Glenmorangie was founded in the bonny Scottish Highlands in 1843 by William Matheson. Its famed single malts are distilled in Scotland’s tallest copper stills — their necks are as long as those of adult male giraffes — to ensure that only the purest vapours emerge. Glenmorangie’s Private Edition series are highly sought-after, representing the brand’s creative vision and innovation. This year, Glenmorangie has released the ninth Private Edition Series and we had the opportunity to taste it at an exclusive media luncheon at Skillet at 163, Fraser Place Kuala Lumpur. Taking us through the tasting was head of maturing stocks Brendan McCarron.
McCarron’s position was created just for him so that he could be trained to succeed Dr Bill Lumsden, director of distilling, whisky creation and whisky stocks. Armed with a degree in chemical engineering, McCarron had moved to England to work in a pharmacy but his then girlfriend, now wife, was homesick for Scotland. Moving back home and scoring a job with Diageo was the beginning of a very quick climb up the whisky industry ladder. “It was a bit of luck. They could have placed me in the bottling hall or purchasing, but they put me in malt distilling. Then, I caught the bug and I’ve been here ever since. I learnt from the very beginning how to make malted barley, and in the right way,” he says.
McCarron was not always fond of his favourite dram. “I got mouth ulcers, so when I was eight, my dad gave me whisky and said, ‘Try this and see if it works. See if the alcohol takes it away’. This was the whisky my dad was drinking. We didn’t have lots of whisky so it was quite precious. It burnt, so I spat the whisky back into the glass,” he laughs. It wasn’t until he reached the ripe old age of 22 that he developed a taste for the malt.
Glenmorangie uses ex-bourbon casks that technically can be used for 100 years, but which they only use for 20 years. “We only use the cask twice, so you can really pick up on those oaky flavours like coconut, caramel, honey and clove. All of those flavours come from those casks.
“To me, a highland single malt is Glenmorangie,” McCarron states proudly. As a passionate advocate of the brand, he cannot find enough to say about it. “Another thing I love about Glenmorangie is that it is almost like a flagship, that’s like the heartbeat of our house style. It means that by using different casks, you can create different flavours and expressions. Over a couple of years, you can really start to accentuate the differences in the whisky,” he explains.
The media luncheon at Skillet at 163 began with a creamy deconstructed cullen skink, a truly Scottish dish that went beautifully with the Glenmorangie Original. “We’re a bit rare in that we use mineral-rich water from Tarlogie Springs. It’s chalky, it’s salty and it’s hard. It’s really quite mineralic, so when you mix that with barley and yeast, you create this massive range of flavours,” McCarron says.
The main dish was slow-cooked beef short ribs with potato puree and a divine Glenmorangie whisky jus. Next up on our tasting journey was the Nectar d’Or, which gets its cask finish from two years in barrels that held Sauternes, a famous sweet wine from France. Nectar d’Or, or “golden liquid”, has a rich, fruity aroma and a sweet, zesty finish from the casks.
Finally, with our dessert of salted macadamia and chocolate cream, we had the much-awaited Glenmorangie Spìos. Scottish Gaelic for spice, Spìos completes its full maturation in American ex-rye casks from Kentucky. Lumsden’s risky move years ago to use the unpopular ex-rye casks has definitely paid off. “What’s cool about Spìos is that there’s a full maturation in these casks that were bought a really long time ago. We acquired these casks when rye was pretty much gone. Rye is seeing a resurgence now, over the past two maybe three years in America. It is slowly becoming available again,” McCarron explains. It is almost as though Lumsden was able to see into the future.
There are only 200 bottles available in Malaysia of this straw-coloured whisky, a herbal scent which has as well as a hint of clove and mint toffee. “Rye is punchy, savoury and it’s quite bready and spicy. It’s exactly those flavour notes that come through in this whisky. So Glenmorangie is known for being fruity, sweet and fragrant. This one, only this one, I would say, is actually spicy and savoury and that’s why it’s called Spìos,” McCarron adds.
Definitely veering from the ordinary, the ninth Private Edition tastes like a spicy mixture of clove and cinnamon with a rich toffee finish. Glenmorangie’s Spìos is definitely a unique addition to this award-winning arsenal of whiskies.
This article first appeared on June 4, 2018 in The Edge Malaysia.