Global launch of Glenmorangie EalantaFebruary 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 to 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, sweet 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 Mark 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