Welcome to FTW’s Drink of the Week series. Here, we primarily review and review beers, but gladly expand that scope to any drink that pairs well with sports. Yes, even cookie dough whiskey.
I started this column for two reasons; to write what I love (and still live a life in which I have the job described by a 15-year-old bastard) and get paid to sip whiskey. Friends, today is the realization of that dream. We drink scotch.
My typical malt is from Islay, where you can taste the ocean air in every warming dram of Laphroaig or Lagavulin or my favourite, Bunnahabhain (where sadly I can no longer find my favorite Ceobanach, who absolutely reigned supreme) . But I’m happy to drink anything from the wonderful sovereign nation, especially from the Glenmorangie region of northern Scotland.
My normal Highland malt is Dalwhinnie; a distillery capable of making an $80 spirit for $30 (their former Game of Thrones-branded House Stark scotch) and one for $120 for $60 (their 15-year-old). But Glenmorangie retains a presence in my brain, even though I rarely drink it. First of all, it’s because it’s available everywhere and at a ton of different ages and prices. But second, it’s because it’s New York Giants punter Jamie Gillan’s favorite whiskey.
Gillan, nicknamed the Scottish Hammer, is a native of Inverness and a former rugby player who rose through the ranks from a low-regarded prospect in high school to an NFL special team veteran. When I spoke to him four years ago, he covered everything from how he ended up on a scholarship at Arkansas-Pine Bluff (via Facebook post and blind accepted) to his Scottish roots. And his favorite malt? Glenmorangie.
We are therefore going to take a quick tour of the distillery, sipping a whiskey that is between 10 and 18 years old.
I had recently confused the 10 with the X, the brand’s official blending malt, so I was avoiding it a bit. Then I realized that I was a bit doofus and that these are two different whiskeys. The only 10 year old scotches I drink regularly are from Laphroaig and Talisker, and they are both excellent in different ways. There is plenty of room for Glenmorangie to be great.
You get some of that boozy burn from the top smell that you wouldn’t get with older malts, but also some fruit and charred oak from the bourbon casks it was stored in. The first sip is sweeter than it smells. There’s a bit of warmth pushing it off your tongue, but that comes after a bit of vanilla in the front…and then at the end too, lingering with warmth.
It’s kind of basic like whiskey; it wouldn’t be my go-to sipper and doesn’t match the complexity of Laphroaig (but that’s a tough comparison between a Highland and Islay malt). It’s better on a single ice cube – I’m not usually an ice in scotch guy but some people are and I respect that, drink whatever you want however you like – but maybe it’s because I am, in fact, the basic one here. The ice cream brings out the vanilla more and tames the fire a bit. That’s extremely not bad, especially for an entry whiskey in the Glenmorangie portfolio.
There’s more fruit to accompany the malt on this one. The vanilla of the last scotch is still there but the flavor is stronger and the intensity much smoother. There are raisins, maybe black cherry – all in the whiskey sense, so it’s subtle, but it’s there. You can also tell that it’s not just a product of bourbon barrels like the 10 Year Old. The sherry involved creates a swirling stone fruit taste that infuses what could have been a boring malt with some complexity.
Throwing in an ice cube doesn’t dilute that flavor and actually seems to concentrate the slight booze burn a bit. There’s a bit of sweetness to the honey that makes it easy to drink and deeper than the 10. It’s a step up and well worth it.
Oddly enough, it smells lighter than the 12 years before it. Still a bit of fruit, oak and sherry – oops, it’s port and turns out I might not be good at telling the difference. Either way, there is a fortified wine cask involved that shapes how this malt turns out.
It shows from the first sip, which is fruity and sweet and full of flavor. There’s a fructose sweetness that hits the tip of your tongue and stays there even after the slight burn fizzles in the back of your throat. There’s something to balance it out so it doesn’t get overpowered – not the saltiness of an Islay malt but not quite tobacco or dirt either. Just a sweet, subtle spice that creates a dry finish.
Adding an ice cube to the mix… isn’t something I want to do, but here we are. It doesn’t really change that profile other than making it cooler. There is no fire to cool off. Somewhere in the middle of each draw is a lovely sweet malty undercurrent that shows what letting a spirit reach its teenage years can do. All you have is an inherently unique scotch that’s sweet and fruity and inviting for someone who maybe likes wine or brandy but has never really thought about whisky.
It’s an 18 year old single malt and it smells good. That’s wonderful. That’s what I imagine Sean Connery smelled. Maybe with fewer Scottish mothers.
It is quite a tasty and alcoholic malt. The first sip confirms it. The salt and peat of an Islay malt isn’t there – remarkable only since it’s my typical go-to – but it’s a Highland Scotch through and through. Very moist, a little sweet and terribly unctuous. There’s no burn to speak of, just a thick, almost mellow malt. There’s vanilla and cinnamon involved, but it’s not particularly complex; just very easy to drink.
I miss some of those complications. With an Islay pour you’re working with a bit more – the effect of a nearby ocean, the earthy smoke of peat – but that’s the goodness of the highlands. Simple, clean, a bit fruity but absolutely what you would expect from a voting age Scotch.
The problem is that there is a rather large price increase from the 14th year to the 18th year. Although it makes for a mellower and richer dram, the difference between the two bottles at my local Woodman is about $90. I’m not sure 18 year is *that* much better than Quinta Ruban, although it’s pretty good.
Welcome to a new feature on these reviews; a pass/fail mechanism where I compare everything I drink to my basic cheap beer. It’s the eve of the land of sky-blue waters, Hamm’s. So the question that needs to be answered is: on a typical day, would I opt for Glenmorangie single malts over a cold can of Hamm’s?
I mean we’re talking about apples and anvils here. But yes. The Year 14 isn’t cheap, but it’s way better than its $55(ish) price tag suggests. I might not fall for the $150 18 year old bottle knowing this, but there’s something luxurious about it too. Glenmorangie isn’t going to knock the Islay malts I love off my shelf, but it has earned a place alongside them.