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 Scotch Malt Whisky Society presents….Exotic Cargo

Members or watchers of The Scotch Malt Whisky Society may recently have heard about one of the Society’s latest projects:  The release of a blended malt.  No, not a blend….a blended malt.   (And if that subtle distinction in terminology still confuses you, you are welcome to write to the Scotch Whisky Association and let them know your thoughts on the matter.  Good luck.)

If there’s one thing you can’t accuse the Society of doing in recent times, it’s standing still.   Clubs, societies, bottlers, and brands need to continually evolve and change with the times, and the Society has been particularly pro-active in expanding its list of bottlings and the benefits that membership bestows on its members.

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Ardnamurchan – 2016/AD

It’s hardly shiny or earth-shattering news to write that new distilleries are popping up all over Scotland.  In fact, such a statement is unlikely to pique any interest amongst the more learned whisky enthusiasts.  However, what does become interesting is when you start to look at the geography of these new distilleries.  Many are now re-populating the Lowlands, such as the Glasgow Distillery, or the wee-explosion of distilleries in Fife (e.g. Kingsbarns, Daftmill, etc).  Others are adding to the spectrum of Speyside, such as Ballindalloch or Dalmunach.

When starting a new distillery in these current times, the owners will be looking for some key necessities when deciding upon the site of their distillery.  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 raw materials and the departure of spirit and filled casks.  So – with all these essentials being key to a successful distillery start-up, 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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2016 Diageo Special Releases

For anyone who’s entered the single malt whisky scene in recent years, the choice and array of bottlings, brands and releases can be overwhelming.  Almost 30 years ago now, the situation was very different when Diageo launched “The Classic Malts” – first into travel retail in 1988, and then into the domestic market in 1989.   Those six whiskies (Glenkinchie, Cragganmore, Oban, Dalwhinnie, Talisker, and Lagavulin) became the vehicle through which hundreds of thousands of people were introduced to malt whisky.  For close to a decade they were almost the definitive collection and – notwithstanding the omnipresence of the likes of Glenfiddich and Glenlivet – it was only by the late 1990’s that other brands and recognisable labels started to consistently appear in regular retail outlets.

Never one to rest on their laurels, Diageo continued (and continues) to expand their range.  The so-called Rare Malts range ran from 1995-2005, and the Managers Choice range also kept hardcore fans happy with its single cask, cask-strength releases.  The original Classic Malts range was also expanded in 2006, adding the likes of Clynelish and Caol Ila, in addition to others that were custom selected for individual markets (e.g. Cardhu for the USA).

One of the longer-term and more interesting projects has been the Diageo Special Releases range, consisting of a specially selected and crafted series of bottlings released annually each year since 2001.  As the name inherently suggests, the releases are “special” and typically include Diageo’s rarest stock, such as whiskies from closed distilleries – Port Ellen, Brora, and Cambus being three examples.

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Ardbeg Untamed and Ardbeg Kelpie

With multi-tasking all the rage these days, this piece combines two distinct happenings involving Ardbeg.  The second of these relates to Kelpie, this year’s new release to coincide with Ardbeg Day.  But before we try and conquer that wee beastie, have you heard of Ardbeg Untamed?

The last three decades have seen the distilleries and the whisky brands take ever increasing and impressive steps to bring us into their sanctums.   Once upon a time, importers and distributors simply held a tasting event and poured out their whiskies for the punters to taste.  Then came the brand ambassadors, who did more-or-less the same thing, except with the assistance of slide shows, which then morphed into the “multi-media presentations”.  With the advent of live webcams, distilleries took us into their production areas and you could get a sneak peek into the workings of a distillery without having to leave your own home.

So, short of hopping on a plane and making your way directly to Scotland, what was the next step and development for distilleries to bring us ever closer to their heart?  The answer is Virtual Reality.  Ardbeg Untamed is one such undertaking.  Courtesy of VR, Ardbeg has launched a series of visual experiences that take you across the water to Ardbeg and through the distillery.  As the fly-through whizzes through the warehouse, you’ll see and hear Mickey Heads, distillery manager, talking to the lads as they go about their daily routine.

Given that so much about a distillery is now available online in the form of pictures and virtual tours that you can enjoy whilst sitting at your desktop, the VR experience is pretty special and certainly adds both a layer of realism and a tangible feeling of being within the space.  Surely this is as close as you can get to Islay without actually being there.

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Glenmorangie Bacalta

At the start of every year, we all sit down with our calendar and enter all of our annual events and occasions: The public holidays.  Your partner’s birthday.  Your dentist appointment.  Your wedding anniversary.  The release of the next Glenmorangie Private Edition bottling.

Glenmorangie’s 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.  Some  within Glenmorangie (including Dr Bill Lumsden himself) 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.

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The Liberty Distillery – the craftiest craft distillery.

Craft. Craft Brewery.  Craft Distillery.  Craft is such a cute word, it’s no wonder any business that is merely just small, quaint, or limited in production reaches for the word.  “Craft beer” is such a ubiquitous term (and product) in so many pubs and bars now, it’s at risk of losing its meaning.  Thankfully, in certain distilling circles, the term “craft” does take on meaningful significance.

The Craft Distillers Guild of British Columbia is one such circle, and The Liberty Distillery in Vancouver is one such distillery. Located on Granville Island in the middle of the city, The Liberty Distillery is a perfect example of all that is right in the craft distilling world.

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The Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship, 2016

The Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship is a bit like the internet.  It’s something you might think is a relatively “new” thing, when the reality is that it’s been around for decades longer than you gave it credit for.

In actual fact, the Australian Malt Whisky Tasting Championship has been around since 1989!  As the name suggests, it is a tasting competition, and had its origins in Adelaide, South Australia.  The competition’s principal format and structure has remained largely unchanged over the years: Competitors are presented with eight whiskies pre-poured before them, and supplied with a list of nine possible whiskies – in other words, the eight whiskies that are on the table, plus one red herring.   Competitors are then given 30 minutes to identify which whisky is which and to write their answers on the answer sheet.  Of course, having a list with all of the possible contenders in front of you makes the exercise seem a little easier, but the challenge is also in establishing which whisky of the nine on the list is not on the table!

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Lagavulin 8yo and the 200th Anniversary release

Over the years, I’ve had countless discussions with whisky enthusiasts from all backgrounds about that magic moment in their life:  When did they first try a single malt, and which one was it?   It astounds me how often people tell me their first single malt was Lagavulin.   And, for the record, it was my first single malt, too.

It was the early 1990’s.  I was drinking and enjoying Scotch whisky, but had only been exposed to blends.  (For recent converts to the world of whisky who may not appreciate the context, bear in mind that in Australia at this time, the very best liquor outlets in the country stocked, at most, no more than perhaps nine to 14 different single malt expressions, representing perhaps only six to ten different distilleries).   UDV had recently launched “The Classic Malts” range and my father-in-law-to-be returned from a trip to Scotland with a bottle of Lagavulin 16yo in his luggage.

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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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