Change is inevitable and generally positive. In the highly competitive world of distilled spirits, it is also necessary. Consumers have been trained to eagerly seek out the next new thing, the innovation that pushes boundaries. When that next new thing is available in small quantities for a short time, anticipation is honed to a fine edge.
All of this is a challenge in a category as traditional as single malt Scotch whiskey. For centuries, the production of the leading distilleries didn’t change much, because it didn’t have to: there was a finite number of spirits connoisseurs and not a great deal of competition. Today the story is very different. Single malts are competing with Japanese and American spirits for a place on the retail shelf, and a more proactive approach is needed to survive.
Few distilleries have met that challenge with as much originality as Glenmorangie. The credit goes to Dr. Bill Lumsden, the distillery manager and head of whisky creation. Dr. Bill is a rare bird: a quirky and interesting guy with a Ph.D. in Biochemistry and a passion for innovation. For the past eight years, that innovation has taken the form of a series of Private Editions, annual limited releases of selected whiskies aged in different types of wood.
This year’s release is Bacalta (which means “baked” in Scots Gaelic), aged initially in Bourbon casks and then finished for two years in barrels that once held Malmsey, the sweetest version of Madeira. Presumably, the goal is to craft a spirit that has a generous palate imprint atypical of Scotch. Why would he do this? Probably to appeal to people like me, who drink a lot of whiskey but are more likely to reach for Bourbon because of its generosity of flavor.
Glenmorangie Bacalta ($100) was bottled at 92 proof/46% alcohol. It displays a mild amber color and a rich nose with whiffs of honey, wildflowers, sea spray and stewed apricots. It is sweet and unctuous on entry, and remains that way during its time on the palate. Flavors of stone fruits and hints of pepper give way to a very long finish replete with warm earth notes and hints of fresh herbs and mint. Would it appeal to a hard-core Bourbon drinker? You bet. The texture is ripe and sumptuous, and the whisky is layered and complex. Snag a bottle while you can, because it won’t be available for long.
Mark Spivak is the author of Iconic Spirits: An Intoxicating History (Lyons Press, 2012) and Moonshine Nation (Lyons Press, 2014); his first novel, Friend of the Devil, is now available from Black Opal Books. For more information, go to amazon.com.