Glenmorangie Spios

The whisky calendar is blessed these days to have annual events and annual releases that we all look forward to.  For example, Islay-philes hang out each year for the Feis Ile bottlings, and Ardbeg fans are always keenly anticipating May for Ardbeg Day and the release of the special Ardbeg limited edition that accompanies it.   For those who prefer a more typical “Highland” style of whisky, there is always huge interest in the annual release of Glenmorangie’s Private Edition bottling.  This year’s release – Private Edition No. 9 – is called “Spios”.

For the uninitiated, Glenmorangie’s Private Edition range is a special once-off and limited release that comes out each year to showcase a new variation or interpretation on 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.  Some  within Glenmorangie, including Dr Bill Lumsden himself, (Glenmorangie’s Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation, and Whisky Stocks) have hinted or suggested that the Private Edition range showcases experimentation but, to my palate, the results are consistently too successful and too good to be mere experiments.  No, this is a product line that knows what it’s doing.  And for those who are curious, in terms of volume, the Private Edition range makes up less than 1% of Glenmorangie’s total annual production, so it is genuinely a very limited product.

Glenmorangie Spios – Matured 100% in American oak, ex-rye casks.

Eight previous releases make up the Private Edition range, namely the PX Sonalta, Finealta, Artein, Ealanta, Companta, Tusail, Milsean, and Bacalta.  Experimentation is a long-term exercise in the whisky world, with the results of any tweak in production or new cask filling not being fully realised until years after the fact and after maturation plays its role.  Of course, if the results are good, then replicating the experience resets and starts the process with – again – a return period of 10-12 years.  It would be nice to think that some of these Private Edition releases might one day form part of the core range but, as Dr Bill explained during the launch of Spios, some of them simply don’t have the quantities of materials or economies of scale to make this possible.

Spios is the Scots Gaelic word for “spice”, and the whisky itself showcases spirit that has been wholly matured in American oak (quercus alba) ex-rye casks.  Many associate finishing or “extra maturation” with Glenmorangie, but it’s worth re-iterating that Spios is wholly matured in the ex-rye casks – in this case, the casks evidently held and matured the rye whisky for six years before Glenmorangie acquired them.

Rye whisky (or whiskey, as is more commonly and appropriately referenced) once held court as America’s most-loved grain spirit.   However, tastes, palates, and traditions changed over the 13 years of prohibition, and when US distillers went back into production in 1933, rye had fallen from favour and the softer, sweeter tones of bourbon ruled the roost.   Interest in rye has been building again in recent years, arguably driven by the bar scene and its trendy use in cocktails, although – it must be said – the likes of Jim Beam, Wild Turkey and others have been churning out rye in healthy quantities for a few years now.  Anyone looking to “pigeonhole” rye or de-base it down to a singular descriptor invariably reaches for the word “spice” or “spicy” at some point (particularly when comparing it to corn-based bourbon), and so it is no surprise that Glenmorangie’s rye cask release is similarly named.

Dr Bill Lumsden & Brendan McCarron made a fine double act in launching the Spios

Repeating the successful format of last year’s Bacalta, Spios was launched simultaneously around the globe this year via a virtual tasting and audience with Glenmorangie’s Dr Bill Lumsden and Brendan McCarron.  Courtesy of a live hook-up, TV screens, internet cameras and microphones, Brendan & Dr Bill sat in the Whisky Creation room at Glenmorangie’s headquarters in Edinburgh, and were beamed directly to a number of gathered audiences around the globe.  The Australian launch shared a mutual session with Hong Kong, Seoul, Singapore, and Sydney.   After a shared address and tasting by Bill and Brendan to everyone, each city was then given an allocated slot to speak directly with the two gents, and to ask questions, which they both happily and helpfully answered.

The initial tasting, led by both gents, commenced with Glenmorangie Original, which set an important context for the night, given that most of the Private Edition range whiskies “start out” as Original and are then manipulated beyond this.  This was followed by Nectar d’Or, which again stamped its credentials as surely being amongst the most luxurious of readily-available whiskies on the planet.

And then came the star of the show:  The Spios.  So what of the whisky itself?  Well, happily, the new release was being freely poured out on the night, and yours truly spent some serious time getting acquainted with it.  The whisky is bottled at 46% and is non-chillfiltered.  Whilst it’s officially a No Age Statement, Dr Bill dropped enough hints on the night to indicate the whisky was around 10 years old, give or take.  Whisky & Wisdom’s tasting notes as follows:

Nose:  There’s no mistaking this is Glenmorangie, but the rye casks add unmistakable…um…spice!  Cinnamon, clove, mint, toffee are up front, followed by hay (straw?) and stale wood shavings.

Palate:  The signature Glenmorangie fruit is here, but there’s a lush wood smoke note evident that reminded me of smoked and/or cured meats.  The cereal notes never stray too far from centre, and there’s also spicy barley and weak black tea.

Finish: Long and intensely silky and smooth!  Some wood tannins come through at the very tail.

Comments:  As a Private Edition release, this has achieved exactly what it set out to do:  It’s a twist and a variation on the standard Glenmorangie theme.    There’s no denying that rye (as a category in itself) and rye-finished or rye-casked Scotch whisky is gathering traction (note Johnnie Walker’s recent foray into this field), and the results speak for themselves:  It’s good, tasty whisky.

As a suggested food pairing, Glenrmorangie nominates trying Spios with a chilli-infused dark chocolate.

As an aside, it is a stunning and rewarding exercise to go back and forth between the Spios and the Glenmorangie Original.  The Original is 100% matured in ex-bourbon casks, whilst the Spios spent its years in ex-rye.   When tasted side by side, the vanilla in the Original becomes very pronounced, and – almost on cue – the spice and the cloves in the Spios becomes extremely evident in its own right.

Spios will be available in Australia with an RRP of $165.


Well done, Dr Bill and Brendan – we look forward to Private Edition No. 10 !


The stink about sulphur

“The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn’t exist.”
The Usual Suspects, 1995

Substitute “whisky industry” for devil and “sulphur” for he and you’ll get a quick snapshot of what’s being discussed here.  Sulphur is one of the more confusing and least understood aspects in today’s whisky community.  Let’s cut through the taint and kill a few myths and misunderstandings…

Sulphur (as an element and in compound form) is present in whisky due to two sources.  One is natural, desirable, and is present in every malt whisky; the other is an accident, pretty much undesirable, and occurs only in some sherried whiskies.  The former is complex and actually difficult to discern; the latter is simple and sticks out like the Macallan distillery’s refurbishment budget.

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Ardnamurchan – The western jewel of Scotland

(Or everything you wanted to know about Ardnamurchan but were afraid to ask!)

In this digital age of whisky websites and social media activity, there are very few secrets left in the whisky industry.  Once upon a time, a new distillery would suddenly appear and no one knew much about it except for what might have been published in a subsequent book.  Today, by the time a new distillery’s first release is bottled, it seems we’ve all followed the journey of the distillery breaking ground; building the stillhouse; installing the stills; starting production; and filling the casks.  We’ve done the virtual tour of the distillery before the Visitor Centre has even opened its doors!

One of the primary reasons for this is simply because most of us will never get to make the journey to the distillery, and thus we live and drink vicariously through what we read and view online.   Consider, also, that not all distilleries are blessed by geography:  Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie, for example, are an easy bus ride from the big city centres of Glasgow and Edinburgh respectively, but things are trickier for the more remote distilleries that sit well off the tourist trail or are located on the fringes of Scotland’s reaches.

Ardnamurchan is one such distillery.  If you’re looking to start up a new distillery, your choice of location is fairly critical.  In addition to the most obvious requirement (i.e. a good water source), other considerations will be existing infrastructure, convenient access, shared resources, a ready-made tourist trail for visitors, and ease of transport for both the delivery of materials and the departure of spirit and filled casks.  So – with all these essentials being key to a successful distillery venture – why would you choose to locate your distillery in one of the most far flung, remote, and inaccessible parts of Scotland?  In the case of Ardnamurchan, the answer is pretty simple:  Because they can.

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Visiting the distilleries of Tasmania

As recently as 15 years ago, the term “Australian whisky industry” used to be a cute little phrase that vaguely referred to the activities of a few hobby-distillers, whose products were more curiosities than serious globally-acclaimed malts.

Today, nothing could be further from the truth: A swag of international awards; coopers and coppersmiths suddenly in constant work; an industry that supports visitor centres and regular tours; impressive investment in new stills and bondstores; and well-aged stock on the shelves of major chain liquor outlets.

Travelling to these distilleries and visiting them is not necessarily an easy task, particularly taking into account the rural likes of Limeburners in Albany, or Blackgate in Mendooran.  However, with the bulk of the action taking place in Tasmania, a quick trip to Hobart and its surrounds allows the whisky tourist to see quickly and in no uncertain terms that the Australian whisky industry is a force to be reckoned with.  So for those wanting a snapshot of the main Tasmanian distilleries, or for those thinking of touring the Apple Isle and paying our friends a visit, here’s your guide to the main players amongst Tasmania’s whisky scene:

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Johnnie Walker Select Casks – Rye Cask Finish

Keen observers of the malt whisky industry will have noted the kaleidoscope of ever-expanding and diversifying product portfolios amongst the various brands.   The days of a distillery featuring just a 12yo and an 18yo bottling are long gone…today it is de rigueur for serious distilleries to offer an entry-level NAS, a peated NAS, a 10yo with a wood finish, a 12yo, a 14yo port wood, a 15yo cask-strength, an 18yo sherry wood, a 21yo, a 25yo that no one can afford, and finally a release with a fancy gaelic name that will be mispronounced around the world.

Whether this is a good thing or a bad thing is subjective, and there are pros and cons on both sides of the argument.  The marketing departments argue that they need more bottles on the shelf of liquor stores and bars so that the brand stands out.  It also gives the warehouses and blenders flexibility with stock.  And, for the consumer, the range of choice, variance, and price points forever increases.  My personal view is that the industry is self-generating a consumer base that becomes increasingly fickle and with a shorter and shorter attention span, but that’s a piece for another day.

In the meantime, it’s been interesting to observe that the same pressures and marketing ideals have extended to the blends.  Even the most traditional blends are having to come out with variations and new expressions to maintain interest and keep up with the Joneses.  Or, in this case, the Johnnies.

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A Glenfarclas whisky not to miss?

So regular readers and subscribers will know that Whisky & Wisdom recently released its own private bottling of Glenfarclas.  A 9yo single-cask bottling from a European oak sherry butt, to be specific.  If you missed the original release details and the story behind the bottling, you can read it all here.

Anyway, many people no doubt saw this and may have been interested in acquiring a bottle – but I know what you’re thinking:  “Sure, he’s telling us it’s a great whisky, but how much weight or credit can you give to a whisky blog that’s spruiking its own bottling?  He’s obviously biased!”   Yes, that’s a fair call and I don’t blame those who’ve paused or held back from ordering a bottle because they’re waiting for an independent review or opinion.

Well, the good news is that the Whisky & Wisdom Glenfarclas has been “out there” for some time, and it’s been getting rave reviews everywhere.  As well as being available through the official Whisky Empire site (see below), the bottling is available by the dram in a few good whisky bars, and has also been picked up by a number of independent liquor retail shops and outlets.  Social media has been very busy, with lots of positive comments appearing on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

But for those of you who’d prefer to see some actual independent, unbiased old-fashioned written reviews, the good news is that a significant number of whisky bloggers and online food/drink critics have tasted the Whisky & Wisdom Glenfarclas and they’ve written glowing, rave reviews.

So, to save you the hassle of tracking all those reviews down, here are the ones I’m aware of at this point in time.  (No doubt others might appear as the bottling falls into more and more hands).   I’ll leave you to check out the below links in your own good time but, if and when you’d like to acquire a bottle or two for yourself, you can order directly from The Whisky Empire

Here are those great reviews for you to check out…



Amrut Spectrum

Previously whilst writing a feature article on Indian whisky and reviewing the excellent Paul John whiskies, I – perhaps a little flippantly – introduced the piece by explaining and asserting that Indian single malt whisky had not previously impressed me.   Prior to tasting Paul John, I had tried many expressions of Amrut over the years (my first back in 2009) and on a reasonably regular basis since.  The simple truth is that I have not tasted an Amrut that made me think, “Wow, this is a great whisky.”

Of course, whilst those comments set the scene for the subsequent article on Paul John, they also simultaneously raised a few eyebrows amongst Amrut fans, not to mention the wonderful folks at Alba Whisky, who are the local Amrut distributors within Australia.

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Ardbeg Dark Cove & Ardbeg Day 2016

Ardbeg Day is just around the corner again, which means it’s time to shake off the Autumn blues (or dust off your Spring hat if you’re in the northern hemisphere) and gear up for all the fun and excitement of Ardbeggian delights.

I’ve written much about Ardbeg’s history, the Ardbeg Committee and Ardbeg Day in the past.  So rather than fill up space by repeating it all on this page, you can re-visit those pieces here (Ardbeg Day 2015 report), here (Perpetuum review) and here (Ardbeg Day 2014 & Auriverdes review) if you need to fill in any blanks.   For the purposes of a concise read, let’s cut straight to the chase and get stuck into Ardbeg Day and the annual release for 2016.  If you’re here just to read the review on the Dark Cove release, scroll further down.

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The three stages of your attitude to Glenfiddich: Like – Hate – Love

Catchy article title, eh? Not sure my former editor would approve of it – it’s hardly a flowing headline.  But there’s not really a  more succinct way to say it.  I’ll elaborate:  In my opinion, I reckon whisky drinkers all go through three very distinct stages in their appreciation of Glenfiddich.   And, depending on what stage you’re up to, this tremendously impacts your attitude to Glenfiddich.   Curious?  Let’s look into this…

Depending on how old you are and when you tried a single malt for the first time, there’s a good chance that your maiden dram was a Glenfiddich. The familiar green, triangular bottle was synonymous with single malt whisky through the 1970’s and 1980’s, before other brands finally found their way onto the shelves of our bottleshops. Certainly, when you speak to most whisky drinkers in their late 40’s and older, Glenfiddich was the whisky they lost their malt virginity to.  Even if you took up malt whisky more recently, a dram of Glenfiddich was still a textbook malt to turn to as you made the transition out of blends or simply dived head first into the category via a single malt.

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Whisky & Wisdom’s “Whisky Quiz”

The mere fact you subscribe to or read a whisky blog means you either know a bit about whisky, or you want to know more!   So how good is your whisky wisdom?

Here’s a fun little quiz that will test the whisky facts and trivia you’ve picked up over your malt journey.  There are 25 questions that will sort out the newbies from the experts.  Yes, you could consult Google and find the answer to each question, but that would be cheating, right?  So, be honest with yourself and others, and see how many questions you can answer correctly off the top of your head.

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