctuous, and coats the tongue with toffee. The oak is less forward than the 10 and balances well. The vanilla is more subtle than the 10, and blends in better.
Finish: The astringent taste from the 10 is gone. This is also very well balanced, but the high notes more muted. The finish lingers for a very long time, and leaves you with a pleasant aroma of sweet malt and sherry.
Bottom line: The 18 is a really well-finished, balanced and constructed whisky. It is not the tour-de-force of a Lagavulin 16, but it is not meant to be. If you like the 10, I think you’ll find the 18 a super-Glenmorangie — more taste, more balance, more smooth, but more muted. If you want to buy a really good scotch to surprise someone, and you don’t know their taste in scotch, or if you have a lot of dollars and you want to treat even someone who doesn’t know scotch, you cannot go wrong here. A good substitute for the crazy-expensive 25-year-old expressions on the market.