If there’s one thing you can say about the whisky scene right now, it’s never dull or boring. Each week there is a new release, or a new launch, or another event, or another tasting, or yet another whisky being sold for an outrageous price. So, regardless of where you fit into the whisky audience, there’s always something to keep an eye out for.
In the rapid-fire and seemingly peak randomness of the above happenings, it’s nice to know that we can at least look forward to some annual constants. Things like an annual whisky show. (Whisky Show, Whisky Fair, Whisky Live, etc). Things like a brand’s big annual celebration. (Ardbeg Day). And, for our tastebuds, things like an annual release – such as Glenmorangie’s annual release of their latest Private Edition offering.
The Private Edition range is a special once-off release that comes out each year to showcase a new variation of the Glenmorangie flavour profile. Through the use of different casks or wood regimes during maturation, or by using different varieties of barley (or different peating levels), the usual Glenmorangie DNA is given a tweak and a nudge to explore new and – without fail – delicious flavour territories.
Six previous releases define the Private Edition range, namely the PX Sonalta, Finealta, Artein, Ealanta, Companta, and the Tusail. (You can click directly on the links for the releases that Whisky & Wisdom has previously reviewed). For 2016, the seventh release in the Private Edition range is the Milsean. Pronounced meel-shawn, the word is Scots Gaelic for sweet things. And it’s one of the most aptly-named whiskies I can recall, because – in the words of Yoda – sweet, this one is.
Debate can (and will) run for eternity as to whether it was Glenmorangie or Balvenie that pioneered wood finishes, but if the consensus was that David Stewart at Balvenie “invented” it, it was certainly Glenmorangie that took the ball and ran with it to the try line. And, with Dr Bill Lumsden in the driver’s seat, you can be certain that any finishing regime undertaken by Glenmorangie will be complex, detailed, and well-reasoned. Milsean is no exception.
Milsean is a finished whisky (or extra matured, if you prefer), with regular Glenmorangie spirit matured in the usual ex-bourbon casks for 10 years before being transferred to the finishing casks for a further two-and-a-half years. In this case, the casks involved are ex-Portuguese red wine casks. Mind you, a mere red wine cask finish would be too simple and passé. It’s been done. No, prior to re-filling the red wine casks with the already-matured Glenmorangie spirit, the casks were re-toasted with live flame. In Lumsden’s words, the casks were still “moist, wet and dripping” with the wine when the toasting was carried out, thus roasting and caramelising the sugars into the wood. The result is an outrageously sweet Glenmorangie that will have those with a sweet tooth aching for more. It’s also no accident that the packaging for the Milsean looks somewhat akin to a lolly shop’s livery or a Christmas candy cane.
Of course, it goes without saying that Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s Head of Distilling & Whisky Creation, is the man behind the magic. Spend any time with Bill, and you’ll quickly get amazing insights into his thoughts on whisky and the complex processes behind squeezing the best out of each component in the whisky making caper. And so it was a real (and rare) treat to have Dr Bill back in the country – as always, for too short a visit – to help launch the Milsean in Australia.
A tasting and presentation was organised for the media on the Tuesday night in March, whilst a more intimate dinner was held the following evening. Held at Toko, a very hip and visually stunning Japanese restaurant in Surry Hills, it was wonderful to spend time and chat with the good Doctor again. The menu was amazing, and the many dishes served paired wonderfully with the Glenmorangie drams that flowed during the evening. (The Original, Nectar d’Or, Milsean, the 18yo, and Signet).
But what of the whisky itself? Yes, the Glenmorangie signature and fingerprints are here, but it morphs and flies off into wonderful realms of sweetness and complexity – in so many different forms. The nose offers caramel chews, boiled lollies, Christmas candy canes (yes, hints of peppermint and rock), toffee and spice. On the palate, the mouthfeel is sweet and juicy (not at all dry or tannic), and delivers a kaleidoscope of sweets and lollies. Spend some time with this, and you’ll soon be reminiscing about the bags of mixed lollies you used to get from the school tuckshop when you were a kid. The palate is the perfect length, and – despite the sweetness – is never cloying or heavy. It’s been bottled at 46% ABV and is non-chillfiltered.
It’s not often I reach for a water jug when enjoying a single malt, but Milsean is one of the few whiskies that does really benefit from just a few drops of water. It’s a relatively closed whisky neat, but opens up and really reveals its treasures with a wee splash of H2O.
Do not misinterpret the above and dismiss the constant references to sweetness as meaning one-dimensional. No, this is as complex as any Glenmorangie doing the rounds, and it satisfies on so many levels. It’s a versatile whisky, too: Light enough to work as an aperitif, bold enough to stand up to food, and sweet and heavy enough to work as a digestif or to actually be the dessert. Top marks from me, and (yet another) doff of my cap to Dr Bill for an inspired and successful creation.
5000 cases of Milsean have been produced for the world, from which Australia has received an allocation of 200. This amazing whisky is available at a very appealing $150 (excellent value for a whisky of this calibre and quality) and is available through specialist, select retailers and from the Moet Hennessy Collection online.
Sincere thanks to the team at MH and EVPR and to Jess, Garth and Rebecca for their generosity and hospitality.