The Tippling Point | How Sixteen Men, Yeast and Wood Helped Prefect Glenmorangie, The Valley of Tranquility
At the beginning of the eighteenth century, evidence shows that people had already been distilling out of malt, Scotland's most famous product - Whisky.
Glenmorangie. (Image: Twitter)
A drink perfected by the sixteen men of Tain, protected by the logo of the Hilton of Cadboll Stone which was erected near the distillery in the eighteenth century by the heathenic Picts, and marked by the time-honoured, terroir-bound, traditional skills handed down through generations, Glenmorangie, one of the most popular scotch whiskies in the world has much in its kitty to brag about. It all began in the murky middle ages.
The swarthy folk from Scandinavia, who later settled in Scotland, could be tending barley as early as the 12th century in the countryside. And we know, malt from barley was not going to be a long distance call. So in the beginning of the eighteenth century, evidence shows that people had already been distilling out of malt, Scotland's most famous product - Whisky.
At Tain, in the stretch of land in the Northern Highland, where Glenmorangie would be set up in a few decades, there was already a distillery. So it was short work for William Matheson, a Scotsman with a vision. Leaving his job from another distillery, Metheson made his own establishment in 1843 at Tain. The name he gave his new whisky was Glenmorangie, which means, 'the Valley of tranquility.'
It was an instant success. The single malt he created with the help of local hands who were later immortalised by the epithet, 'the men of Tain' stood out from the general trend of blending whiskies from various batches and distilleries spread over the country. Barley harvested from the neighbourhood, the beautiful surroundings on the banks of the Dornoch Firth, and the water tapped from Tarlogie springs all colluded with the frigid climate to create such pure gold in liquid form.
So at the beginning of the 20th century, Glenmorangie saw itself proudly adorning the right places - the brown palace hotel in Denver, the Savoy hotel in London, across the Atlantic and also moving around the world over the blue waters in British royal navy ships.
In 1918 MacDonald family bought the distillery embarking a new age, setting out new directions to the already famous whisky. Though the Great Depression and the world wars had their toll on the whisky, it came out of the shadow pretty soon. Finally, when in 2004, the French company Moet Hennessey Louis Vuitton took over Glenmorangie, the whisky became a synonym for luxury and grandeur.
The first thing you notice in the cathedral-like distillery at Tain would be the gargantuan stills which are said to be taller than an adult giraffe (they're claimed to be the tallest in Scotland). Crane your head up. The towering necks of the stills mean business - only the lightest and purest spirit can aspire that high to get collected for maturation. Class begins from such heights.
So what goes into the whisky?
Scottish Barley. Yeast. Tarlogie Spring water and finally wood. The exceptionally smooth nature of Glenmorangie owes much to the mineral-rich Tarlogie springs. The rich fertile land surrounding the distillery sees to it that only the best barley makes it into the drink in your hand. Now it is the turn of the 'Sixteen Men of Tain' to do the business. They work the year round, seeing over the production, and in leisure time, sharing jokes over how their ancestors once queued up for their rations, passed around the daily drama of whisky in metal cups.
Their lives are suffused in just one subject - whisky.
Sorry, it's not time yet. Whisky distilled from the distillery doesn't become Glenmorangie straightaway, as it has to go through some long, austere life in oak casks, specifically made for the purpose.
It was revolutionary even as an idea when Glenmorangie started using American ex-bourbon barrels instead of traditional Spanish oak casks in the year 1940. The company owns its own forest in Ozark Mountains in the US for harvesting wood. But that doesn't mean, they would straight away come to Scotland to get filled with Glenmorangie. Left to air for two years, the wooden casks would first be leased to bourbon makers in America. Maturing in the cask for four years, bourbon leaves subtle tastes in the casks for the next visitor - Glenmorangie.
Know this before you take your first sip. The nuances of taste that your palate would blissfully tease out from the whisky owes a lot to bourbon.
Today there are many expressions of the whisky, the latest being Glenmorangie Allta, envisioned by Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stock. The backbone of Allta is a new strain of wild yeast Bill had discovered from the Barley fields near the distillery. He got the yeast to the barley to create an exceptionally fragrant spirit.
Glenmorangie has won several gold medals in international competitions and is still one of the most popular scotches in the world. Something of real worth you can save your money for.
(Manu Remakant is a freelance writer who also runs a video blog - A Cup of Kavitha - introducing world poetry to Malayalees. Views expressed here are personal)
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