Think you know Glenmorangie? Think again.
From the flagship Glenmorangie Original and its extra-matured series of 12YO expressions (Lasanta, Quinta Ruban and Nectar D’Or) to the Glenmorangie 18-Year-Old and Signet, the distillery’s core range has not changed much in the past five or six years. However, that’s not the case with its Private Edition range of limited-edition whiskies.
The Private Edition range of whiskies has always been known for being uniquely experimental. There have been eight bottlings in this annual limited edition series so far, starting with the first one in 2010, Sonnalta PX, which was extra-matured in Spanish ex-Pedro Ximenez (PX) casks. Some of the more memorable releases in the range include 2016’s candy-flavoured Milsean, the wine cask-finished Companta and Artein, and last year’s Bacalta, which was extra-matured in bespoke, sun-baked casks which once contained Malmsey Madeira wines.
While many of Glenmorangie’s expressions, either in the core range or the Private Editions, have been unique in their own right, most of them have had one thing in common – they were all first matured in ex-bourbon American oak casks. The only significant exception so far has been the highly-acclaimed Ealanta, a 19-year-old malt matured in virgin American white oak casks from the Mark Twain National Forest in Missouri, which was picked as 2013’s Whisky Of the Year in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible.
This makes the recently released ninth Private Edition, Glenmorangie Spios, truly unique. Spios is the first Glenmorangie ever to be fully matured in American ex-rye whiskey casks, marking one of the rare official releases NOT to be matured in bourbon barrels.
“Every year, we try to experiment with using a different technique for each Private Edition release to try and create something different. Sometimes it’s finishing it in a particular cask, sometimes it’s through experiments at the distillery by changing the barley or production technique.
“But sometimes, not so often, it’s a full-maturation in a particular cask. And that’s what Spios is,” said Brendan McCarron, Glenmorangie’s head of maturing stocks, who was in Kuala Lumpur recently to conduct tastings of the new expression.
“This is the same spirit used to make the Original and the other expressions. They are still fully matured in American white oak, but the difference is the Original is matured in casks that used to hold bourbon, while Spios uses casks that previously held American rye whiskey.”
In case you’re not familiar with rye whiskey, this is a somewhat underrated and almost forgotten style of American whiskey that is coming back into fashion in recent times thanks to a rise in craft spirits in the US.
The idea for Spios came about 20 years ago when Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of distilling and whisky creation, was visiting a US cooperage to try and buy bourbon casks, and was given a glass of rye whiskey. “He had never had rye whiskey before, and at the time, rye was being made, maybe, by one distillery,” he said.
Lumsden, who is well-known in the Scotch industry for his experiments with whisky maturation, figured that the Glenmorangie new-make spirit would taste amazing in an ex-rye whiskey barrel.
“It took him another 10 years after that initial drink for him to get his hands on a batch of rye casks to do that experiment!” said McCarron.
“We bought the casks for Spios a long time ago, and only right now, rye whiskey is growing in popularity again, after almost disappearing completely.”
According to him, rye whiskey is “much punchier” than bourbon. “It’s got a much bigger flavour impact. It’s drier, spicier, and more savoury. And these are the flavour notes we were hoping to get out of these casks by maturing Glenmorangie in it,” he said, adding that the name Spios is Gaelic for “spice” and pronounced “spee-oss”.
“When we talk about spice, we’re not talking about fresh spices like chilies or ginger. This is dried spices, intense crushed up, powdered cinnamon, cloves, cumin, black pepper … those kind of rich intense spicy notes,” he said.
Those spicy notes certainly come through prominently in the whisky. You get those distinct rye whisky spice notes on the nose and the entry palate, but the signature sweet, light floral fruitiness of the Glenmorangie spirit comes through more on the palate, before the spice kicks in again on the finish.
With such a strong release for its ninth Private Edition, anticipation for next year’s milestone 10th release has obviously been heightened. While McCarron refused to divulge any details, he did promise it will be a memorable whisky. “It’s the 10th year, and we’re going to do something big, something that really pushes our levels of innovation. It’ll be a classic Glenmorangie style, but we’re using a very different technique to make it. I can’t give away much more than that!”