If you have someone who is a fan of Scotch (and that’s all you know) this is the guide for you. You want to offer a nice present that is appreciated, and not pushed to the back of the cabinet or mixed with Coke (unless that’s their thing). You want a smile on that day. You have come to the right place.
Buying Scotch can be intimidating because of the multiple styles, regions (which do not always coincide!) and sometimes strong flavor profiles. Scotch drinkers vary from those appreciating a subtle array of delicate aromas and those who like a pugilistic nose like the air in a WW2 battleship’s boiler room.
Note: I am US-based and this guide refers in the main to whiskies you can buy in the US.
As promised, here is the first of three reviews of Glenmorangie special expressions, each of which has been finished for two years in a specialty cask. In this case, the Lasanta (Gaelic for ‘warmth and passion’) takes the basic Glenmorangie 10 for a two-year ride in sherry-seasoned (Oloroso and PX Sherry) casks.
What do we get for an additional two years? Is the Lasanta able to challenge all-in sherry aged drams like Macallan’s Sherry Wood, Glenfarclas 12 or Highland Park’s 12? And how does it fare against another ‘finished’ whisky, in this case the very nice (and more expensive) Balvenie Doublewood? That’s what we’re here to find out.
The packaging is conservative and classy with a dark maroon label, an echo of sherry’s ruby tones, and you will see significant color in the spirit (see photo below). What does Glenmorangie say about its whisky? They are quite up front on the bottle about the extra two years maturation, so kudos for clear messaging. There are no claims of ‘craft’ techniques like non-chill filtration or avoidance of added coloration, but at the price point, $50 in Oregon, that’s not expected. On their website, we don’t get much more info than tasting notes, to wit: “the sherry casks bring rich raisin intensity, toffee and spices to Glenmorangie’s renowned smooth style”
In this blog, I’ve focused mainly on whiskies the average Joe can afford, and can get without having to pay international shipping fees. But now and then I’ve acquired rarer whiskies with a tale attached to them. This is one such whisky and it’s tale belongs in a whisky blog. Why not this one?
My wife and I visited Scotland a couple years back and we visited the Balvenie distillery (covered here). This tour was high on my list for a few reasons: Balvenie creates a whisky I like (the Doublewood), and recommendations on various whisky sites named their tour as the best. Also, they offered a ‘valinch your own bottle’ option on the tour. Count me in…
Our second tour was at William Grant & Sons in Dufftown. At this site are the Balvenie and Glenfiddich distilleries. Where Glenfiddich is nearly ubiquitous worldwide as ‘the world’s best-selling single malt‘ and a high-volume product (13M liters/year, produced from 32 stills), the Balvenie site next door is William Grant’s craft distillery. The Balvenie retains its own malting floor (producing 10% of its malt, much of which is grown locally), and has its own cooperage—a rarity in the Scotch whisky industry. Their output is less than half that of Glenfiddich—but that is still considerable. In fact, they about double the output of Glenfarclas. You may not see the Balvenie Doublewood, their most common expression, in every bar, but you’ll see it in many upscale spots. Not all of the production from this site goes into Balvenie expressions, some goes into Kininvie, a malt used in Grant’s blended whiskies.
I usually end with a bottom line, but this time, I’m starting with one: the presentation and execution at The Balvenie is designed to connote a handcrafted, old-fashioned approach to whisky making. Where Glenfarclas is small and spiffy, the Balvenie is organic, even rustic in character. This is the tour to take if you take only one.
The distance from J&G Grant’s Glenfarclas distillery to William Grant & Sons’ Balvenie location is but 13 miles by road; it’s a much shorter distance by helicopter. Both are Speyside distillers, and both offer whiskies finished in sherry casks. Like J&G Grant, William Grant & Sons is an independent company. Both started in the 19th century: William laid down his distillery in 1889 (finished in 1892); John Grant of J&G Grant bought Glenfarclas distillery (built in 1836) in 1865.
However, the William Grant company has since grown into the largest independent distiller in Scotland. In fact, with over 10% market share, William Grant and Sons represents the third largest producer of Scotch, behind Diageo and Pernod Ricard. Not bad for a family company.
The Balvenie distillery is a bigger operation than J&G’s Glenfarclas by about double (5.6 M litres vs 3 M litres per year) and William Grant have a more varied range. Furthermore, they achieve their market share by operating a constellation of associated distilleries. This was pointed out in the Monkey Shoulder review, as that blend from this same distiller boasts of 25 composite single malts. Similarly, Grants Family Reserve blends a similarly numerous number of malts. This Grant is a giant. We know from these reviews they make respectable blends, so let’s investigate a single-malt whisky.