It’s that time of year again! Christmas is over, we’re back into the daily grind and then Dr Bill Lumsden and his team come along a drop the latest quirky experiment in their annual Private Edition collection.
The ninth edition in this annual collection is known as Glenmorangie Spios (Scots Gaelic for spice) and has spent its whole life maturing in American Oak casks. What’s so unusual about that? Well, these aren’t the typical American Oak ex-Bourbon casks, instead, this has been fully matured in ex-rye casks. For the non-Bourbon and rye whiskey drinkers in the room, that might sound like a trivial point, but it’s really not. Here’s why.
Unlike scotch whisky (made from 100% malted barely), bourbon and rye use a mashbill of different grains to create the base spirit. To be called Bourbon, the mashbill must comprise at least 51% corn, with the remainder often being made up of rye, malted barley or wheat. You’ve probably guessed it, but to be called a rye whiskey, the mashbill needs to be at least 51% rye.
I drink/ own a fair bit of rye whiskey and it can be quite an interesting beast. It still has that backbone of sweet syrupy caramel and char (that you find in Bourbons), but you often get forward notes ranging from baking spice and pastry, to pickle brine, mint and dill. Above all, the one characteristic I always get is ‘spiciness’ and I’m yet to meet a rye whisky I would describe as delicate. So given the forward character that rye whiskey often exhibits, I was very intrigued to see what kind of influence an ex-rye cask would have on the lighter, citrus, highland malt characteristics that Glenmorangie is so famously known for.
Launch night in Sydney
From the basement theatre of Sydney’s QT Hotel we joined a live global cross to Dr Bill and his henchman, Brendan McCarron, in a secret whisky lair somewhere in Edinburgh. In introducing Spios, Dr Bill and Brendan explained that this was a project that came to life around 10 years ago when they sourced a parcel of casks through Speyside Cooperage that had previously held rye whiskey for six years. The rye whiskey they held was made from a mashbill of 95% rye (the remaining 5% was more than likely malted barley) and the aim was pretty much to see what kind of influence these casks would have on the ‘house style’ of Glenmorangie (ie the Glenmorangie Original).
With that in mind, in was time to taste and after re-familiarising ourselves with the Glenmorangie Original and the (completely moreish) Nectar d’Or, it was time for the main event.
Tasting Glenmorangie Spios
On the nose I got notes of melon, citrus, stone-fruit and chewy caramels – make that caramel topping, the kind you’d put on ice cream. Going back for round two; shortbread biscuits, a bit of ginger heat, cinnamon and clove. One other aspect I loved is that after being bottled at 46% ABV, you also get this great fatty creaminess on the nose that I don’t personally get in the Glenmorangie Original.
On the palate, there was something slightly herbal and savoury, a faint touch of citrus and grassiness, but give it a very brief moment and it launches into a wave of soft spice. I don’t mean alcohol heat, but fragrant spice; clove, big red chewing gum, dark cherries, toffee and cereal grains. The finish was long, remained sweet, quite lush and flavourful, with nicely integrated oak.
Some final thoughts
Is it a huge departure from Glenmorangie Original? I wouldn’t say so, no. But then again, I don’t get the impression that was the point in the first place. After listening to Dr Bill and Brendan explain their thought process, you begin to understand that aim of the Private Edition series is to release experiments – one-off projects – that showcase what can be done with the Glenmorangie spirit by tweaking an element of the whisky-making process.
We’ve seen them play with peated malt (in Finealta), use an old barley strain (in Tusail) and finish what’s essentially Glenmorangie Original in a variety of casks (in the likes of Bacalta, Companta and Milsean). And now, we’ve seen what happens when you ‘simply’ swap ex-Bourbon casks for ex-rye casks.
Fans of Private Editions that have been finished in wine casks (eg Artein, Milsean, Companta, Bacalta etc) might be a tad underwhelmed by the more subtle nature of Spios, but I really appreciate what’s been done here. It’s a hugely educational release, a tasty, enjoyable whisky and I think they’ve nailed the brief. I for one can’t wait to see what they come up with for the tenth release.
Cheers to Dr Bill Lumsden, Brendan McCarron and Moet-Hennessey Australia for hosting another great evening.