Whisky and Words Number 12: Glenmorangie 18

Glenmorangie 18 and glass
Glenmorangie 18 and glass

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.

Glen 10 vs. Glen 18
Glen 10 vs. Glen 18

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.

Barrel maturing at Glenmorangie - from the Glenmorangie site, - fair use (review)
Barrel maturing at Glenmorangie – from the Glenmorangie site – fair use (review)

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

Tasting Notes

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.

Whisky and Words Number 11: Glenmorangie 10

Glenmorangie 10
Glenmorangie 10

While Glenmorangie (rhymes with ‘orange-y’) has a solid pedigree (see below) and great affirmation as “the most popular malt in Scotland” (according to DrinkBritain and others), they aren’t above a bit of marketing puffery. They boast “air-dried” bourbon casks. That’s good, as it’s difficult to dry casks underwater, for example. Though I suppose some new-age Gen-Z whisky maker will come out with vacuum-dried casks, just because they can. But no matter, what concerns this writer is the taste, and Glenmorangie is OK there.

First off, they produce a whisky with an honest color. Light straw (see photo), unencumbered by bogus colorant, it’s telegraphing a spirit of honesty and perhaps light, sophisticated drinking.  This is no Islay brawler, ready to knock you back with a nose full of diesel smoke. And although the Glenmorangie marketing department promise a spirit that is “soft, mellow and creamy,” you won’ be disappointed by a characterless dram. I was quite surprised by its depth of character, in fact. For a cool $45, I was expecting something like the previously reviewed Cardhu, which is well-made and inoffensive, if not outstanding. Or Aberlour’s 12 which is inoffensive as well but just kinda boring (which their A’bunadh definitely is not). Glenmorangie 10 is inoffensive, but so much more. It is surprisingly complex for a budget-priced single malt.

That, from someone who has a Scotch locker full of island malts. Ah well, maybe I’m growing up.

Continue reading “Whisky and Words Number 11: Glenmorangie 10”

Whisky and Words Number 10: Cardhu 12

I usually have a bottle of a Speyside or Highland in my rather cramped liquor cabinet for those gentler souls who prefer a whisky that’s milder than my usual suspects—all Island malts. I’ve always been a guy who liked BBQ, spicy Thai and Szechuan, hoppy beers–you get the idea. I go for big taste. So when I started engaging with whisky, I blew quickly through the Glenlivet and Glenfiddich 12-year offerings. They did not exactly turn on my taste buds, and for the cost ($50-ish a bottle where I live), that just was not going to cut it. My buds gravitated to the bigger, smokier and peatier tastes of the Island malts.

Cardhu - you can imagine a lush grassy field when tasting this whisky.
Cardhu – you can imagine a lush grassy field when tasting this whisky.

However, I recognize quality and consider The Macallan 12 a benchmark for well-made whisky. That’s a Speysider I keep around for guests who recoil at my Laphroaig and Ardbeg. When I’m in a calm mood I like a dram of the Mac and when I received a bottle of the Cardhu as a birthday gift this year, I was well impressed. This is crass of me to admit, but being a bit obsessed with cataloging my experiences, I checked out the price. About $42 locally, vs. mid $50 range for Macallan. A nice surprise.

On the nose, Cardhu shows its origins: presumably the spot for the distillery was chosen for the influence of a peat bog on the water supply. The effect is subtle though, and its fruitier notes shine through on the nose and palate. Stacked against Macallan, it is crisper and fresher smelling, with less honey–like comparing a Granny Smith apple to a Honeycrisp. The finish is as clean as Macallan, no stinging alcohol here. The Cardhu goes down well, retaining its crispness and finishing up with a character that’s missing from its more well-known (and expensive) neighbors, the famous ‘Glens’. Where The Macallan is distinctly woody in its finish, Cardhu softer and definitely more coffee than oak, though there are some tannins lingering on the back of the tongue. The color is lighter, and I’m fairly certain the Macallan’s is honest, due to their sherry finish, but I don’t judge on color. The Cardhu is an unassuming straw color.

Continue reading “Whisky and Words Number 10: Cardhu 12”

Followup to W & W #9: Aberlour A’Bunadh

Aberlour A’Bunadh and another magic bottle

I had sent some questions to Aberlour via their website and had an answer in a few days. I had asked about A’Bunadh:

  • Do you set aside certain casks intended for that expression?
  • Or do you always have some spirit from each year’s run set aside in Oloroso?
  • About how old are the whiskies chosen for the A’bunadh?
  • How many casks are usually used for a bottling?
  • Do you try to make each bottling a little different?

Continue reading “Followup to W & W #9: Aberlour A’Bunadh”

Whisky and Words number 9: Aberlour A’bunadh

'The mouth of the chattering burn.' Hey, their words, not mine!
‘The mouth of the chattering burn.’ Hey, their words, not mine!

When you see Aberlour’s A’Bunadh, it is quite obvious this is not your run-of-the-mill whisky: the deep tawny-red color is highlighted by a clear glass bottle, short with a high shoulder. The spirit is clear, and when backlighted has tones of polished oak, but when in shadow, the whisky looks like an alchemist’s reagent for making dragon blood. Or maybe it is dragon’s blood—it’s strong enough! Bottled typically around 60% (my bottling, #46, is at 60.4%), A’bunadh has enough kick to get anyone’s attention. This is a spirit to be approached with respect.

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Whiskey and Words Number 8: Tobermory 10

Tobermory and glass
Tobermory and glass

Tobermory is one of those was-mothballed, now-resuscitated distilleries which is now producing a high quality product. It’s considered an island distillery, being on the isle of Mull (north of Islay and Jura, south of Skye), but the style isn’t like what we think of as an island malt. It does not have the medicinal quality of a Talisker or Caol Ila, nor the peat of an Ardbeg, nor the smoke of a Laphroaig or Lagavulin. In fact, Tobermory reminds me of a Speyside or lowland malt (as we’ll see, this is no great surprise).

Bought in 1993 by Burns Stewart, the Ledaig distillery, as it was known, has since been expanded and sold a few more times. The current owners are embracing the craft expression, with 46.3% ABV and (since 2010) a non-chill filtered finish. I like the former, as I can add water to taste, but frankly I haven’t been amazed nor confounded by the absence or presence (respectively) of chill filtration to date. Others may carry the torch for that battle (and they do). I need a head-to-head comparison to sort that out.

Continue reading “Whiskey and Words Number 8: Tobermory 10”

Whisky and Words Number Four: Bunnahabhain 12

I first heard about Bunnahabhain while walking around Edinburgh back in 1992. I had been making my way down to high street from Nelson’s column on a Sunday. Not much was open, the skies were leaden, the city quiet. It wasn’t late but the light dim — it was November in Scotland, and that means short days. I was making the most of a day off after having done some business with Heriot-Watt University. Heriot-Watt is notable for being the college where James Bond went to school. I heard that from another Bond fan, I’m not entirely sure this is so, but we’ll let it go for now. What is certain is that they are involved in the country’s business education and especially the whisky business. They even had their own bottling of whisky, and I brought back a sample. I have the bottle still, but the spirit is long gone, so no solid review of that, though I remember not being too taken by it at the time.

A (very old) sample bottle of Heriot-Watt Univ. whisky
A (very old) sample bottle of Heriot-Watt Univ. whisky

The folks at Heriot-Watt were quite friendly, though they had taken particular care in softening up the young greenhorn from the U.S. That had been a day to remember, mainly due to the challenge of remembering it. Professor Scott had dosed me with my first taste of cask-strength whisky, taken me out for Chinese food and a cigar, then on a pub crawl. It was a hell of an introduction to Scottish social life. I’ll never forget him leaning over to me at one pub and saying, “If a Scotsman smashes his glass against the bar, watch out, because he’s gonna swipe it across your face!”

Nevertheless I felt some affection and brotherhood towards my cousins from across the sea (being a long-lost MacNaughton, after all). I enjoyed my time there and took advantage of Sunday’s quiet to tramp all over town. While I stopped in front of a liquor shop’s picture window to gaze at the bottles, another gent wandered up and took station beside me. “It’s too bad they’re closed,” I said. My accent tagged me as an American but he didn’t seem to mind. “What’s your favorite?” I asked after some small talk.

Continue reading “Whisky and Words Number Four: Bunnahabhain 12”