Whisky Advocate

Global launch of Glenmorangie Ealanta

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

26 Responses to “Global launch of Glenmorangie Ealanta”

  1. two-bit cowboy says:

    Great stuff, Jonny. Thanks much for sharing it with us.

  2. Tadas A says:

    From the notes, it sounds very delicious!
    Who else is aging sctoch in virgin oak?

    • two-bit cowboy says:

      There’s a Deanston NAS Virgin Oak and a GlenDronach 14 Virgin Oak. Both are ncf and pretty tasty.

      Specifics on the Deanston’s pedigree are hard to come by except a note on the box that mentions an initial maturation period in virgin oak. 46.3%

      The GlenDronach matured 12.5 years in 2nd and 3rd-fill European oak sherry casks and then finished for 1.5 years in American virgin oak (5,760 bottles). I don’t detect the used sherry casks’ influence at all. 46%

      • two-bit cowboy says:

        Oops. The Deanston box talks about finishing in virgin oak, not initial maturation.

        John’s ratings for both are posted on this site.

        • Tadas A says:

          Very unusual for scotch industry. Seems this Glenmorangie is the only scotch aged full time (not just seasoned for a couple years) in the virgin oak. Would like to taste it and see what similarities it has to straight bourbon and rye whiskey which is solely aged in virgin oak.

          • two-bit cowboy says:

            My bet is you’ll find more differences than similarities. I’m guessing you’ll find the grain itself has more to say than the wood. I look forward to finding out myself.

    • Edward Willey says:

      There is another angle to the virgin oak – the barrels may well cost them less. Currently a sherry butt runs over US$1,000 if my source is to be believed.

      There is always a risk that a virgin oak cask will impart more undesirable flavors. In this case, it seems to have conveyed a good deal of spice, more so than you might imagine. Still, the whisky is NOT too woody, at least in my opinion. It’s like a gingerbread effect. Quite good.

  3. NP says:

    Of course the savings made on the 12 additional months of usual wood air-seasonning will be passed down to the consumer.

  4. Andre Girard says:

    Tasted the Ealanta on Whisky Fest NY back in october with Bill L. and his brand ambassador.
    This was a pre launch bottle-sample at this time.

    Maple/pecan pie, pastries, creme brulee, soft and a little bit of glycerol on the finale.

    Really liked the complexity and the softness of this one, but a release not very different than most of the last bottlings coming from Glenmorangie.

    As a 19yo bottle can’t wait to see the final price will be.

    Nicely done again. Great quality

  5. lawschooldrunk says:

    You know what mark twain said about glenmorangie: If you don’t like it, just wait a minute and they’ll come out with another bottle.

    • Jeff says:

      And I think the other one was: produce a good scotch at a fair price; this will gratify some people and astonish the rest.

  6. Edward Willey says:

    Friends and I had a regional director from a big distributor do a tasting for us last night and this was presented as a “mystery malt”. We did enjoy this. However, I do have to part company with those who think this is a good value. It’s not. Our price on the shelf is around $135. For that price, I can get a really delicious Duncan Taylor “Rare Auld” series (non-coloured, non chill filtered) Caperdonich or Bladnoch, for example, and even have some change left over. For around $100 I can get a pretty smashing Glendronach single cask sherried bottle. Heck, Old Pulteney 21 is about $100 at Spec’s.

    In other words, it’s just not worth the money. Pricing – at least locally in Dallas – seems to have more to do with the number (age) on the bottle than the relative quality of the juice inside. Perhaps the prices y’all are paying fall around $100. In that case, I might be tempted. So, while I applaud Glenmo for making a tasty and interesting whisky, I remain disappointed that they seem intent on making themselves into a luxury purveyor more than a really high quality whisky distiller.

    Of course, I freely admit that I am among the growing agitators who are beginning to bemoan the serious decline in quality and value of leading whiskies. For example, I sampled a Glenmo “Artisan” bottle not too long ago. Good? Yes, absolutely. Great? No. Cost? You don’t wanna know! I could barely choke down a basic Macallan 12 a couple of months ago. I thought the Balvenie 17 Doublewood was about $40 too expensive and seriously underwhelming. Unfortunately for Glenmo and the like, this leads my friends and me to seek out NEW brands to try. In other words, it’s good….for OTHER brands.

    • Jeff says:

      Excellent post, Edward, and I’m glad to see people speaking up about the widening gap between price and quality. It seems, these days, that distillery marketing is a no-holds barred game. Produce a whisky that can be arguably scored in the mid-80s or higher with a slick name/contrived back story, talk about casking (but not time in the cask) and you can charge extraordinary prices for whisky that is, as you say, in the grand scheme of things, often only good. Put some actual talking-point age on that product and put it in a fancy decanter and you’ve got an instant “classic” collector’s item, manufactured in the same way that American Idol manufactures celebrities, now supposedly “worth” thousands. Pricing is becoming less and less about a reasonable margin added to the actual cost of production and more and more about simply using PR to justify charging everything, and more, that traffic will bear.

      This is also related to the current “doublethink” concerning NAS expressions: the producers that tell you that “age doesn’t matter/high quality is maintained” with the new NAS offerings are also the same people who tell you that age matters very much in older offerings and that, therefore, you have to be prepared to pay premium prices on anything with 18 or more on the label. It’s one thing to have to sell younger stock due to increased demand, but to charge more for it using “logic” that contradicts the reasoning that backs up your pricing on age-statement expressions is both dishonest and insulting.

      Distillers know that they are promoting, and pricing, the “just competent” as “good”, and the” just good” as “fantastic”, and we need more people to call them on it or it’ll continue ad infinitum.

      • Edward Willey says:

        I guess I’m pretty lucky in that, while only 34 and having had a limited number of years to enjoy whisk(e)y, I’ve had the opportunity to try really extraordinary older (both cask age and bottling date) whiskies that simply blow away the vast majority of what’s available today. If one had never tasted his way through the discontinued 12 year wood finish series from Glenmo, which I did as a law student, one would never know how lackluster bottlings like Lasanta and Nectar d’Or really are compared to the old 12 yr madeira finish, for example. Bad? No. Great? Clearly not. As it turns out, I’d rather buy one of the new Glenfiddich Maltmaster double wood bottles, as opposed to Ealanta, and can do so for only $70. I’m just not sure that Ealanta is any better.

        Springbank 12/100 (yes THAT bottle)? Had it. Bowmore Voyage? Yup. Bowmore Seadragon? Delicious! Old HP30 (red box)? Awesome! Old HP25? Another awesome whisky. Dalmore 21? Yep! Laphroaig 30…Laphroaig 15…numerous bottles of the old Ardbeg 10…Bowmore 17 screen print bottle…other old HPs…old Macallans…old Glendronachs…”Single Islay” (instead of “Islay Single”) Laphroaigs…

        You know what? Even the old Glenmo 10 is GOOD. Legitimately good, i.e. I can see why guys got hooked on the Glenmo products.

        Viewed through that lens, it’s difficult for me to get excited about most new bottlings. Truthfully, I think Glenmo should be embarrassed to push out a “just pretty good” 19 year old product, along with some splashy and generally not helpful Mark Twain marketing that surely was the brainchild of some marketing dude, when for about $35 more I can – today – buy a really wonderful Glen Spey 21 that I feel merits a legitimate 90+ rating (94.5 in Whisky Bible). Now, I did feel that Ardbeg Day was more than worth the $75 or so I paid on average (with connections) per bottle. I’m thrilled to have 3 unopened. I really quite liked the Glenfiddich Malt Master bottle that just came out. Aside from a handful, however, I’m pretty underwhelmed.

        Truth be told, I’d LIKE to buy Ealanta. Yet I just can’t see parting with over $100 before tax. I wonder if I’ll cave? I suspect that I will do what I RARELY do and – gasp – buy a Glenfiddich instead. I will also go and buy a flight of dusty Glenmos for the future.

        • Jeff says:

          Good points. Just in passing, I have to say that I have serious reservations about using the Whisky Bible as a reference for purchasing, because even my relatively limited (of course) experience often disagrees widely with what’s set down. Your Glen Spey 21 at 94.5 ties it with JW Double Black and this puts both only half a mark higher than Black Grouse at 94, while JW Blue Label at 88 enjoys only the same margin over Red Label at 87.5 (and ties Red Label with Ardbeg Galileo). It is entirely subjective, I admit, but the scores imply a relationship in relative quality that I can’t depend upon.

  7. Edward Willey says:

    Me, too. I was surprised that I agreed with the WB on the Glen Spey. I do NOT think that JW Double Black or Black Grouse are worth even a 90. I had a chance to buy the 2008 bottling of the Brora 25, which scored highly in the WB, for a very good price, but just couldn’t convince myself. Perhaps I made a mistake.

  8. D. Houston says:

    Not to get off track, but people need to realize that the whiskey bible is just a fun guide to read of one mans subjective opinions. Everybody has there own tastes and biases towards certain brands ie. Jim’s love of Ardbeg which i can’t even drink. My daily drinkers such as Auchentoshan Three Wood and Bowmore Darkest get panned at every oppurtunity and i love them. As for the new Glenmorangie, i have all three of the others so i am sure i will continue to try them as long as the price remains reasonable, unlike the stunt that HP pulled with their Saint line up that saw the third bottling jump so high i could not try a sample let alone buy a bottle. Keep the price down Glenmo and i will continue to enjoy!

    • Edward Willey says:

      I would gladly take your Ardbeg and give you my Bowmore Darkest. I just can’t drink it and none of my whisky snob friends will take it! It has become a running joke. This just shows how subjective the game is.

      Based on what you’ve described, I think you should try – if it’s available in your area – the A.D. Rattray bottling of 20 year old sherried Bowmore. It is a terrific bottle packed with dark fruit flavors. Cask strength. All of my whisky friends liked it. Rattray’s Auchentoshan (16 yo?) released around the same time, however, was a dud. At one point my friend described it as “macaroni and cheese”. This was not a compliment. There’s a Duncan Taylor NC2 bottle of 18 yr Glen Scotia that is also pretty tasty.

    • Jeff says:

      With all due respect, while I agree that the Whisky Bible is, in fact, “just a fun guide to read of one man’s subjective opinions”, it certainly has pretensions of much higher levels of authority:

      From the back cover:

      “Jim Murray is the world’s best whisky writer” – Dominic Roskrow

      “The annual whisky guide which is regarded by connoisseurs as the most authoritative.” – The Sunday Times.

      From inside the front dust jacket flap:

      “Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible provides an unrivalled and invaluable source of reference to the consumer, the whisky industry and the drinks trade alike. In terms of whisky, this is the gospel!”

      From inside the back dust jacket flap:

      “Each drinks sector has its colossus: wine has Robert Parker, beer the late Michael Jackson, and whisky Jim Murray. To countless thousands Jim Murray is the first and last name in whisky.”

      Dominic Roskrow and The Sunday Times are, of course, entitled to their opinions, the only reservations I have personally being drawing a distinction between Mr. Murray’s ability to write about whisky and his ability to rate it, and what connoisseurs The Sunday Times talked to in coming to its conclusion.

      A (self?) declaration of being a “colossus” of whisky, particularly when you’re given the impression that Michael Jackson’s knowledge, relatively speaking, was limited to beer, must carry a hefty accountability, as does the claim of writing “the gospel” on the subject. Regardless of what anyone actually finds in the book, the author clearly considers himself an authority, and that his opinions are authoritative. This book is not marketed as just “one man’s opinion”, it claims, upon its own authority, to be “The Bible”.

      I can concur with the last quote (“To countless thousands Jim Murray is the first and last name in whisky.”), in that I believe it is true of many thousands who can’t be counted.

  9. two-bit cowboy says:

    Ealanta in hand, I grow more confused by the minute.

    Jonny said the whisky, “…has been matured for 19 years in heavily toasted virgin oak casks.” Later in his piece he quotes Dr. Lumsden alluding to the fact that a previous release (Missouri Oak Reserve) had been matured in charred casks, but Ealanta was matured in toasted casks because Glenmorangie is too “refined and delicate” to mature in charred casks.

    The Ealanta label says, “WOOD TYPE American White Oak Heavily Charred.”

    Johhy’s piece goes into detail about “oak that was air-seasoned, but only for twelve months, not the full eighteen or twenty-four months.”

    The box Ealanta comes in says, “The porous oak wood, air-dried for over 2 years….”

    Text on the box also leads a reader to believe that Dr. Lumsden “hand-selected” the wood for the casks used to age Ealanta. Sounds like the very same story the distillery told for Astar, but wasn’t Ealanta already in the casks (1993) when Dr. Lumsden started working for Glenmorangie (1995)?

    Conclusions:

    – Jonny’s a good journalist; he reported the story as it was presented to him.

    – Glenmorangie’s marketing and print quality control genies have done Glenmorangie and consumers a disservice, which is really a shame because Dr. Lumsden put some great whisky in the bottle. It’s delicious.

    • John Hansell says:

      It is delicious, and the label is very misleading. I feared the worst when I salw the “heavily charred oak” wording on the label–especially a spirit as light as Glenmo and that it was aged for 19 years. I had lunch with Bill Lumsden earlier this week in NYC and he set the record straight. A very enjoyable dram.

  10. Edward Willey says:

    Let me tell you…I just opened a decade old bottle of Glenmo 18 (In a tube, not box) and really cannot imagine paying the same price for the Ealanta as I did for this elegant gem of a whisky. The 15 probably was even better. Glenmo needs less marketing and more focus on quality. It wouldn’t hurt if the marketing wasn’t misleading.

    Even the old tall bottle of Aberlour I bought last week is better than any of the current Glenmo products. I think it’s time to revisit that bottle….

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