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Sunday, 4 March 2018

Glenmorangie Bacalta Whisky Review!

My first Glenmorangie review! And it's one of the best examples that I've tasted to date.

Glenmorangie Distillery is located near the town of Tain in the Scottish Highlands, around an hour's drive north of Inverness. Originally a brewery, the site was converted to a distillery in 1843, and was purchased by Glenmorangie Distillery Co. in 1887. These days it's owned by LVMH, a.k.a Moet Hennessy, and is quite a large distillery with six pairs of very tall pot stills, the tallest in the industry, and an annual production capacity of around six million litres. Which makes it more than five times the size of LVMH's other well-known distillery, Ardbeg, in terms of capacity. Glenmorangie is also one of the top selling single malts in Scotland domestically, with their entry-level 10-year old 'Original' expression being the most popular.

Glenmorangie were among the first single malt distilleries to start experimenting with cask finishing, a.k.a. secondary maturation / double maturation, where the whisky is moved into a different cask for a brief period of maturation before bottling. The current head of distilling & whisky creation for both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, Dr. Bill Lumsden, certainly picked up this concept & ran with it, and these drams are often finished in unusual or uncommon casks to help them stand out, and to provide a different experience. The distillery now regularly releases these 'finished' whiskies, both as generally available 'Private Edition' bottlings and as travel (duty free) exclusive expressions. They're often named in Gaelic, usually in homage to the type of cask used for finishing, or as an indicator of how that expression differs from the norm.

This particular bottling, named Bacalta, is the most recent of those private editions, and has been finished in Malmsey Madeira fortified wine casks. "Bacalta" is Scots Gaelic for "baked", which refers to how Madeira wine was traditionally produced, being baked by the sun's heat to alter its flavour on the Portuguese island of Madeira. These days cheaper Madeira wine is heated in large tanks to accelerate this process, called the Estufa method, while higher quality wines are still traditionally matured in barrels either directly under the sun or on the upper floors / in the roof cavities of buildings, which is known as the Canteiro method. This production method results in a much more stable wine which can be stored for months after opening without issue. Malmsey is the sweet & rich style of Madeira, much like PX is to sherry, although it still has the trademark acidity of Madeira wine. It's much more "quaff-able" than PX in my experience, that acidity and the nutty character really helps to balance the sweetness and richness, but it's still very much a dessert wine.

In the case of Glenmorangie Bacalta, the distillery had American oak 250-litre hogsheads coopered & heavily toasted (not charred) specifically for this whisky (Madeira is typically aged in 500> litre casks), which were shipped to Madeira to be filled with wine, and were left to 'bake' in the traditional method. They were then emptied and transported (whole) to Scotland, where they were filled with maturing Glenmorangie spirit taken from ex-bourbon casks at around 10 years of age. While a typical 'finishing' or secondary-maturation would be around 6-12 months, in this case the whisky was bottled after 2 years in the first-fill Madeira casks. So while there's no age statement, we have a whisky that is somewhere in the region of 12 years of age. Like the rest of the 'private editions' It's been bottled at 46% ABV without chill filtration, which is good to see, and while there's no mention of added or natural colouring, I don't believe there's much, if any, of the dreaded e150a in here. Let's have a taste, shall we?

Glenmorangie Bacalta, NAS, 46%. Tain, Scotland. 
Matured for around 10 years in ex-bourbon casks, finished for around 2 years in first-fill 250-litre Malmsey Madeira wine casks. Non-chill filtered, suspected natural colour. 

Colour: Yellow gold.

Nose: Nice, but quite mild. Honeyed malt, whole oranges and orange oil, quite prominent actually. Some buttered caramel, nutty oak and baked red apples. More cereal grains with more time, and a little raw spirit.

Texture: Light weight, sweet & malty. A little peppery spirit-y heat, but enjoyable. 

Taste: Sweet honeyed malt again, with more of an orange rind & marmalade note now. Some stone fruit as well, honeyed apricot and baked white peaches. Some dry wood spices and a little peppery raw spirit again, with a subtle apple note behind. 

Finish: Short length, with more spice and fruit, turning dryer overall. Some crumbly pastry and a slight bitter orange note, and more stone fruit. Then dry tea biscuits with currants. 

Score: 3 out of 5. 

Notes: Pleasant and easy drinking, although a little too light and mild for my personal tastes. Glenmorangie does often remind me of triple-distilled whiskies, no doubt that's largely thanks to those tall stills, with that peppery raw spirit note being present in most of their expressions that I've tasted. Signet is the sole exception there so far. I would love to try Bacalta at a slightly higher strength though, just to see what would happen. Not that 46% isn't enough of course, but it's still very light in this guise. Maybe the new (or old) Astar would fit this bill with it's higher bottling strength? That said I don't believe there are any cask strength Glenmorangie bottlings on the market, so maybe there's not much of a demand out there for such a whisky? 

This Bacalta is still an interesting dram though, with just enough point of difference to stand out from the crowd of your average light, fruity, straight ex-bourbon cask drams, and it's much more satisfying than the entry-level Glenmorangie Original for me. Well worth giving it a go, and it would certainly be a nice summer's day whisky. 

While we're on the subject the latest Private Edition Glenmorangie was released recently, named "Spios" for "spice" it's been finished in ex-Rye whiskey casks, which again is a very unusual thing, and might even be a first for Scotch single malt. I'm yet to try that one, but I'm sure it'll be very interesting!