Glenmorangie 1990 Grand Vintage Malt

Originally launched around 2010, the Glenmorangie 25 year old ‘Quarter Century’ has been Glenmorangie’s range-topping core expression ever since. The 25 year old was made up American Oak barrels, Oloroso sherry casks and even had some French Claret casks in the mix and whilst I never had a chance to try it myself, by all accounts it was one pretty luxurious malt. Earlier this year though the 25 year old ‘Quarter Century’ expression was discontinued for undisclosed reasons, but in its place, something equally interesting appeared, the Glenmorange Grand Vintage Malt 1990.

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Bond House No. 1 Collection

Where the 25 year old was more or less part of Glenmorangie’s core range, the new Grand Vintage Malt 1990 is part of new series, known as the Bond House No. 1 Collection. It’s series said to be focussed on luxury (something that LVMH know an awful lot about and do very well), but it also has another central theme to it. All of the bottles in this new series will be vintage dated (as opposed to age-stated) and if the first 1990 release is anything to go by, I’m sure they’re all going to ooze decadence and appeal very much to the well-heeled buyer who enjoys all things luxury.

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Thanks to the great team at Moet-Hennessey Australia, I was very generously invited along to try the 1990 Grand Vintage Malt recently, alongside accompanying drams of Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or and the 18 year old.

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The Glenmorangie Nectar d’Or is a long-time favourite of mine, with that sweet sauternes wine-finish working wonders with the bright and fruity Glenmorangie spirit profile. It somehow manages to take the lighter Glenmorangie house style and give it a great buttery, fat quality to it. I mean that in the best possible way – think of a french boulangerie – with loads of pastry, biscuits, honey, citrus and mineral elements. An effortlessly tasty dram with body.

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The 18 year old heads in a very different – though equally enjoyable – direction. Garth Foster, Moet Hennesy Brand Ambassador, filled us on the deliberate work that goes into constructing the 18 year old and it was genuinely interesting. At 14 years of age, 10-20% of the classic ex-bourbon matured Glenmorangie spirit is moved into ex-sherry casks for a further period of maturation. The process happens again at 16 years of age, so it’s not just a simple 6-month sherry finish we’re talking about here. There’s also a healthy dose of Glenmorangie’s ‘designer casks’ in the recipe, casks made of slow-growth American oak selected from the Ozark Mountains. When you put all of that together, you get a Glenmorangie with a richer sherry note with integrated dried fruits, vanilla and nuts (hazel nuts and brazil nuts). It’s creamy, nicely balanced and has good complexity.

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Glenmorangie 1990 Grand Vintage Malt

After tasting those two, it was on to the main show, the new 1990 Vintage, matured in a selection of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks for approximately 26 years before being bottled at 43% ABV.

On the nose I got notes of ripe juicy peach, tinned tropical fruits, dried apricot and crushed spice biscuits. The tropical notes continue to emerge with time, with firm cantaloupe, green stone fruits, perfumed honeysuckle and a touch of old waxed leather and tobacco.

On the palate the tropical theme continues. It’s soft, delicate and malty on entry with charred peach, firm green stone fruit, honey, a vegetal earthiness and something aromatic and floral in the background. The oak is there, but it’s nicely integrated and never turns overly drying.

One of the most complex Glenmorangie whiskies I’ve tried and also the one that is furthest from the ‘house-style’ I normally think of when I taste their other core range. It also works marvellously at the lower bottling strength they’ve chosen here. In short; luxurious liquid velvet.

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The new Glenmorangie 1990 Vintage is available in Australia now in very limited quantities and entry to the exclusive 1990 club will set you back a tidy $725 or so. A very special thanks to Moet-Hennessey Australia for the guest pass!

Glenmorangie Bacalta Review

Around this time each year, Glenmorangie release a new, limited expression. An experimental and innovative whisky of sorts, if you will. It’s the one time of year Dr Bill Lumsden gets to showcase something a little bit different. A whisky that falls outside the bounds of what people normally think of when they look to Glenmorangie’s house-style. The whiskies released under this banner are known as the Private Edition releases and they’re always a bit of fun.

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Last year I reviewed the Milsean, a Glenmorangie matured in toasted ex-wine casks that was packed with sweet-shop flavours. The year before, I had the great pleasure of attending a dinner with Dr Bill Lumsden for the launch of Glenmorangie Tusail. Beyond that, I’ve tried (or owned) every one of the Private Edition releases, so you could say that I’m a pretty big fan.

This year marks the eighth Private Edition release and in a way, Dr Bill and his team have taken us back in time to the early 2000s when Glenmorangie had a Madeira ‘wood finished’ whisky in their core range. Enter, the Glenmorangie Bacalta.

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The launch event

Here in Sydney, we’re pretty far away from the Scottish Highlands, so throwing together a tasting with Dr Bill isn’t exactly the easiest task. However, the wonderful world of technology solves that for us and the other week I had the pleasure of attending a Google-Hangout tasting. Invitees assembled in the classy surrounds of the Old Clare Hotel in Sydney and as the clock struck 9.00pm here, it had just ticked over 10.00am in the Highlands. The live feed came up, guests joined in from Mumbai and Seoul and we were greeted with the ever-jovial voices of Dr Bill Lumsden and Brendan McCarron (Head of Maturing Stocks).

What is Madeira exactly?

To better understand the magic of Glenmorange Bacalta (Scottish Gaelic for ‘Baked’), it helps to understand what Madeira wine is and how it’s produced. Thankfully, Dr Bill gave us the 101 on both and it went something a little like this.

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Contrary to the way some people use the term, ‘Madeira’ isn’t really a form of wine in the same sense that sherry is. Madeira is actually an autonomous archipelago of Portugal found off the west coast of Morocco. On Madeira they make fortified wines from a variety of grapes, but the richest is Malmsey wine, made from the Malvasia grape.

What makes Madeira wine unique is the way in which it’s treated during maturation. Barrels are stored in the roof cavities of the bodegas where they’re heated by the sun and essentially ‘baked’ (hence the ‘Bacalta’ name). Leaving barrels of wine in these conditions has two distinct effects. First, it drastically changes the characteristic of the wine itself, oxidising it and bringing out the tart acidic characters that define Madeira wines. Secondly, the unforgiving conditions deteriorate the casks themselves and as time goes on, they actually start to fall apart and leak due to the harsh conditions.

With those harsh conditions very few ex-wine barrels make it out alive, so finding a consistent supply of casks in terms of quality and quantity is incredible difficult. It’s this challenge that ultimately led to the demise of the original Madeira wood finish expression back in the early 2000s.

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Piecing together the Glenmorangie Bacalta

Not one to give up though, around seven or eight years ago Dr Bill embarked on a challenge to try things again. This time though it would be a bespoke project, one where he and his team would control every aspect of the process. A wine producer was found and Speyside Cooperage were engaged to construct a series of 250L hogsheads from tight grain, slow growth, air-seasoned American Oak. The casks were heavily toasted and shipped to Madeira to be filled with Malmsey wine, where they then sat and seasoned for two whole years.

After being brought back to Scotland they were filled with ten year old Glenmorangie and were set aside for what Dr Bill thought would be a three to four year extra maturation period. He and Brendan McCarron began tasting the casks around the two year mark and believed that at that point they’d already hit the sweet spot they were looking for. One where the balance was just right between the strong notes of the Madeira wine and the house character of the Glenmorangie spirit. So for those who like numbers, the Bacalta is essentially 12 years old.

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Glenmorangie Bacalta Review

So with that context in place, we tasted our way through the Glenmorangie Original 10 year old, the Glenmorangie Lasanta (extra-matured in ex-sherry casks) and finally, the hero of the evening, the new Glenmorangie Bacalta.

Nose

On the nose there’s an immediate juxtaposition of aromas, from dryness (like oak, dried tobacco leaves and cedar wood spice), to sweetness (hard toffee, baked apples, tarte tatin and pastry dough), to an acidic element (citrus skins and aged sherry vinegar). It has a complex nose that flits between sweet and savoury.

Palate

Oily, creamy and sweet on entry, but immediately backed up by spice and stone fruit. Think peaches and apricots, orange marmalade, honeycomb, hard toffee and citrus zest. There’s a nuttiness on the finish with a peppery spice. The addition of water rounds out the palate and opens up the nose nicely.

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I’ve enjoyed each of the Private Edition expressions I’ve tried to date. Some more-so than others, but this year’s release has really stepped up to the plate. The Bacalta is genuinely, genuinely good. It strikes this wonderful balance between sweetness, acidity, fruit and oak. To my nose and palate it’s expressive, comes across as maturely integrated and nothing dominates too heavily. I’ve not tasted the original Glenmorangie 15 year old Madeira wood finish, but I struggle to imagine it being any better than this.

The new, limited edition Glenmorangie Bacalta is available in global markets now.

Glenmorangie Milsean

A review of Glenmorangie’s latest Private Edition

It’s that time of year again when Dr Bill Lumsden raises the curtain on Glenmorangie’s latest Private Edition expression. In it’s seventh year now, the Private Edition collection is Dr Bill’s chance to play with parts of the whisky production process and showcase the versatility of Glenmorangie’s spirit.

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Last year he brought us the Tusail, Dr Bill’s vision of an old-school Glenmorangie made with Maris Otter barley that rose to popularity in the brewing industry in late 60s/early 70s. Prior to that we’ve seen Glenmorangie made with lightly peated barley (Finealta), Glenmorangie matured in a host of different ex-wine casks (Artein, Companta) and even a 19 year old expression (Ealanta). And in terms of coming up with yet another crazy concoction, this year’s release is no different!

Milsean explained

The Milsean (‘meel-shawn’ – Gaelic for ‘sweet things’) starts life as regular Glenmorangie spirit matured in ex-bourbon casks for 10 years, before being further matured in ex-wine casks for an extra two and a half years. So whilst it doesn’t carry an age statement on the label, you can do the math on this one!

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The ex-wine casks in question are former red wine casks from Portugal that have been re-toasted specifically for this whisky. If you’re not familiar with the process of toasting, it involves heating the wood (in this case, with a direct flame) to scorch or lightly char the inside of the barrel. This process re-invigorates the cask and caramelizes both the natural sugars in the wood and those in the wine residue left behind. The result? Some super sweet toasty goodness, ready to impart bucket-loads of flavor into the Glenmorangie stored within.

Milsean: Tasted

The name Milsean translates to ‘sweet-things’ and the candy-striped packaging conjures up images of an old-school sweets shop, so I’m expecting this to be, well, pretty darn sweet. So is it?

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Very first impression on the nose? This thing is sweet. Confectionary sweet. Dig a little deeper though and its oh so rewarding. It instantly reminded me of a freshly opened bag of marshmallows, toffee nut brittle, gummy bears, sweet macerated berries and a hint of hot chocolate powder. There’s loads of creamy vanilla that reminds me of custard powder – the kind mum used to use when we were kids.

On the palate it’s got that classic Glenmorangie backbone you find in the ten year old, but it’s layered with an oily sweetness you definitely do not find in the ten year old. Oily chewy wine gum notes, honey, candied orange peel (including that bitter pith) and super ripe sugary plums. It’s followed by a fair whack of drying spicy oak on the finish, but I feel as though it’s accentuated by the preceding sweetness, which seems to linger into the finish as well.

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Australia has received an allocation of 200 cases of Glenmorangie Milsean and it’s available right now in both specialty retailers and through Moet-Hennesy Collection at a retail price of $150. If you – like I – have a bit of a sweet-tooth when it comes to whisky, I have a feeling this will be right up your alley.

Thanks goes to both Moet-Hennessy Australia and the great people at EVH PR for providing the bottle reviewed here.

Glenmorangie Tùsail

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.

Glenmorangie Tusail

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..

Glenmorangie Cocktail

.. 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!

Glenmorangie Cocktail

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.

Menu

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.

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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).

Glenmorangie Tusail

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!

Trout

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.

Dessert

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.

Franz Scheurer

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.

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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!

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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.

Glenmorangie Tùsail

The sixth release in Glenmorangie’s revered Private Edition series

Label mock-ups for Glenmorangie’s latest Private Edition release have just appeared online and if the labels are anything to go by, Tùsail sounds like a rather interesting one.

Glenmorangie Tusail label

Unlike the five annual releases before it, Tùsail doesn’t appear to get its unique point of difference from the wood used in the maturation process. Instead, it looks like Dr Bill Lumsden and his team of boffins have had a crack at playing with the bare bones of this whisky instead, using a traditionally floor malted Maris Otter barley. Maris what? A brewers barley, developed in the late 1960’s and often used in the production of premium ales.

I personally can’t recall ever having tasted a Glenmorangie produced with traditional floor malted barley (well, not that I’m aware of anyway), so this could be interesting. As with previous Private Editions, it appears that Tùsail will again be bottled at 46% ABV and will be non chill-filtered.

No further info on price or release dates, but if previous releases are anything to go by, select northern hemisphere markets should expect to see this late December or in January 2015. Fingers crossed this makes it to Australia early next year.