An evening with Dr. Bill Lumsden
Despite our proximity (or should I say, lack there-of) to Scotland, we’re still really quite lucky in Australia in that so many of the whisky greats make the time to come and visit us. Even in the last year or two, we’ve been to some fantastic tastings hosted by the likes of Kilchoman’s Anthony Wills and more recently, Jim McEwan from Bruichladdich.
The group tastings are fantastic, but getting to attend a private dinner with your whisky idols is a whole new level of awesome. So when such an invite came through just before Easter, there was no-way I was going to miss out, even if it meant flying back early from an interstate Easter Break.. especially when that person happens to be the revered Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation of Glenmorangie Company, Dr Bill Lumsden.
Dr Lumsden (can I just call him Bill?) was in town on a fleeting visit to launch his latest creation, the Glenmorangie Tusail. The setting for the evening was The Cut in the Rocks, Sydney, where we were greeted on arrival with The Long Zest..
.. A refreshingly moorish cocktail of Glenmorangie Original, Fevertree ginger beer and treacle, topped with a burnt lemon twist. And yes, they went down an absolute treat!
After chatting with some familar faces we headed over to our immaculately set dining table, found our seats (marked by laser-etched mirror place holders no less) and perused the amazing menu put together by The Cut’s Head Chef, Joseph Webb.
The menu was designed to be paired with key whiskies from Glenmorangie’s core range, but before the decadent spread arrived, Dr Lumsden walked us through a personal tasting of tonight’s star dram, the new Glenmorangie Tùsail.
I’m actually really glad we got to taste Tùsail at the beginning of the evening, as I feel as though its quality lies in its subtleties and they could have been somewhat lost if we tasted it after the amazing meal we were about to enjoy.
I’d done my homework prior to attending and thought I knew most of what there was to know about Tùsail. It turns out I was quite wrong in that assumption and it was actually really interesting to hear about it from Dr. Lumsden, who was able to provide a level of insight you’re not likely to find in any press release.
If you’re aware of the five previous ‘Private Edition’ releases, you might already know that they’re all experiments of some kind; mainly in the areas of wood management and maturation (with the exception of Finealta, which used a proportion of peated malt). So when Tusail was announced, I simply thought it was just a play on the barley strain being used, but it turns out there was a little bit more to the story.
Glenmorangie Tùsail: The story
Back in 2003, Bill contracted some farmers to grow a crop of Maris Otter barley, a winter barley strain that rose to populatity in the late 60s/early 70s in the brewing industry (so not something you’ll find many whiskies made out of).
In 2004 the crop was harvested and traditionally floor malted at Glenmorangie. There was enough malt to produce just one week’s worth of spirit, before it was laid down to slumber in ex-bourbon casks for ten years. Bill told us that what he really wanted to see was the kind of difference this older winter barley strain would make when compared to their mainstay, the Glenmorangie Original (which is also ten years old).
On the nose I got sweet vanilla, some lemon zest citrus notes, peach and a slightly floral hint. All of this sat on a really malty base note of buttery plain tea cakes and scotch-finger biscuits. I thought this carried through to the palate pretty closely, with a chewy, oily texture of malty biscuits up front, followed by hints of baking spice and glace ginger giving way to a warm and slightly drying finish. Quite the contrast from the Glenmorangie Original.
It’s perhaps not quite a fair comparison though, as Tùsail is bottled at 46% ABV and is non-chill filtered (whereas the Original is bottled at 40% and is chill-filtered). Bill also filled us in on the cask make-up of the two, and where the Tùsail is approximately 50/50 first fill ex-bourbon/refill ex-bourbon, the Original is closer to a 60/40 split. So there you have it. Not quite comparing apples with apples, but close enough to make for an interesting experiment, that’s for sure!
Our amazing three-course experience soon followed and over the following hours we made our way through the likes of pepper-crusted venison carpaccio, confit ocean trout (pictured) and Rangers Valley flat iron steak. All expertly paired with Glenmorangie’s Quinta Ruban, Nectar D’Or and Lassanta. The venison + Quinta Ruban pairing really hit the spot for me. Quite stunning.
We finished with this warm chocolate tart, old fashioned scented ice cream and a tobacco tuile, the flavour of which was intensely incredible!
Whisky + good company
In my books, whisky is most enjoyable when it’s shared in good company with good stories. There was no shortage of either of those things on this particular evening, especially with spirits writer, Mr Franz Scheurer seated opposite. Anyone who knows me also knows how much I appreciate a good timepiece, so I had to share this shot – a practical demonstration of what you do when you have a nice collection of watches and only two wrists on which to wear them. Two per day on a monthly rotation! Love your style Franz, just brilliant.
On the topic of great company and story telling, Bill has to be up there with the very best and certainly wins the award for being the most animated and lively whisky figure I’ve come across. No story is told without passion (or hand gestures for that matter!) and he’s the kind of dinner guest you could listen to for hours.
Bill played musical chairs throughout the evening, being incredibly generous and genuine with both his time and knowledge (I know this, because I managed to pick his brain on all things Glenmorangie and Ardbeg for a good part of the evening). From a genuine whisky fan, thank you most kindly for all the insights and for patiently fielding my endless barrage of questions!
Not a bad way to spend a Wednesday evening. The whisky was wonderful and the company, even better. The lighting was horrid though (so please forgive the photography for this one!) but all-in-all it was a brilliant evening. If you like the sound of the new Tùsail, it’s on sale now. Australian fans will be able to find it locally at a suggested retail price of AU$165 and is limited to just 200 cases in the country.