Glen Moray celebrates its 120th anniversary this year, having been founded way back in 1897. The distillery had humble beginnings and had already endured over a decade of silence and inactivity when it was bought by Macdonald & Muir (effectively Glenmorangie) in 1920. Glenmorangie held the reins for the next 88 years, during which time the distillery became a workhorse for the many supermarket blends that Macdonald & Muir were behind. If you believe the folklore, Glen Moray was also the playground for Dr Bill Lumsden, who would conduct all manner of trials and maturation experiments on Glen Moray spirit before transferring his more successful undertakings across to Glenmorangie.
It was as recently as 10 years ago that Glen Moray was widely available in Australia and seen as a cheap single malt that could readily be picked up for around $35 from the Woolworths chains. However, with LVMH assuming control of Glenmorangie PLC in 2004 and changing the focus and direction of the company over the next few years, Glen Moray was put up for sale and promptly purchased by French company La Martiniquaise in 2008 – the same company behind Label 5, one of the world’s biggest selling Scotch brands.
It was an inspired move and the company has since invested significantly in the distillery, expanding its capacity in 2012, and again in 2016/17. Like several other Scottish distilleries in recent times (think Glendronach and Benriach), new ownership has injected new life and zeal into the brand. Riding the current wave of single malt mania, the distillery has significantly expanded its portfolio in recent years and it now boasts a formidable range of different expressions.
Whisky and Wisdom has visited the distillery several times over the last decade, most recently in June 2017, and it has an excellent Visitor Centre that goes from strength to strength. The tours are busy and fun, and there’s ample opportunity to try the various bottlings on offer.
Graham Coull, the current distillery manager and its fifth Master Distiller, toured Australia this month to showcase the Glen Moray range, as well as to launch the new premium release, Mastery. The Sydney event was held at The Roosevelt in Darlinghurst, and featured a tremendous lunch with six Glen Moray releases being deftly matched to some wonderful food pairings. In a relaxed and effective setting, Graham led the assembled audience through the whiskies on offer, and gave great insight into both the distillery and his role.
The line up on the day was as follows:
- Glen Moray Elgin Classic Single Malt (NAS, 40%)
- Glen Moray Elgin Classic Port Cask Finish (NAS, 40%)
- Glen Moray Elgin Classic Chardonnay Cask Finish (NAS, 40%)
- Glen Moray Elgin Heritage 12yo (40%)
- Glen Moray Elgin Heritage 15yo (40%)
- Glen Moray Mastery (NAS, 52.3%)
There are five expressions in the Elgin Classic range, and three of them made up the first three whiskies for the lunch. Graham shared that the average age of these releases was generally around six years old. The Classic Single Malt is matured in ex-bourbon casks and offered sweet fruits and lush barley. “No fake tan here!” remarked Graham, and the whisky certainly gave a good account of the distillery’s character.
The Port Cask Finish sees the spirit finished in port for twelve months. “It’s important that it experience at least one Scottish summer in the finishing wood,” explained Graham, “in order for the spirit to get the optimum extraction from the wood.” The port cask introduced some dried spices and dark chocolate to the flavour profile and made for a very inviting dram.
The Chardonnay Cask Finish had creamy vanilla and fruit lollies on the nose, translating into a vibrant and spicy affair on the palate – it certainly had a grippier and more tactile mouthfeel.
Coull described the Heritage 12yo as basically just being the Elgin Classic Single Malt with double the age under its belt. The influence of those extra years in oak was immediately obvious, presenting honey, barley malt, a grassiness, and some toasted oak. It was wonderfully sweet and lingering.
The Heritage 15yo sees a vatting of both bourbon and sherry casks combined in roughly a 50/50 ratio, and the input of the sherry was very tangible. The nose had great depth and offered dense, booze-soaked fruit, whilst the palate was wonderfully complex and sweet, presenting the perfect balance of malt, oak, sweetness, and spice.
And so to the star of the show: Mastery. Mastery is a limited release of just 1,000 bottles (with just eight for Australia) and with an RRP of $1,400. It is a vatting of five casks taken across four vintages, with the oldest cask coming from the 1970’s. A port cask from 1988 and sherry casks from the early 1990’s also contribute to the mix. It’s easy to get caught up in the heritage and grandeur of such releases, but the whisky has to stand on its own two feet. In this case, the whisky is a winner and it’s a whisky that unravels and delivers plenty if you take your time with it. Whisky & Wisdom’s tasting notes jotted down during the lunch were:
Nose: There’s a slight smokiness on the first nosing, followed by honeycomb and fruit nectar. Dried oranges and soft citrus complete the picture.
Palate: The palate offers considerable spice and sweetness. At 52.3%, the alcohol balance is near perfect, and there’s great development of oak without being too dry or tannic. More orange peel on the finish, as well as hints of mint. It’s a complex affair and much is on offer if you take the time.
Comments: A luxurious Glen Moray and one of the few premium releases doing the rounds that can justify its price tag. It’s a dram for savouring and contemplation.
Graham Coull is a wonderful ambassador for the distillery; honest and unassuming, and with a sense of humour that belies his incredible knowledge and passion. The Glen Moray range is now broad enough to ensure there’s something for every palate and every budget, and even includes the Elgin Classic Peated release if you prefer some smoke and peat in your drams.
Cheers and thanks to Graham and his wife, Fay, for making the trip out to Australia and to Dialogue PR for the opportunity to experience Mastery.