This month Charles reviews the Glenmorangie Dornoch, exclusive to World of Whiskies.
A new expression from Glenmorangie is always an occasion for celebration, and Dornoch is no exception, especially when it is a limited edition!
The distillery stands on the southern shore of the Dornoch Firth, a spacious sea estuary – hence the name - which, as the owners explain, is “… inspired by the unique natural environment around the Distillery”. Further, “a donation from every bottle will be given to the Marine Conservation Society for the Protection of the Dornoch Firth”.
Described as “one of the least well-known beauty spots in Scotland”, the Firth is a Special Protection Area (SPA), with a large number of resident waders and shore birds (including Ospreys), and many winter visitors (including Bar-tailed Godwits, Teal, Wigeon and Curlews by the hundred).
The ancient Royal Burgh of Dornoch stands on the north side of the Firth and apparently derives its name from the Gaelic word dorn, a fist-sized pebble, suitable for being thrown at enemies! It has a charming, if somewhat austere, cathedral, built in the 1200s, and a bishop’s palace, built around 1500, which is now an excellent hotel with one of the finest selections of rare and vintage malt whiskies in the country.
The role of the location in relation to the flavour of mature whisky is much debated. Some say it makes no difference, others that it plays a part in creating the character of a single malt. They argue that, since the spirit ‘breathes’ through the walls of the cask – losing harsh alcohols (the ‘angels’ share’) and absorbing moisture (and possibly other flavours) from outside. Indeed, one master blender once told me of an investigation he had conducted into this with thirty hogsheads of Highland Park single malt, all as similar as could be (refill American oak). Ten were left to mature in Orkney, where the distillery is located; ten were taken to Invergordon Distillery on the Cromarty Firth (not far from Glenmorangie), and ten to Edinburgh. After ten years, samples of the casks at each location were vatted together and compared. He assured me that they were discernably different.
Notwithstanding this, there is no doubt that the style of the bonded warehouses does play a role in the way the whisky matures. Two kinds of warehouse are used: traditional ‘dunnage’ warehouses are low, earth- or gravel-floored, with casks racked three-high, and modern ‘racked’ warehouses, where the casks are held within a steel framework and stored up to twelve high (on their sides) or six high (standing on pallets). Glenmorangie Distillery has ten dunnage warehouses and four racked.
Dunnage warehouses are cooler and damper than racked warehouses. In the former, the strength declines but the volume remains high; in the latter - being drier and warmer - the opposite is the case, and maturation tends to be faster.
Dr. Bill Lumsden, the creator of Glenmorangie Dornoch, has set out to reflect both the tranquillity of the Firth and its wind-swept coastline. The spirit is matured in American oak to start with, then re-racked into Amontillado Sherry butts and finished in one of the dunnage warehouses. He writes: “The new make spirit, with its swirling undercurrent of peat adds an unexpected dimension of distant sweet smoky apples, complemented by vibrant sweet nutty flavours layered upon the rich warm toffee and dried fruits that only an Amontillado wood can impart”.
Pale straw in colour, and with a faint scent of sweet hay to start with, soon becoming fruitier (gooseberry fool, apple puree), sweeter (soft meringue) and slightly caramelised (toasted marshmallow). An attractive smooth texture and a very sweet taste, drying slightly in the finish, which is faintly spicy. A little water introduces a trace of incense on a base of fatty roast pork with sage and caramelised apple sauce. The texture is not quite so voluptuous, nor taste so sweet, at reduced strength, and the finish now slightly shorter, though pleasantly warming. A most unusual malt.