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Spirit of a New Age

Richard Carleton Hacker

The process of distilling Scotch whisky has not changed since the first drops trickled out of a bootlegger’s kettle in the mid-17th century. The only significant refinements in whisky production have been in the types of barrels used and the duration of the aging process. Glenmorangie, the Highland distillery where the so-called 16 Men of Tain produce the top-selling single malts in Scotland, has been a pioneer on both fronts. The company was the first to mass-market whiskies aged in casks other than bourbon and sherry barrels; its port-, sherry-, and wine-finished single malts triggered an industry-wide trend. And now, in the midst of a shortage of aged whiskies due to heightened consumer demand and dwindling supplies, Glenmorangie is releasing a 25-year-old single malt as a regular, albeit limited, part of the distillery’s revamped family of whiskies.

"Most distilleries are tight for aged stocks," says Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s head of distilling and whisky creation and the leader of the company’s team of 16 whisky makers. "Many distilleries have various amounts of whiskies in the 10-, 12-, and 18-year-old range, but beyond that, the availability is far less."

The Glenmorangie 25 Years Old also represents a departure for Lumsden. "It’s very different from any Glenmorangie I’ve made before," he says. "I wasn’t aiming for any specific age, but when I finally reached my goal [for taste], I found the youngest age was 25 years, which is when many barrels peak in flavor compounds."

In addition to introducing its 25 Years Old, Glenmorangie recently renamed its wood-finished whiskies. The port-wood finish is now called Quinta Ruban, the Sauternes finish is Nectar D’òr, and the oloroso sherry finish is Lasanta. Each of the whiskies is bottled at 92 proof (instead of the previous 86) to accentuate its flavors.

The most dramatic change from Glenmorangie is in its flagship 86-proof 10 Year Old, now known as the Original. The distillery is aging a portion of this whisky in what Lumsden calls "artisan barrels," casks made from Ozark Mountain oaks grown in Missouri, where rugged soil and dense shade produce open-grained wood. After cutting the wood, instead of kiln-drying it for a few weeks, as is typically done, Glenmorangie air-dries the oak for two years. "This weathering effect concentrates the vanilla and sweetness aspects of the wood," notes Lumsden. "As a result, there is more aroma, more of that coconut-spicy character to whiskies aged in our artisan barrels."

In time, other Glenmorangie whiskies may be aged in the artisan barrels. Meanwhile, the distillery’s traditional floral characteristics have reached new heights—or, rather, more concentrated depths—with the 25 Years Old. "It is a very complicated whisky," says Lumsden, "a vatting of Burgundy- and sherry-barrel-aged whiskies, with the majority being ex-bourbon barrels."

The 86-proof elixir is full-bodied and chewy, with layers of chocolate, dried apricots, plums, and a finishing touch of cinnamon and honey. Glenmorangie will produce fewer than 1,000 cases of the 25 Years Old, and only a portion will go to the United States. The whisky’s $850 price reflects the rarity of aged stocks, which Lumsden sees as an ongoing challenge.

"The only thing that can be done is to lay down larger stocks for longer aging," says Lumsden. "That means turning up the quantity of distillation. Who knows? It might just be that one day the 16 Men of Tain could very well become the 18 or 20 Men of Tain."

Glenmorangie, www.glenmorangie.com

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