Unlike the world of wine, the universe of single malt Scotch is tightly circumscribed. Scotland is a small country with limited land and resources, and new labels seldom appear on the market. When one does materialize it makes news, particularly if the producer has an impeccable pedigree.
Glenmorangie is one of the grandest of the single malts. Located in Tain in the Scottish Highlands, the distillery draws its water from the nearby Tarlogie Springs. Although whisky has been produced there for centuries, Glenmorangie really came into its own only after World War II, under the direction of resident genius and blender Dr. Bill Lumsden. Prices start at $40 for the 10 year-old Original, and climb to $105 and $385 respectively for the 18 and 25 year-old bottlings.
“Dr. Bill is one of the icons of the industry,” observes U.S. brand ambassador David Blackmore. “He’s constantly innovating, and has up to 25 experiments going on at any time—although, of course, he only releases the successful ones.”
Most notable among those experiments is the Private Edition series. Now in its sixth year, it began with Sonnalta PX, a whisky that finished its aging process in used Pedro Ximenez Sherry casks. Ealanta, the fourth in the series, beat out 4,500 other entries to be named The World’s Best Whisky in late 2013 by Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible. This year’s release is Tusail ($110), available in limited quantities around the country.
The key to Tusail is a unique variety of winter barley called Maris Otter, which was developed for the brewing industry in 1965 and used primarily for the production of high-end English ale. Although known for its ability to create complex flavors, Maris Otter gradually fell into disuse due to its low yields, but was revived by Lumsden according to Glenmarangie’s policy of “sacrificing yield for quality.” According to Blackmore, the whisky was distilled and put into cask in 1994.
The nose of Tusail is brash and forward, with a nutty aroma accented by scents of wildflowers. It enters the mouth smoothly, with a middle palate offering flavors of stone fruits, bitter orange, mocha and ginger. The finish is lingering, complex and languorous. Enjoy it in a snifter, either neat or with a single ice cube.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); for more information, go to amazon.com