Posts Tagged ‘Jonny McCormick’

Burnbrae distillery: plans for the Rolls Royce of single malts

Tuesday, March 29th, 2016


Jonny McCormickWhisky Advocate brings you breaking news of the latest Scotch whisky distillery project…

Plans have been unveiled to build Burnbrae distillery in the former Rolls Royce factory in East Kilbride, just south of Glasgow. The new Lowland distillery has been commissioned by Campbell Meyer & Co. Ltd, a company of whisky blenders, bottlers, brokers, and exporters. Their intentions are to construct a new facility capable of producing up to two million liters of alcohol per annum by October 2017.

The head of Campbell Meyer & Co. is Colin Barclay, the nephew of Loch Lomond distillery developer Sandy Bulloch. Barclay has more than 25 years experience in the whisky industry. The company now has numerous warehouses and a filling store on the old Rolls Royce factory site. Many drinkers will know Campbell Meyer & Co. through their Hart Brothers single malt bottlings and their numerous blended scotch labels.

While I was writing about new Scotch whisky distilleries for the Spring 2016 issue of Whisky Advocate, and given the pace of change, I cheerfully predicted that the news would be out of date by the summer. Within days of publication, Harry Riffkin got in touch to let me know that he could tell me about an exciting new development. Riffkin runs Tatlock & Thomson, a long-established, specialist company that performs scientific analysis on alcoholic beverages. Intrigued, I drove deep into the Kingdom of Fife to the Tatlock & Thomson laboratories to listen to what he had to say.

Dr. Harry Riffkin

Dr. Harry Riffkin

Riffkin has developed the concept and design for Burnbrae after Barclay conceived the original idea for a distillery in East Kilbride. With a large blending business in existence, Barclay had designs on the production of whisky that could potentially be used for blending after three years and a day in cask. However, Riffkin invited him to the model Spirit of Hven distillery in Sweden, one of his first distillery designs, to persuade him of the merits of producing a high quality single malt whisky at Burnbrae as well.

The Burnbrae stills are ordered and plans are at an advanced stage. “We’re going to put in a proper lauter tun with a shallow bed, not a converted infusion tun with lauter rakes,” says Riffkin, unrolling the engineering plans across the table for my inspection. Production of Burnbrae will begin with 100 percent unpeated malt. “Lautering means to clarify, and we’ll control the mashing to give a high intensity spirit so we can produce crystal clear worts.” The fermenters will be insulated and temperature-controlled, with a long 72 to 96 hour fermentation time. “I cannot understand why anybody building a distillery today doesn’t control the temperatures, because they are messing about with the setting temperatures. We’re double backing, so each fermenter will take two mashes. We’ve got the right number of fermenters to give us the right fermentation time, that is, to give us the primary yeast fermentation followed by the lactic acid fermentation which will give us the quality of distillate.”

Distillation ratios will be two wash distillations to one spirit distillation, which naturally means the spirit still has to be larger. To compensate for a potential reduction in copper contact, Riffkin designed the size and shape of the two stills a little differently. The wash still is plain-shaped with a descending lyne arm (think Cragganmore or Highland Park). The spirit still has a little boil ball, a narrower neck and shoulders similar to Glenrothes, and an ascending lyne arm producing a good reflux ratio. Both stills will be heated with straight double-layered racetrack coils for control (just like the inside of a kettle).

The stillman will control the temperature of the shell-and-tube condensers to ensure that the vapors condense in the first third, especially from the wash still. Two boreholes are planned, following the discovery that 45,000 liters per hour of underground water at a cool 50oF flow deep beneath the factory. For Riffkin, this is all about getting it right at the beginning, with a site that will be known for its controllable process and hands-on distillation, “The men will be running about doing it; automation will be minimized, we’re not going to build an air conditioned control room with touchscreens. These boys will be doing it traditionally.”

Riffkin promises that Burnbrae will only use the very best of equipment. “We are not going to use any oddball manufacturers,” he insists. “If someone walks into your distillery in East Kilbride, they want to see McMillan stills, they want to see Steinecker mash tuns, and they want to see that everything is perfect. Forget about these oddball manufacturers piggybacking on to this boom, we’re not going to use any of them.”

Rarely do we get access to such a fine level of detail at this stage of a distillery project, especially ahead of the appointment of the distillery manager. In contrast to other new builds, Riffkin assures me that as an established whisky company like Campbell Meyer & Co., there are no issues with finance for Burnbrae distillery: no public money is being asked for and no subscribers’ money will be sought. Coast to coast, the Lowlands of Scotland are a hotbed of new distillery projects at present, and with high hopes for producing the Rolls Royce of single malts, ground should be broken on Burnbrae distillery this fall.


Friday, January 10th, 2014

Author - Johnnie McCormick“I can’t stand the stuff” my cab driver said as we hung a left a little fast, pressing me tight into the door. “It’s so strong.” It’s a frequently heard refrain when a whisky drinker gets talking about libations with a stranger. So it got me thinking as I rattled around the backseat. You can divide whiskies up by country or by region. Sure, you can split them up by cereal or cask type. Then again, there’s another dividing line. Most whiskies sold in the world today are still bottled at 40% ABV. And they call that the hard stuff! We may clinch a small victory whenever a classic range is refreshed and comes back at 46% and non-chill filtered, but that’s just small fry really.

Let’s face facts: some drams are bigger than others. These are Iron Drams: high-strength muscle whisky which is more alcohol in the glass than anything else. These bottles brim with vigor and potency. Be careful, and approach with ritualistic trepidation. Iron Drams demand deference because who knows what apocalyptic hellfire will befall those who dare to put that glass to their lips? We’re after aroma and flavor, not some Bill Bixby transformation. Yet the mind is primed to expect a tornado of intensity, like consuming a ball of fire with cartoonish results; the eyeballs poking out on stalks amid a fiery, scarlet complexion, smoke jets emitting from both ears.

Iron Dram Stagg2_McCormickOf course, there are technical reasons for Iron Drams. Where the distiller chooses to make their cuts during distillation, the number of distillations, through to the filling strength as the spirit enters the cask all set the wheels in motion. Maturation matters too, as the evaporation of water over alcohol will depend on the type of vessel, the condition of the oak, the position in the warehouse, and the temperature fluctuations within. Alcohol strength typically falls over time in Scotland, but hotter climates promote greater evaporation of water than alcohol, as we observe in a Kentucky rickhouse or among casks of Amrut maturing in India. Cost plays a part too: producers get many more cases from their batch if they bottle down at 40%. It’s about physics, chemistry, geography, history, and economics—it’s quite an education!

You do get a great deal of alcohol for the money though. The strongest George T Stagg release—the 2007 edition—was bottled at 72.4% ABV. That bottle contained 54.3 units of alcohol (a unit is defined in the UK as 10 ml of pure alcohol); six times as much as a $45 bottle of Moët & Chandon Imperial Brut champagne. Now that’s a celebration!

It’s not just machismo for machismo’s sake. Iron Drams should still be approached responsibly, and hopefully, they encourage people to pour smaller measures. Appreciative of the production reasons, whisky connoisseurs prefer the versatility and the opportunity to drink their drams at cask strength and find their own preferred dilution. It’s the difference between playing piano using the whole keyboard or being restricted to an octave. It feels more authentic, rather than have someone else decide what strength you’ll have your drink. The scope for experimentation is greater as you can explore the full spectrum of flavor by adjusting the water you add (an aspect taken out your hands with 40% ABV). It feels better to be in the driving seat, right?

Iron Drams – a quick guide of where to go hunting for big game.

1) George T Stagg Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whisky. Since 2002, every one of these bourbons has been bottled at a strength over 60%, with the majority over 70%. These are so strong that they even breach the TSA regulations for carrying on board an aircraft in your checked baggage.

2) Bruichladdich X4. This quadruple distilled spirit was reduced from 92% to 50% before being sold as an unaged spirit. Bruichladdich once assisted a TV show to film a thrilling publicity stunt by using their unreduced X4 spirit to fuel a Le Mans race car to roar past the distillery. Three years later and Bruichladdich X4+3 was released at 63.5%, to date the only available quadrupled distilled single malt whisky. Mind you, their Octomore and Port Charlotte releases have been no shrinking violets either.

Iron Dram Karuizawa_McCormick3) Four Roses Single Barrel Limited Editions. The strongest bourbons from Jim Rutledge and the team at Four Roses; many of these bottlings hold an ABV in excess of 60%. It’s a great way for bourbon drinkers to gain insight into the subtleties of their ten recipes of different mashbills and yeasts.

4) Karuizawa single malt whisky. Japan is the perfect place to explore lengthy maturation and high strength. The closed Japanese distillery has attracted a cult following in Europe and Japan but it requires some effort to get hold of a bottle if you live in North America. Whether it’s a vintage release or Noh bottling from Number One Drinks Company, these long aged and heavily sherried beasts typically weigh in somewhere north of 60%.

5) Scotch Malt Whisky Society. Over the past 30 years, the SMWS have delivered thousands of single cask releases for their members, bottled at natural cask strength. Other independent bottlers produce specifIron Dram Mortlach_McCormick (1)ic cask strength lines too but this is the raison d’être for the SMWS. You will find most of the Iron Drams in the young, powerful bottlings matured for less than a decade.

6) Rare Malts Selection. One of the more collectible whisky series in their distinctive livery, you might find a Mortlach at 65.3% from 1972, a Teaninich at 64.95% from 1972, or a St Magdalene at 63.8% from 1979 if you hunt hard enough. These days, these official releases are only to be found at auction or at a premium price through specialist retailers.

7) World Whiskies. Whisky importers recognize that world whiskies are most likely to be bought by established whisky drinkers looking for new experiences beyond their regular tipple. Producers are obliging by supplying some high strength beauties such as Taiwan’s Kavalan Solist series, Amrut’s Peated Cask Strength 62.8% or Portonova 62.1%, Tasmania’s Lark Single Cask bottlings, and Overeem Cask Strength releases from the Old Hobart Distillery.

8) White Dog. The fashion for unaged whiskey and rye seems to have abated though they remain popular among some bartenders (and people who bought one of those home maturation kits). As a constituent of a mixed drink, that high bottling strength will be tamed before it’s served to the customer anyway. As an individual drink, most drinkers’ curiosity is satisfied after the first few sips.

9) Aberlour A’bunadh. This classic heavily sherried whisky is approaching its 50th batch, but it was batch 33 at 60.9% that proved to be the strongest. A classic Iron Dram.

10) Islay single malts. Some people (like my cabbie) might equate peaty, smoky whiskies with being stronger, though that’s a myth. The peating of the malted barley doesn’t automatically equate to the phenolic content of the final spirit, let alone the alcohol strength. However, if you want to check out Islay’s Iron Drams, get hold of a bottle of Ardbeg Supernova 2010 at 60.1%, Laphroaig 10 year old Cask Strength, or Lagavulin 12 year old which was strongest in 2002 at 58.0%.

Have you any Iron Dram recommendations? Do you find high strength is your preference or do you avoid such liquid dynamite? What’s your opinion on the relationship between more alcohol and flavor? Do you have any favorite producers who you feel could benefit from adding an Iron Dram to their range? Jump right in!

Whisky Advocate Award: Distiller of the Year

Monday, December 23rd, 2013


Roseisle distillery

Roseisle distillery

Diageo moves in big ways, and that makes some folks uneasy. People scoffed when Diageo unveiled the massive new Roseisle distillery, for instance, fearing it would lead to the lights going out at affiliated distilleries all over Speyside.

Actually, what happened next was a $1.5 billion, five year investment program in Scotland, including a brand new distillery beside Teaninich. The numbers are big: 13 million liters per annum, sixteen copper stills, twenty new jobs, and a project cost of $76 million. Expansion projects and upgrades benefited distilling at Mortlach, Teaninich, Inchgower, Glendullan, Dailuaine, Benrinnes, Cragganmore, Glen Elgin, Glen Ord, Linkwood, and Mannochmore. The Cameronbridge facility has been revolutionized with a $163 million investment, endorsed by a site visit from the British prime minister. The company expanded the Diageo archive at Menstrie and realized improvements in their Leven packaging plant. The nearby Cluny Bond will have 46 new warehouses, each of which can store 60,000 casks.

Diageo also takes energy efficiency, water treatment, and renewable energy seriously. This investment in sustainability has added the latest green technologies to Glendullan, Dailuaine, Glenlossie, and Cameronbridge, with plans for a bio-energy plant at the new distillery in Alness. Roseisle is scaring nobody now.

Then there is Johnnie Walker. The world’s biggest Scotch whisky brand introduced Gold Label Reserve and Platinum Label into the United States, in addition to a freshly primped JW lineup in stores and Travel Retail. Odyssey tore up the rulebook on the perceived worth of blended malts. Those following the oceanic adventures of the John Walker & Sons Voyager across Pacific Asia and Europe were treated to a heady mix of glamour, celebrity, talent, and show-stopping spectacle with blended scotch as the guest of honor.

Now their single malt brands are returning to the fray. For starters, there are three new regular Talisker expressions, backed by the passionate people running the innovative new visitor experience on Skye, and there will also be more choices from Cardhu, Dufftown, and Mortlach.

The Diageo Special Releases 2013 contained some phenomenal liquids: the stunning Brora from 1977 with flavors that snapped into place with a droplet or two of water, and the beguiling, rounded flavors to be found in a glass of Convalmore 36 year old. The steep jump in some prices was in part justified as Diageo’s latest salvo on the war against flipping on the secondary market. Their attempts to snuff out the commoditization of highly sought-after limited editions may ensure that the purchasers are truly venerating the single malt whisky in the bottle. This stance extended to the festival bottlings of Lagavulin, Caol Ila, and Mortlach in 2013 from the Islay Jazz festival, Fèis Ìle, and the Spirit of Speyside festival. Bottling runs were upped into the thousands and prices were kept around £100 to prevent disappointment and curb profiteering.

Diageo is about whisky on a global stage. New innovations have bolstered their prospects across the Atlantic; Crown Royal Maple and Bulleit Bourbon 10 year old hit the ground running. Bourbon lovers will be intrigued to try the new Orphan Barrel whiskeys and Blade & Bow bourbon. Internationally, a pivotal moment was marked when Diageo gained control of India’s United Spirits Ltd. The prize was not Whyte & MacKay especially, rather the flourishing opportunities in accessing potential drinkers in the Indian subcontinent.

Sure, Diageo is huge, and their size makes some people nervous. But big moves require a big company. Substantial investment, a world-beating vision for future growth, and harnessing their guardianship of brand history to reach out to consumers have helped our Distiller of the Year deliver an incredible portfolio of whiskies to suit all pockets and preferences. — Jonny McCormick

photo credit: Keith Hunter Photography

Whisky Advocate Award: Lifetime Achievement

Sunday, December 22nd, 2013

Michael Urquhart

Managing Director, Gordon & MacPhail

M. Urquhart_Gordon & MacPhail CREDIT John PaulMichael Urquhart, son of George Urquhart and grandson of John Urquhart, joined the family firm of independent whisky bottlers Gordon & MacPhail in 1981. His grandfather started work at the little grocer’s shop in Elgin in 1895, just a year after they first opened their doors.

“Mr. George,” Michael’s father, launched the ever popular Connoisseur’s Choice range in the 1960s. George’s three sons Ian, David, and Michael followed him into the company, along with Rosemary Rankin, John Urquhart’s granddaughter. Shortly after the firm’s centenary, Benromach distillery reopened under their ownership and continues to grow.

For the whisky community, the unrivaled release of the Generations Mortlach 70 year old 1938 and Generations Glenlivet 70 year old 1940 shone like a beacon around the world. It was Michael who led the team that designed and launched these exceptional whiskies. The Mortlach decanter #1 was gifted to Queen Elizabeth II and is proudly displayed in the National Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh.

Michael is impeccably well-mannered and gracious company, yet he commands instinctive, razor-sharp business acumen too: what better qualities to represent Scotland and Scotch whisky around the world? A Master of the Quaich, Michael’s tireless energies are focused on driving forward exports of Scotch whisky, particularly Benromach, to new and existing markets. This ensures he is constantly traveling to the fifty or more markets they supply. His vitality is enviable; with a spring in his step, he’ll greet you with a recent anecdote along the lines of ‘last week, when I was in Russia’…or was it Taiwan, or perhaps Vancouver? No wonder the company was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise: International Trade in 2013, repeating the honor they received in 2009.

He is the last of George Urquhart’s sons to manage Gordon & MacPhail. The next generation are already playing their part in this unique family business and one day they’ll be in charge, but for now, we salute Michael Urquhart’s distinguished achievements. —Jonny McCormick

Photo credit: John Paul


John Walker Odyssey Rocks (but gently)

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

Johnnie McCormickJonny McCormick climbed aboard John Walker’s boat and had some whisky. Here’s his log entry.

3 McCormick_John Walker Voyager in Port of Leith 3Captain Mark Lumley safely berthed The John Walker & Sons Voyager at the Port of Leith in Edinburgh, completing its Grand Tour of Europe. The luxury ocean-going yacht has been refitted as a floating Johnnie Walker House for this epic journey, which began last year with a 15 stop tour of the Asia-Pacific region. It has been exquisitely designed to tell the story of Johnnie Walker and the dynasty of master blenders that followed in his wake. Tom Jones, Johnnie Walker’s global ambassador, has been aboard for the duration of the journey. He estimates that he has personally conducted tastings for more than 14,000 drinkers on board and he’s not finished yet.

The focus of the endeavor is to launch the John Walker & Sons Odyssey, originally envisaged as a luxury whisky for the Asian market but one that has exceeded Diageo’s expectations around Europe too. Can it repeat that success in America too, I wonder? Arguably, the Voyager is acting as a flagship not just for Johnnie Walker but for Scotch whisky as a whole. As it docks at each global destination, this glamorous spectacle helps attract new people towards trying whisky, something we should all support as whisky drinkers. Once they’ve found their way in, we know they will be just fine exploring wherever their palate takes them.8 McCormick_John Walker & Sons Odyssey

Not everyone spotted the subtle shift in emphasis when the Johnnie Walker Blue Label King George V edition was repackaged as John Walker & Sons King George V. Now Odyssey weighs anchor in the open sea between KGV and The John Walker and there were hints of more whiskies to follow. The bottle has that perpetual rocking motion of the Johnnie Walker Swing bottle but with a gentler amplitude due to its higher center of gravity. Oh, and before you ask, it’s $1,000 a bottle.

Intriguingly, it’s a triple malt, the first blended malt whisky to be created in the JW range since Green Label became extinct in most markets. Not to mention a technical challenge for master blender Jim Beveridge. “I’m a blender, I value grain enormously, and I had to think very strongly when asked to make this a blended malt,” he admitted. Blended malt whiskies are a relatively uncharted territory, though whiskies by Compass Box, Wemyss Malts, Monkey Shoulder, Big Peat by Douglas Laing, and the MacKinlay’s Rare Old Highland Malt (Shackleton’s whisky) have done much to change perceptions.

To be clear, as a triple malt, the volume of Odyssey is greater than three single casks. The particular volume of each release dictates the parcels of stock available to the blender. Feasibly, that could include different vintages and ages of stock. “If it’s a relatively low volume, I can go to a part of the stock that is really special. The flavor for Odyssey had to match that John Walker style, so I can choose to create a blend around those ideas.”

Jim Beveridge

Jim Beveridge

While the precise distilleries remain part of the mystique, Beveridge alludes cryptically, “The distillery character would be typical of a Speyside style which will work well with the Highland style, both of which do well with European oak. The rich, dry fruit is the European oak, the fresher autumnal, berry fruits; that’s from the distillery. That’s how it comes together.”

He will be faced with the challenge of achieving the same taste profile for future editions. Shrewdly, this doesn’t commit him to only using stock from the same three distilleries. “We’ve got over eight million casks to choose from,” he noted, “and there are very few that could be used to make this particular blend. It is old, but age isn’t a defining character. No age statement gives me the freedom to choose casks when they’re right.”

At present, there is not a 750 ml version for the United States but that is expected to follow if plans materialize for the yacht to undertake its third tour in the Caribbean and southern ports of the United States.

Let me pose some questions, as this opens up a new frontier. I’ve never seen a major release of a quality blended malt positioned for the luxury market quite like this, nor backed by this kind of leading-edge campaign. Moreover, it looks to have been strikingly successful to date. Will the bow wave effect of this ultra-premium offering challenge your attitude to the values associated with blended malt whiskies? What is your experience with other blended malt whiskies and the flavors they achieve? On your own whisky journey, is this your direction of travel? This could be the vanguard of Scotch whisky. Can blenders produce a synergistic experience superior to the component single malts without the grain? The floor is open…

Talisker: Home By the Sea

Thursday, April 25th, 2013

Jonny McCormickTalisker has unveiled a new million pound upgrade to its distillery visitor facilities. Jonny McCormick traveled to the Isle of Skye to take a look.

There are precious few signs that spring has arrived on Skye.  The fabric of the mountainside is a muted patchwork of exhausted greensand intense purples from the quiescent winter grass and last summer’s heather. A severe storm is grinding itself out on the Hebrides, with dense, savage rainclouds enveloping the summits of the Cuillins on the Minginish peninsula. Rain and snowmelt have swollen the many burns and streams which cascade down steep slopes into the lochs; the unpredictable routes of the brilliant white torrents reminiscent of the legs running down your whisky glass. I approach Talisker distillery after a five hour coast-to-coast drive, the car whipped by rain every single minute of the journey. Talisker: give me shelter from the storm.

Talisker DFW in better weather 2012

Talisker welcomed 60,000 visitors last year, the highest footfall of any Diageo-owned distillery in Scotland. This is a growing brand that continues to receive attention with smart updated packaging, premium limited editions, and new no-age-statement line extensions including Talisker Storm and the new Talisker Port Ruighe.  These are soon to be joined by Talisker Dark Storm, a new Travel Retail expression matured in heavily charred casks.

Talisker waves in the reception areaNo wonder the parent company has invested seriously in how the distillery in Carbost presents itself to the world. It’s styled by the tagline “Made By The Sea,” and as I enter, they are not kidding around. Carved waves surge out of the floorboards, lapping at information stations that encapsulate materials central to whisky making here: copper for the stills, the wood of the wormtubs, and the curious U-bend in the lyne arms with the skinny re-entrant pipe that loops condensed spirit back down into Talisker’s wash stills. Hand in hand are the rugged elements representing the strong winds driving the waves onto the rocks in Loch Harport, yachting sails, and rigging marking the maritime positioning fitting the distillery’s exposed setting.Talisker Wash Still #2 with U bend lyne arm

The stories are rich from the distillery’s origins in 1830 with Hugh MacAskill who orchestrated the Clearances on Skye, the dependency on old Clyde puffers to bring in raw materials and take away casks to the mainland, and the night of the major stillhouse fire in 1960. The new ground floor reception area is a triumph of contemporary design and a breath of fresh (salty) air compared with the former upstairs lounge area where expectant visitors used to sip a dram in the past, while tour numbers grew to a critical mass. The new space has come at the expense of part of the sea-facing Duty Free Warehouse #4, but the tour still offers a view into this working warehouse where the oldest casks on site are maturing (currently two casks filled in 1979).

Talisker offer a basic tour at £7 (around $10-11) and an in-depth tasting tour for Talisker slogans£25 ($38) that takes around two hours and includes a tasting of five different expressions plus an opportunity to try Talisker new make. This year, they are introducing something new with a ‘tasting without a tour’ session for repeat visitors and whisky enthusiasts who have seen it all before and just want to get their nose into the new products. The new tasting room has a colorful border of jumbled texts and fonts like a wood type block, each singing out a distinctive flavor descriptor; honeycombs, smoky bacon, wooden fish boxes….

This room will host the tasting tours and visiting media representatives like today, when a party of French journalists are attending a press launch for Talisker Port Ruighe. The space where the tours conclude is my favorite part of the redesign; a versatile room that can be partitioned by a blue swing panel covered in slogans of the key messages. The areas are bounded by vertical wooden planks, each laser cut with the names and flavors of a different expression of Talisker single malt whisky.

It’s the clever little touches that impress, such as the mirrors beside the narrow dunnage warehouse windows to increase the natural light and the sail ropes that hoist the vertical planks upwards like storm covers hiding cannon muzzles on a man-of-war. When the visitor season hits full swing later this summer, the tour guides will be conducting 30-35 tours per day with tour groups coming into this area for tastings every 15 minutes.

Talisker exterior in better weather 2012 2LRI’ve been visiting Skye since I was a boy and it still takes me a second to remember to use the Skye bridge and not pull off the road at Kyle of Lochalsh down to wait for the roll-on-roll-off ferry to make the short crossing to Kyleakin. Despite today’s cataclysmic downpour, I can reassure you that the Isle of Skye looks glorious in the summertime if you are planning a trip. The impressive new million pound facilities at Talisker Distillery will handsomely reward your efforts for making the journey. This display will leave you with a deeper understanding of the necessary characteristics embodied in the spirit of the Islanders: resilient, inventive, humorous, tough, self-sufficient, waterproof, patient, lucky.

Photographs by Jonny McCormick

Global launch of Glenmorangie Ealanta

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

Jonny McCormick attended the launch of Glenmorangie Ealanta late last month and sent in this report, but then we started announcing the Whisky Advocate Award winners and didn’t want to interrupt that process. Here’s what he learned from Dr. Bill Lumsden…and celebrated humorist Mark Twain.

Mark Twain gesticulates to the assembly with his cigar and proposes a toast, “To good friends, and the best single malt whisky I have ever tasted.” Looking quite spry for a 177 year old literary figure in his dapper cream suit, he raises a glass of Glenmorangie Ealanta to his lips. We are gathered in the elegant Palm Court of The Langham to hear Dr. Bill Lumsden reveal the first major new single malt whisky of the year, while outside London shivers in anticipation of an approaching snowstorm. So why has Dr. Bill invited the mustachioed malt Twainiac along toGlenmorangie Ealanta Launch entertain us?

Glenmorangie Ealanta is the fourth expression in their Private Editions range and has been matured for 19 years in heavily toasted virgin oak casks. The Gaelic moniker means “skilled and ingenious” and harks from the period in the early 1990s when Glenmorangie began their experimentations into wood. During his first year with the company, Bill set about exploring the stock and discovered a parcel of whisky in some of their prototype casks. You may recall the 2002 bottling of Glenmorangie Missouri Oak Reserve, a 1,000-bottle limited release that they filled into virgin charred oak barrels, their first ever release wholly matured in virgin oak and now a highly sought after collectible whisky tracked by the Whisky Advocate Auction Index.

“The charred oak gives a large amount of flavor really quickly,” Bill explains, “and while it may work beautifully for the oily, gutsy spirits distilled in Kentucky and Tennessee, it’s not ideally suited for our rather refined and delicate Scottish spirit. The challenge with that product was you didn’t quite have the same degree of finesse and delicacy that Glenmorangie normally has.”

Ealanta hails from the same melting pot of experimentation and trials into producing the perfect cask type but the crucial difference is the staves were toasted. “The Missouri Oak Reserve was charred rather than toasted,” Bill notes, “and the toasting just gives an altogether more subtle taste experience.”

Ealanta originated from very lightly peated barley made in the traditional way to make the traditional spirit, but the requirements for these 156 hogsheads specified slow growth oak that was air-seasoned, but only for twelve months, not the full eighteen or twenty-four months. As distillery manager, Bill ensured the casks were tucked away in Warehouse 3, one of their complex of old fashioned dunnage-style warehouses with thick stone walls, low ceilings, and damp earth floors, which are the perfect conditions for a long steady maturation of Scotch whisky.

Bill continues, “Rather than driving the extractives out of the wood, which you would get in a typical Kentucky heated warehouse, this allows the flavors in the wood to be coaxed out very gently, and it develops a lot of complexity.” The whisky is non-chill filtered and bottled in its natural color at 46%. It is dark in the bottle for Glenmorangie, though not quite acquiring the russet hues of Missouri Oak Reserve.

So what did this taste like 5 or 10 years ago? “Bizarrely, it was more oaky than it is now,” Bill says. “You leach a lot of the oak out fairly quickly, and then it has the ability to develop the fragrance, the complexity which helps to balance the flavors out. So it is altogether a more rounded product than it was, in my view.”

Dr. Bill lifts his glass to his nose, and describes what he smells: “Lots of influence of the oak there; toffee, butterscotch, maybe a hint of sugar-coated almonds or Brazil nuts. There are some nice ripe fruits in there, but this is more candied orange peel than the lemon blossom and orange found in Glenmorangie Original. Still, a citrus bite in there, but a sweet single cream-type sensation. On the first sip there is white chocolate, Glenmorangie Ealanta Launchsweet vanilla, and then a hint of menthol on the second sip. It is mouth filling, thick and full-flavored, fleshy and chewy. If you’re a fan of good wine then this is not so much Sauvignon Blanc, more Chardonnay. I can just find a hint of toasted oak on the finish, maybe a tiny bit of spice in there, cinnamon or clove.”

It’s a versatile whisky and we’re served a couple of Glenmorangie cocktails and Bill admits a surprising favorite serve, “This may cause some of you to gasp but I actually like drinking my Ealanta on the rocks with one or two cubes of ice. Whilst the ice will close down some aromas, it accentuates the rich, oaky vapors.”

I ask Bill what he has learned over the years about working with virgin oak. “Basically, unless you control it very carefully, it can really spoil your whisky in the same way that a long aging in a very old sherry cask can spoil it,” he says. “These days, I like the impact of new oak when I’m blending different types of casks — which I do routinely for Signet — but I’m certainly not planning to move over wholesale to using virgin oak.”

Now, the world can be divided by the way you pronounce the name of Glenmorangie (you stress the mor, not the rangie) but tonight, the MarkGlenmorangie Ealanta Launch Twain impersonator has taken a little time to get his tongue round the unfamiliar word in his slow, studied drawl and come up with a novel third way, calling it “Glenmurrungee” (to rhyme with “bungee”), to the enjoyment of the audience.

Twain published his first successful story in 1865, the year The Langham opened its doors. The writer was a guest there in 1873 and they now have a suite named after him. To bring it full circle, the toasted virgin oak for Glenmorangie Ealanta was sourced from Quercus alba felled in the Mark Twain Forest, Missouri’s 1.5 million acre national forest situated in the Ozark Highlands, named after the man himself in 1939.

Glenmorangie produced 3,433 cases to supply the United States, France, Japan, Taiwan, Germany, the United Kingdom, and the Scandinavian countries. But the experiment may not be over yet; I enquire into the fate of Dr. Lumsden’s 19 year old virgin oak casks. “These have been refilled with new make spirit,” he reveals, “and I’ve classified them in the stock system as second fill. Whether or not it gives that same character remains to be seen.” We can but hope.

The Mark Twain Cocktail: Glenmorangie Original, fresh lemon juice, sugar syrup, and aromatic bitters

The Sam Clemens Cocktail: Glenmorangie Ealanta, Noilly Prat, pomegranate syrup, and fresh lemon juice.

Photos courtesy of Phill Williams

Whisky Advocate writers appearing at WhiskyFest New York 2012

Wednesday, January 4th, 2012

In a previous post, I shared the exciting news about what’s in store for WhiskyFest™ New York 2012. The excitement doesn’t stop there. In fact, that’s just the beginning!  I’m thrilled to announce that we will have several  Whisky Advocate writers in attendance at the Grand Tasting events the evenings of Friday, October 26th and Saturday, October 27th and moderating our seminars during the day on Saturday, October 27th.

Dave Broom, Lew Bryson, Jonny McCormick, Dominic Roskrow, and Gavin Smith will be joining us for this exceptional whisky weekend. Whether you are in the trade (retailers, brand ambassadors, distillers, restaurant owners, etc.), a whisky aficionado, or new to the world of whisky, these are personalities you do not want to miss. You can find them all in one place this entire weekend.  Read more about them here and get all the details on WhiskyFest New York 2012 weekend here.

Coming soon: details on the seminar topics during the day-long program on October 27th.