Glenmorangie Cognac cask: a symbol of innovation


A bottle of Glenmorangie 13-year-old Cognac Finish stands next to a large dram in a stemmed glass. The scene is in No.3, with wooden pannels and a small clock.
Photograph: Krystian Krzewinski

Our Spirits Buyer Rob Whitehead looks to the future of Glenmorangie – and raises a dram of 13-year-old Cognac Cask Finish to its innovation.

There are few distilleries in Scotland so well-recognised as Glenmorangie. From their unusually tall stills, via the famous “16 men of Tain” who craft every drop that leaves the distillery, to the gold-accented labels adorning the bottles. It is often only the work of an instant to recognise a bottle from this producer, either alone or amongst a gathering of its peers.

The core range

For many years, the core range (which opened with the easy charm of the widely available 10-year-old Original through to my personal choice, the rather rarer 18-year-old) have offered not only delicious drinkability, but also supremely well-made single malt Scotch whisky. This has been even more impressive over the last two decades, as global whisky resurgence led to increased production. This meant many distilleries needed to find a delicate balance between quality and quantity: Scotch whisky’s magical yet infuriatingly sedate maturation does not allow one to simply ‘cook-up’ another thousand barrels of impeccable, decades-old whisky!

It could easily be envisaged, then, that innovation and exploration might not be high on the agenda at Glenmorangie. Gratifyingly, this has not been the case. Look no further than the building of The Lighthouse, their extraordinary distillery-within-a-distillery.

Glenmorangie’s Lighthouse

This new highly-adjustable stillhouse will allow their genius Director of Whisky Creation, Dr Bill Lumsden, to experiment in ways no other distillery in Scotland can. We can expect to see a wealth of different styles of Glenmorangie beyond the wonderfully light and fruity classic model.

In the same vein of innovation, and no less importantly, they’ve been making huge strides around sustainability. Whisky production creates a range of by-products, some solid, some liquid. The solids have long been used by local farmers as feed for livestock, but the liquids contain a lot of organic matter that ideally shouldn’t just be released back into the nearest watercourse.

Biogas, oysters and more…

This led to the development of a two-pronged approach, an anaerobic digestor (currently unique amongst Scottish whisky distilleries). This produces Biogas, which is then used to produce steam and hot water for the distillery. The digestor captures 95% of unwanted material. They have also been working with a local agency to re-establish long-lost oyster reefs in the neighbouring Dornoch Firth. Those hard-working oysters remove the remaining 5%, help to increase marine biodiversity and, once sustainably harvested, I’m quite sure will taste delicious.

One of Dr Bill’s ongoing innovations has been around using non-standard casks for whisky maturation. A profusion of bottlings has been released over the last couple of decades, showcasing casks from unusual oak sources, with off-menu charring patterns or from far-flung wine regions such as Tokaj or last year’s scrumptious Malaga cask 12-year-old.

The new release: Cognac cask finish

This year’s 13-year-old Barrel Select Release Cognac Cask Finish showcases these wonderful French oak casks to their utmost: the spirit has had just under a decade in ex-bourbon casks, then four years in Cognac casks that had been used several times in France. The effect is to complement, and not overwhelm, the famed delicacy of Glenmorangie.

Glenmorangie 13-year-old, Barrel Select Release, Cognac Cask Finish

Truly golden in colour, the nose is delectably spicy with exotic wood and dried citrus peels. Impeccably judged oak influence on the palate weaves subtle liquorice and hints of tobacco through the sweetly fruity spirit. The mouth-filling finish offers further evidence of the master distiller’s skill, with an endlessly interchanging interplay of nuts and fruits. A pleasure to drink, I’ll be sharing mine with friends after a simple steak-frites.

This year’s release of 13-year-old Cognac Cask Finish is available here.