Sunday, August 16, 2009

that's the spirit

We were over in Bath on Friday and I noticed that Waitrose were flogging the standard 10-year-old Glenmorangie for £22 (it's normally about £30), so I snapped up a bottle. The 12-year-old Highland Park is still very much alive and kicking, but it doesn't hurt to have a bit of variety in your drinks cabinet - also, for the first time in my life I now actually have a proper drinks cabinet, so I figure I may as well fill it up.

Here's a couple of notes as most of this background info is new to me and therefore fascinating:
  • For whisky-categorising purposes Scotland is divided into six regions: Campbeltown, Lowland, Highland, Speyside, Islay and Island. There seems to be some dispute over whether Island is a proper region in its own right, or just a sub-division of Highland. And Islay is of course an island, but produces such a gargantuan quantity of whisky that it gets to be a region all of its own. Campbeltown and Lowland seem to be barely hanging on by the skin of their teeth with just a handful of distilleries, so the map could change again some time soon.
  • Each region supposedly produces whiskies with some characteristics in common (for instance Islay malts such as Ardbeg are very peaty and smoky). The Macallan I had a while back is from Speyside, while the Highland Park is an Island malt (or Highland if you deem the whole sub-region thing to be heresy). Glenmorangie falls into the Highland region.
  • Emphasis on the second syllable, not the third, please (i.e. the "MOR", not the "AN"), if you want to keep onside with the aficionados.
  • Things are further complicated by the arcane rules governing the distilling and cask maturation procedures you have to follow in order to be legally allowed to brand your liquor "single malt whisky". Probably the key one is that the stuff has to be matured in wooden casks that have previously held other alcoholic drink (i.e. you're not allowed to just do it in a skip). In the vast majority of cases this means either ex-sherry casks from Spain, or ex-bourbon casks from the USA. These impart different colours and flavours to the whisky, so ones matured in, say, sherry casks (like, as it happens, both Macallan and Highland Park) will share some characteristics, even if they're from different regions (as Macallan and Highland Park are). Your standard Glenmorangie is matured in ex-bourbon casks (though countless other "expressions" are available, for more money of course).
  • Anyway, at some point you have to stop with the whisky scholarship and actually drink the stuff. Glenmorangie is much lighter-coloured and less sweet than the previous two (that'll be the cask thing), in fact it's almost creamy. All the "proper" whisky buffs say "vanilla" somewhere in their tasting notes, and I can see why, though I'm less sure that I detected the "turkey gravy", "parmesan" and "marshmallow spread". It's very good, anyway, as befits the largest-selling single malt in the UK (I believe Glenfiddich holds that title worldwide).

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