SPIRIT OF THE OPEN

UN­TAINTED BY PIL­LAG­ING TOURISTS, TAIN COM­BINES THE FINEST OF SCOT­LAND: RUGGED BEAUTY AND RO­BUST SIN­GLE MALTS, FINDS CHUMKI BHARAD­WAJ

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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)

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