Signet & Astar: A tale of two GlenmorangiesSeptember 14th, 2008
These two new whiskies are very different in style. One focuses on malted barley quality and variety; the other concentrates heavily on wood management.
According to Dr. Bill, head whiskymaker for Glenmorangie, Signet is the culmination or 20 years of ideas going back to when he was in brewing and distilling school. The actual experiments involved in creating this whisky began 10-11 years ago. That’s when Bill, beer drinker and experimental whisky distiller, decided to tinker with using malted barley varieties commonly used in making beer. (The malted barley varieties used for beer are often more roasted, or caramelized, than what is standard in making whisky. This is why you see brown ales, porters, stouts and the like.)
Signet has a portion of whisky in it (15-20%) made from chocolate malt. Bill describes it this way: whisky made from normal whisky malt is like a cappuccino, while whisky made from chocolate malt is like an espresso. Signet also contains whisky from Cadboll barley malt, the first time this has been used in a Glenmorangie (adding some creaminess to the whisky). The whisky is aged in a variety of casks, including sherry and new charred oak, and contains some older whiskies too up to 35 years old.
So how dies Signet taste? My formal review of this product follows:
Glenmorangie Signet, 46%, $205
This is unlike any Glenmorangie I’ve ever tasted. It’s a very textural, visceral whisky—partly due to the chocolate malt, partly due to the casks used. It’s dark in color for a Glenmorangie, and viscous on the palate, with interwoven notes of dark chocolate, ground coffee bean, pot still rum, and spice (cinnamon, nutmeg), followed by a dry, polished leather, tobacco leaf, roasted walnut finish. This is a fun whisky and earns bonus points for being unique in taste, but I think its dry, slightly assertive, finish detracts from what otherwise is a thrilling, dynamic journey.
Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 88
Signet will be a permanent part of the Glenmorangie range.
Astar is all wood-driven. If there ever was a designer Glenmorangie whisky, this is it. To quote Bill, this whisky is made from “slow growth, air seasoned, heavily toasted, lightly charred, ex-bourbon, American oak barrels.”
Astar doesn’t have an age statement, but it is in the 9-10 year old range, so comparing it to the standard 10 year old is logical. Astar is a more dynamic expression compared to the 10 year old, handled in a very personal way with every detail of its maturation carefully monitored using only the finest oak to age it in. If you like Glenmorangie aged in bourbon oak without being finished in the wine cask du jour, then you will immediately fall in love with this whisky.
In fact, did you know that Bill has slowly been incorporating Astar-like whisky into the 10 year old bottling? If you thought that Glenmorangie 10 year old has been gradually improving over the past few years (like I did), this is the reason for it. According to Bill, as much as 30% of the current 10 year old bottling is Astar-like whisky. So, just imagine what pure Astar tastes like. Here’s my formal review of the whisky.
Glenmorangie Astar, 57.1%, $85
Astar’s flavor profile is similar to Glenmorangie 10 year old in many respects (showing a superb balance of sweetness, fruit and spice). It’s not as subtle as the 10 year old expression, but it is creamier, richer, and fleshier, with loads of honeyed vanilla, coconut cream pie, toasted almond, vibrant spice (cinnamon, mint) and a basketful of citrus and summer fruits. And the fact that it is bottled at 100 British Proof (57.1% abv) just accentuates every flavor and helps to make this whisky quite invigorating. Imagine Glenmorangie 10 year old with a shot of testosterone. I don’t rate very many ten year old whiskies or younger over 90. This whisky certainly has earned that right.
Advanced Malt Advocate magazine rating: 93
Similar to Signet, Astar will become a permanent whisky in the Glenmorangie range. It will be available in the U.S. in 2009.
Bill Lumsden is doing amazing things for the Glenmorangie company, both with Glenmorangie whiskies and Ardbeg whiskies. He’s a true leader and one of the greatest innovators in the Scotch whisky industry.