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.
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.
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.
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.
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.