First of all, it is snowing as predicted in Chicago this Friday afternoon. It started out conventionally moving in from the west, but now the snow appears to be blowing in from the east, suggesting that whatever lake effect we’re going to get is kicking in. So this is where it gets interesting.
The forecasters still think this won’t be a huge big deal here in the city, maybe 2 to 4 inches. But just about 30 miles away, normally within eyeshot of this 30th floor observatory in which we live, is a snow belt in northern Indiana, where they could get upwards of a foot if this develops as expected. That’s yer lake-effect snow for you.
Since it’s already a cold day, and bound to get much colder behind this little front that is causing the snow, it seems like a good time to talk about whisky. I had the pleasure last night of attending a lecture and tasting on Glenmorangie, a single-malt Scotch distillery that is well-known for using different kinds of barrels to create interesting riffs (known to whiskey-philes as “expressions”) on their Glenmorangie Original.
The event was staged at the supermarket-sized outlet of the big Binny’s liquor store chain, the one that is located at the southern end of the Lincoln Park community. (For those of you who are REALLY familiar with Chicago, this is the one near North Avenue that used be the anchor store for the Sam’s chain before it was bought out by Binny’s a few years ago.)
The lecture was conducted by Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s head of distilling and whisky creation (who said his title comes from a doctorate in biochemistry). Speaking with what was clearly a Scottish accent but not one that required subtitles, Lumsden held everyone’s attention for 90 minutes, which is no mean trick when the event includes generous samples of seven different bottlings of whisky. It would have been fun to have brought a decibel meter to some of the tasting events I’ve attended just to record how the sound volume progressively increased with the consumption of each sample.
Lumsden dotted his talk with flashes of wit, as when he noted that whisky-making was affected positively by Scotland’s climate conditions, which he explained were “f***ing freezing all the time.” But most of the time he spent telling you just about anything you could possibly want to know about Glenmorangie’s whisky.
I have to disclaim here that I am not a total noob when it comes to Glenmorangie. I’ve sampled enough of their wares at past Chicago Whisky Fests and other events, and have had the occasional bottle in the house, to know that I have a generally favorable view.
So here’s what I learned last night…
* As suggested earlier, most of Glenmorangie’s expressions start out as Glenmorangie’s 10-year-old Original. If you are just getting a feel for single-malt Scotch, the Original is a good place to start.
One of the biggest differences among single malts is how much time the malted barley spends over peat smoke before going into the fermenter. (Peat, if you’re totally unfamiliar, is organic turf that is cut out of bogs in places like Scotland and Ireland and burned for fuel.) While the big smoky whiskies produced by a number of distilleries are an acquired taste and can be off-putting to newcomers, Glenmorangie is lighter and sweeter. If you find Glenmorangie is too strong for you, then you probably aren’t going to be a fan of single-malt Scotch in general.
* Like many Scotch whiskeys, Glenmorangie is first aged in American oak barrels that were used to age bourbon. (American whisky makers, to call their product “bourbon,” can only use barrels once to age the beverage.) But Glenmorangie’s claim to fame is that after several years in the ex-bourbon barrels, the liquid is transferred to barrels that were formerly used to age wine.
For instance, the Lasanta is finished in Spanish sherry casks, the Quinta Ruban in Portuguese port casks and the Nectar d’Or in French sauterne casks. I’ve long been fond of the Quinta Ruban because it picks up some dark chocolate flavor characteristics during the aging process, and my opinion was confirmed at the tasting. That doesn’t mean you won’t like one of the other expressions better, as the taste and nose (scent) differences are for the most part pretty subtle.
* One of the reasons to go to tasting events such as this is that they often break out some of their higher-end stuff. I’m sure I was sharing space with some folks who can afford to drop a cool couple of Benjamins on a bottle of booze, but for me, it’s a nice opportunity to see what I might have been drinking regularly if I’d chosen a more lucrative career than journalism, something like creative destruction.
At the lower end of the upper end is this year’s Glenmorangie Private Edition, labeled Artein. This is whisky that is finished in barrels that previously aged “Super Tuscan” red wine from Italy. With a taste profile of berries and flowers and mint, this is a luscious glassful. Given that is it definitely sipping whisky that should last you a while, the $75 price tag that Binny’s was charging isn’t too severe. Availability is an issue, though, as these special productions tend to sell out fast.
I am very fond of older whisky, as I love that rich dark color and the caramel notes that the liquor picks up from spending a lot of time on wood. So the 18-year-old Glenmorangie, finished in sherry cask, is just my speed. Since it’s pushing $100 a bottle, I’ll put it on my “things to buy if I hit a jackpot” list, but if you want to impress someone with a special bottle for a special occasion, this is a nice choice.
And then there’s Glenmorangie’s expression for the 1 percent, known as Signet, which was going for $180 a bottle yesterday. It is made with a variety of malt known as chocolate malt, which is dark roasted like coffee, with the expectable result that the finished product, which also spends time in sherry cask, has profound overtones of dark chocolate and coffee flavored with caramel. Lumsden compared its flavor profile to that of tiramisu, which was pretty apt.
That’s all I’ve got. If you’ve tried Glenmorangie and would like share your thoughts, or want to weigh in with your favorite single malt, comment away. This is the first of what should be many such meanderings, given that Chicago Whisky Fest is just a month and a half away.