SPIRIT OF THE OPEN
UNTAINTED BY PILLAGING TOURISTS, TAIN COMBINES THE FINEST OF SCOTLAND: RUGGED BEAUTY AND ROBUST SINGLE MALTS, FINDS CHUMKI BHARADWAJ
Toast the rugged beauty of the Scottish Highlands with a robust single malt
Memory plays a powerful raconteur; clawing its way through the nostalgia- encrusted tangle of time and space. But mine seems trapped somewhere between the haunting nectar of Scottish beauty and the ambrosial quality of whisky’s amorous charms. The brooding melancholy of the Highland’s desolate landscape makes whisky not just the perfect compliment but its rightful companion; a languorous inheritor of heritage and hedonism. No wonder whisky sourced its journey through this theatrically raw land. Truth be told, whisky has never been my poison of preference but in Scotland, it’s almost a moral imperative to relish and reflect. THE GLENMORANGIE DISTILLERY IN TAIN HAS BEEN PRODUCING ITS SINGLE HIGHLAND MALT SCOTCH WHISKY SINCE 1843; CRAFTING THE DELICATE SPIRIT ARE THE LEGENDARY SIXTEEN MEN OF TAIN
“You should be able to nose the aromas of dried fruits and flowers and taste honey, dates and figs” he suggests in his lyrical Scottish accent. Dr Bill Lumsden, whisky impresario and head of distilling and whisky creation for Glenmorangie leads the tasting. The burnished gold sloshes around like ensnared sunlight in the glass. However, I can only smell nostalgia and taste warmth. Whisky is irreverent; it revels in the stubborn anthem: ‘ to each, his own’. I trust my instincts and decide that the unctuous velvety after taste of the rare 18 year old is disarmingly alluring.
For a complex, layered concoction, scotch whisky is a surprising confluence of three simple ingredients: water, barley and yeast. It is the process of maturation thereafter that contours the lively flavours that define each one. The distillery ( located in Tain) uses Scottish grown barley that is lightly peated during malting, and water from its own Tarlogie Springs. The natural springs is one of Glenmorangie’s most prized assets since the water filtered through this landscape alternates between porous limestone and sandstone, giving this unique, mineral- rich water a ‘ hard’ quality that contributes to the fresh and delicate character of the spirit.
While the pursuit of perfection is a compelling journey, great whisky belies the repetition of its manufacturers and defies the familiarity of its ingredients; an alchemy that Glenmorangie believes is the reflection of the glorious marriage of wood and whisky. Since almost 60 per cent of Glenmorangie’s distinct flavour actually comes from the casks, the choice of cask selection becomes rather crucial.
Glenmorangie uses primarily white American oak casks that have previously contained bourbon. The majority of the casks are first fill ( that is, they have never before matured Scotch whisky). For their extra matured products, hand selected port, sherry or wine casks from the leading vineyards and chateaux of Europe are used to complement the complex characteristics of Glenmorangie and create varying expressions of taste and finesse.
However, but this wasn’t always the case. Wedged between the glory of a 170- year- old tradition and the inspiration of evolution, lays the company’s claim to the world’s first wood finished whisky ( whereby the spirit is matured in a cask of a particular origin and then spends time in a cask of a different origin; generally six months to two years).
It was only in 1987 that Glenmorangie launched its first Wood Finished whisky, more commonly known as the 1963 vintage. It was matured in American oak
casks, and only then extra- matured in selected sherry oak casks that gave it its full- bodied texture with rich, sweet and spicy aromas. Then, in 1994, they released their second expression— the Glenmorangie Port- Wood Finish. After a 10- year maturation period in American whisky casks, it spent an extra two years absorbing the subtle flavours from port pipes. This matured the whisky into a voluptuously smooth single malt with an intriguing balance of velvet and crisp cool.
The first Wood Finish Range was launched in 1996 with a collection that included both the sherry and port wood cask expressions along with the addition of Madeira casks. While the Glenmorangie Quinta Ruban ( from the Quintas or wine estates of Portugal) is the darkest and most intense whisky extra matured in ex- ruby port pipes with a complex balance of sweet and dry flavours; the Glenmorangie Lasanta is a spicy, full bodied whisky extra matured in ex- Olorosso Sherry casks from Jerez in Spain; and the Glenmorangie Nectar D’Or is a sumptuous warming whisky that has completed its final two years in ex- wine barriques from Sauternes in France .
Although the elegance of Glenmorangie’s speckled expressions may vary with palates and patrons; in the intimacy of self- imposed exile, nothing inspires silent companionship more evocatively than a glass of single malt, if memory serves right.
THE SIGNET IS THE RICHEST WHISKY IN THE RANGE AND IS MATURED IN SOME OF THE WORLD’S MOST EXPENSIVE BESPOKE CASKS ( LEFT)
THE EIGHT ELEGANT GLENMORANGIE SWAN- NECK STILLS ARE THE TALLEST IN SCOTLAND, LENDING A DISTINCTIVE COMPLEXITY AND LAYERED FLAVOUR TO THE WHISKY ( LEFT)