The Glenmorangie distillery in the Northern Highlands of Scotland can be credited with
the popularisation of the idea of 'finished malt whisky' - although I don’t think that they were
also the first to apply the technique of double maturation in another cask. Around 1995
Glenmorangie released three different ' wood finishes' - a Port Finish, a Madeira Finish
and a Sherry Finish. Later on some more finished 'limited releases' were bottled.
For a few years Glenmorangie was virtually the only malt whisky distillery to use 'deviant'
casks for the maturation of stocks, but around the year 2000 more and more distilleries in
Scotland started to experiment with unusual casks that had no place in the whisky tradition.
Particularly Bruichladdich and Edradour turned into radical finishing freaks - taking the
concept of double maturation further than Glenmorangie ever did. Personally, I prefer
some of these 'finishes' to the regular product...
But of course, Glenmorangie is more than the premier purveyor of 'finished' whiskies
in Scotland. Their history started not unlike many of its Scottish competitors: in the
nineteenth century. Not far from the site of the Balblair distillery (founded half a century
earlier in 1790) William and John Mathesen built the 'Morangie' farm distillery in 1843.
William had been one of the co-owners of Balblair but apparently
he wanted to strike out on his own. The Mathesen brothers selected
a site with a long history of illicit distillation; there are claims about
whisky distillation in the area as far back as 1738 and even 1703.
However, actual production of malt whisky at Glenmorangie
didn't start until November 1849.
In 1887 the Glenmorangie Distillery Company Ltd. was founded
and the distillery was rebuilt. In 1918 the distillery was sold to two
partners; MacDonald & Muir Ltd. and Durham - who became full
owners circa two decades later. Somewhere along the way, the
name of the parent company was changed to Glenmorangie plc
by the MacDonald family. They decided to sell the company
(that also owned Ardbeg and Glen Moray) to LVMH in 2004.
Production-wise, a lot has changed at Glenmorangie over the years.
For one thing, the number of stills was expanded from two to four in 1980, which was also
the time they stopped malting their own barley. Glenmorangie managed to survive the whisky
crisis of the early 1980's with flying colours; in 1990 the number of stills was expanded again
to a grand total of eight stills.
Those eight stills enable Glenmorangie to
produce a whopping four million litres of pure
alcohol each year - enough for almost 10 million bottles..
For a long time a lot of the malt
whisky that Glenmorangie produced
was consumed within Scotland - but
nowadays it's a world wide brand.
During the 1990's Glenmorangie was
one of the few malt whisky distilleries
with a well oiled marketing machine behind them. Around that time only
distilleries like Glenfiddich, Glenlivet
and Springbank came close - as well
as perhaps Diageo’s ‘Classic Malts’.
Glenmorangie is located in the Northern Highlands
of Scotland. Distilleries here are spread out more than
in the central Speyside region, but relatively speaking
Balblair, Dalmore and Teaninich are close by.
The distillery can be found in Tain - a small town
named after the nearby river with the same name.
That name means ‘flow’, while the Gaelic name
Baile Dubhthaich means ‘Duthac’s town’
Saint Duthac (or Duthus) is the patron saint of Tain.
He lived between 1000 and 1065 and was born in
Ireland before becoming bishop of Ross in Scotland.
The ‘miracles’ he alledgedly performed were silly.
The Glenmorangie distillery on the shore of the Dornoch Firth isn’t the easiest to reach, but those who are willing
to make the effort might feel it’s worth it. The distillery offers several tours, including the ‘Original’ and ‘Signit’ tours.
1) Together with Bunnahabhain and Isle of Jura,
Glenmorangie used to have the tallest pot stills in
the industry. However, different sources quote
different sizes - and quite a few stills were replaced
in recent years at those distilleries. So, I'll stay away
from mentioning exact numbers at this point.
2) The original pair of stills was expanded to 4 in 1980,
and doubled again to 8 in 1990. A further expansion to
a total of 12 stills occurred in 2008 and 2009. All stills
are close replica's from the stills that were built in 1887.
4) An unusually high percentage of the whisky that is distilled at Glenmorangie is sold as a single malt.
Circa 70% of the whisky is bottled as SMSW; the rest was used in blends like Bailie Nicol Jarvie & Highland Queen.
The very small percentage of malt whisky that is sold to brokers and bottlers used to be diluted with a few drops of
Glen Moray so it can't be sold on as a single malt whisky. This vatted malt is labeled as 'West Port’ whisky.
3) Glenmorangie has proven that it's possible to
increase sales considerably while decreasing 'quality'.
Since the early 1990s the profile of the regular
expressions had been growing blander and blander,
but the changes happened at an even more rapid pace
after perfume peddlers Louis Vuitton obtained the distillery.
5) The Glenmorangie distillery used to be a brewery before the distillery was founded.
2004 - Glenmorangie acquires the
Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Furthermore,
on August 24, 2004 the MacDonald family
put their majority share of Glenmorangie
Group plc on the market. Within the whisky
industry, many expected that Brown Forman
(owner of brands like Jack Daniels, Old
Forrester, Canadian Reserve, Woodford
Reserve and Southern Comfort) would
expand its minority share, but perfume
peddlers Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessey
took over the company and its three
malt whisky distilleries instead.
2008 - Owners LVMH sell Glenmorangie's 'sister distillery' Glen Moray to La Martiniquaise. LVMH has little
interest in whisky production itself and wants to focus on building the brands 'Ardbeg' and 'Glenmorangie'.
2009 - Glenmorangie distillery is closed altogether in October 2008 so that two pairs of brand new stills can be
added to the eight that were already in use. When the doors of the distillery are opened again in March 2009, the
production capacity has increased from 4,000,000 litres of alcohol per year to 6,000,000 litres of alcohol per year.
Mind you; this is the MAXIMUM capacity - due to the reconstruction and credit crisis actual production is lower.
2018 - To celebrate its 175th birthday plans for a new still house at Glenmorangie are announced.
2007 - The entire range of official Glenmorangie bottlings is revised. The old 10yo is replaced by a 10yo 'Original'
and parts of the range are discontinued. This includes the 15yo, the 30yo (which had just been introduced in 2005)
and many of the more exotic finishes. The varieties 'Astar' and 'Signet' are introduced not long afterwards.
Glenmorangie NAS 'Lasanta' (46%, OB, Sherry finish, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Heavy, late summer fruits followed by tobacco. Touch of smoke? Yes, and some cardamom too.
Taste: Heavy sherry character on the palate; sweet and fruity, slowly powering up into malty centre.
Score: 83 points - although that should probably be 82 points; the finish is a little nondescript.
Glenmorangie NAS 'Quinta Ruban' (46%, OB, Port finish, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Big fruits and a fair dose of spices. In the background some wood, chocolate and smoke.
Taste: Fairly harsh but bland. I like the nose, but I can't recommend it to anybody based on the palate.
Score: 79 points - it's not TOO impressive on the palate, but the nose shows intriguing development.
Glenmorangie NAS 'Sonnalta' (46%, OB, PX finish, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Big and fruity. Gluhwein spices - as well as lots of other spices. A whiff of sulphur? A nice 'full' profile.
Taste: Concentrated fruits. Smoky undercurrent. The palate feels relatively flat after the 'thick' nose.
Score: 83 points - which makes it one of my favourites among the volley of recent finishes from Glenmorangie.
Glenmorangie 18yo 'Extremely Rare' (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2010)
Nose: Flowery with light fruits and a hint of shoe polish. Lots of passion fruits after a few seconds. Very nice.
Taste: I've noticed that flowery notes or passion fruit in the nose can be connected with a perfumy palate.
This whisky is no exception. Smooth start, powering up in the centre. Fruits and some tannins in the finish.
Score: 82 points - but that's just because I'm not a real fan of perfumy whiskies. In itself this is great whisky.
Glenmorangie 10yo 'Original' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Clean. Early summer fruits - mirabelle plums. Maltier after a few minutes of breathing. Whiff of oil?
Lots of pleasant elements, but they don't hang together very well. Very light in style; perfect for summer.
Taste: Malty, smooth and quite solid. Perhaps a tad nutty? It grows quite bitter towards the finish.
Not terribly expressive though - and not sweet enough for me to go much above average. Feels a tad thin.
Score: 76 points - which is a smidgen above average. Oddly enough, I didn't find a trace of apple in the nose.
Glenmorangie NAS 'Nectar d'Or' (46%, OB, Sauternes Casks Extra Matured, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Malty, fruity and quite sweet. Some spices too. A little sweaty. Some farmy aroma's as well.
Grows more complex after a few minutes of breathing; definitely needs fifteen minutes to open up.
Taste: Sweet start, softening up. Light fruits and cheesecake. Seems more complex than the nose.
The fruits grow stronger towards the hot finish. The finish feels a little like plywood. Very heavy legs.
Score: 82 points - which means I'd recommend this one. As finishes go, this 'Nectar d'Or' is quite subtle.
Glenmorangie NAS 'Quinta Ruban' (46%, OB, Port Cask Extra Matured, Bottled +/- 2009)
Nose: Not a lot of nose at first. Dark chocolate. Deep, dark fruits slowly emerge. A hint of smoke.
Marzipan. The profile becomes fruitier over time - but it's the slightly artificial fruits I find in many finished malts.
Taste: Broad fruity profile. Feels a little 'pressure cooked'. Not well integrated. Quite some tannins in the finish.
Score: 77 points - pleasant and better than average, but unlike the old Port Finish I can't recommend it...
Glenmorangie NAS 'Signet' (46%, OB, Bottled +/- 2008)
Nose: Big and expressive start. Polished. Fruits, organics and some wood. Settles down quickly though.
Well, at least as far as the complexity is concerned; the nose burn grows sharper and a little sour.
Taste: Hmmmm… Starts much weaker than I expected, but powers up to a lovely fruity centre.
Medium long, modest finish. It grew on me over time - but given the steep price I won't buy myself a bottle.
Smooth and slightly 'acetonic' like a grain whisky. It's a good and well balanced whisky that lacks personality.
Score: 82 points - it started at 80 points but eventually climbed to 82 points after a second try.
Glenmorangie 1993/2005 Truffle Oak (60.5%, OB, 886 Bottles)
Nose: Sweet. Vanilla. Hint of Chartreuse. Marzipan with water. Not too expressive, I'd say.
Taste: Way too hot at cask strength. Gets fruitier with a splash of water. Quite drinkable.
Score: 83 points - this is a pretty solid offering from Glenmorangie, maybe even topping the 18yo OB?
Glenmorangie NAS 'Artisan Cask' (46%, OB, Bottled 2004)
Nose: Wow! Very expressive. Fruity with vanilla and a hint of dust. Then some glue elements.
This reminds me a lot of a rye whisky! Clean. Some peculiar sour notes in the background. Vinegar?
Sorrel? Then sweeter with honey. Not complex at first, but very pleasant.
Taste: A slick, smooth sweetness develops into a rough centre. Short, dry finish.
Again, not unlike a good rye whisky or bourbon. Also a hint of blueberries and 'fruits de bois' on the palate.
Score: 80 points - I guess 'Artisan cask' sounds fancier than 'bourbon cask'.
Glenmorangie 12yo 'Golden Rum Cask Finish' (40%, OB, Bottled +/- 2003)
Nose: Lightly fruity with some soft grainy overtones. Something vaguely coastal?
Restrained. Citrus. I had a very hard time picking up any distinguishing marks.
Smoke? More organics with time. It took me some time before I started liking it.
Taste: Blank start - bitter but growing sweeter and fruitier towards the centre.
Plenty of heat, but it remains flat and slightly soapy. Whiffs of smoke. Dry finish.
Score: 73 points - it loses points on the palate. Was this a 'rescue attempt' for some bad casks?
Glenmorangie 10yo (43%, OB Bottled +/- 2002, Duty Free, Litre bottle)
Nose: Sweetish. Soft & spicy. A little grainy. Pinch of salt. Rhubarb? Oily & nutty.
Hop. Faint fruits after a while. Heather honey. Chloride. Maybe some liquorice.
Faint hint of something coastal? Yes, absolutely. And is that peat? I think so.
Taste: Sweetish start. Sour & bitter - like Rhubarb? Hops in the finish - beer-like.
Bourbony. Unfortunately, the palate is flat and superficial. Wood. Fresh oak?
Score: 74 points - the nose is fine but the finish is rather nasty. It loses points here.
Glenmorangie NAS Port Wood Finish (43%, OB, Bottled +/- 2001, 100cl)
Nose: Very complex! Subtle, yet expressive. Sherryish and fruity. A great Glenmorangie!
Dried apples. Coffee beans? Strong perfumy episodes. Smokier over time.
Taste: Hmmm... Seems much 'flatter' than my previous bottle from +/- 1998. Fruity sweetness.
Fresh episodes; eucalyptus in the finish. Nothing very special, to tell you the truth.
Score: 81 points - great nose, average palate. Not quite as 'porty' as my first bottle, it seems.
Glenmorangie 10yo C/S 'Ross-shire' (57,2%, OB, Dst. 04/04/1983, Btl. 18/11/1993)
Nose: Very rich. Wet pipe tobacco. Blueberries. Bakery aromas. Quite complex, but drops off after a while.
Taste: Surprisingly light and drinkable at almost 60% ABV. Feels gritty towards the finish though.
Score: 84 points - which proves that plenty of great whisky was distilled in the 1980's.
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Glenmorangie malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Glenmorangie I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Glenmorangie.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.
For my own tastes the PR language sometimes was a tad too oily, but
you can't argue with the numbers; Glenmorangie is now a top selling malt.
But is it any good?
Well, the 'house style' of most of the regular line-up from the 1990s and early
noughties was a tad light for my own tastes, but for 'brand' blend drinkers it is a
perfect 'gateway malt' - a strong brand that they can stick to with a couple of
interesting expressions that could lead them to new malty discoveries later on.
As for the Glenmorangie finishes: they seem to have a hard time achieving
batch consistency - so buying a bottle is a liquid form of Russian roulette...
After the success the 'mother brand' had with finishes, 'daughter distillery'
Glen Moray started to release their own finishes as well around the year 2000.
For me personally, these didn't work as well as the Glenmorangie finishes.
While the fairly clean and subtle regular 10-12yo whisky from Glenmorangie
benefited from the extra maturation, the fuller Speyside malts from Glen Moray
lost some of their 'edge' after weird finishes like Chardonnay or Chenin Blanc.
At least this was the case in the 1990s and early noughties. Just like the malt
whisky from many other distilleries the increased usage of bourbon casks in
recent years produced ‘lighter’ whiskies with a less distinct character.