I like the Langham Hotel.
I like the Landau restaurant within the Langham Hotel, recently taken over by Albert and Michel Roux Jr. especially as there's a lunch menu which will allow you change from £80 for two people… We'll get onto the whisky in a bit. Patience.
I *really* like the hotel's bar – Artesian, the meeting place for the launch of Glenmorangie's newest addition to their Private Collection. Ealanta. In the last couple of years Artesian has come on leaps and bounds under the supremely competent stewardship of Head Bartender Alex Kratena.
It's possible to get one of the best Martinis in London at the bar in Artesian—The Langham Martini (and for almost £20 including service, it wants to be) and on Wednesday evening I did just that.
Tanqueray 10 stirred with handmade vermouths infused with a range of exotic / homely ingredients according to the region you specify (London for Rhubarb & Elderflower, Tokyo for Yuzu, Green Tea and Nori etc…). The fact that the bartender asks you “Where would you like to fly to” when ordering is a bit cringe-worthy, but it's more than made up for by perhaps the best glassware (well, sterling-silverware at any rate) I've ever seen.
No, you can't fit one in your pocket. Bad Alice.
These incredibly weighty, 2-piece beauties kept the drink cold for almost half an hour. Absolutely fantastic. In case you're wondering, those Olives have been infused with the botanicals used in Tanqueray 10. It's the little touches...
Gin fetish dispensed with, it was time to move onto the main event. We were treated to a quick Glenmorangie-Original-sour prior to an address by the inimitable Dr. Bill Lumsden on the virtues of the new release. Long story short, it's a 19yo that's been full-term matured in Glenmorangie's Bespoke Fresh Oak casks (Heavily Toasted) made from wood taken from the Mark Twain National Forest in the Osark Mountains. The (substantial quantity of) spirit laid down in these casks has had more than a few outings over the years – Artisan Cask and Astar both began their lives in this wood, but this is the oldest, and most heavily influenced whisky to have come from these casks (yet).
The appearance of Ealanta (Gaelic for ‘skilled and ingenious' – I know you're all wondering) in the glass is incredibly dark. Almost, and perhaps unsurprisingly, akin to a young bourbon. Appearance however is where the similarity to rough-hewn, vanilla-soaked American Whiskey ends.
Nose:All about Orange Zest. The ethereal long necks of Glenmorangie's stills are famed for producing a light, fruity and almost zesty spirit, and this characteristic is turned up to 11 in this release. You'd be forgiven for thinking that you'd just been handed an old-fashioned cocktail.
Palate:Yet more candied orange, tropical fruit, a touch of vanilla, and an all-pervading sweetness that leaves you in absolutely no doubt about the fact that this has come from fresh oak.
Finish:This is where the maturity starts to shine through. The complex ethereal nature of the fruit begins to fade, and gives way to a familiar high-note of rancio and dried figs.
Overall:Yes. This is my kind of whisky. Big, brash, packed full of flavour, and not in any way hiding from - or apologising for - what it is.
After we'd endured 10 or so minutes of a frankly awful Mark Twain impersonator (yes, they went there), we were served a fantastic cocktail devised by Alex himself incorporating the Ealanta, Pomegranate Syrup and Rose Water, served over an ice-ball moulded in the shape of the etchings on the Cadboll Stone garnished with a dried, candied orange slice and gold leaf. This cocktail rapidly replaced ‘sleep' as the best of the things in the brain of Ben.
Pretty, Delicious, Pretty delicious.
One thing Dr. Bill mentioned in his address (is that the right word? Do whiskym'n make addresses, or is it a speech?) was that he quite enjoyed drinking Ealanta with a couple of ice-cubes. This struck me as both brave, and very candid coming from a man who's spent the best part of 19 years (he didn't lay the Artisan casks down – he discovered them a few years into his tenure) nurturing these casks. I can think of at least one famous brand ambassador who'd chuck the ice directly at the centre of his face just for saying that. I'll tell you something though. He's right. This is one of the only Scotch Whiskies I've ever come across where the addition of ice is a genuinely positive step. There's no doubt at all that the mental link to an old-fashioned cocktail helps it ‘click' into place, but it works. Trust me – give it a try.
So – Glenmorangie Ealanta then? Yes. Definitely. And what a relief after the last couple of private releases.
I'll leave you with two things. First, a video of the Mark Twain impersonator, just to prove I'm not making it up:
This actually happened.
And finally, a genuinely lovely conversation I heard on the train on the way home from the event. It was between a group of foul-mouthed young Tottenham fans, and a couple of older gents dressed immaculately in three-piece suits. The youths were having a conversation between themselves which bordered on 'a bit much' quite a few times. Eventually one of the older chaps piped up when one of them addressed a young lady on the train and asked “How old are you then?”. The older gent proceeded to explain very calmly to the young man who'd asked the question that although he was from a different generation (he was 75) it was impolite to ask a lady her age, and that if he really wanted to know, a more subtle way would be to enquire as to which year she was born in. This didn't really click until about 5 minutes later when the older gent interrupted the group again to tell them that he'd been to the cup final in 1936, and it was the best experience of his life. He then reminded them again that he was 75. They spent the rest of the train journey cooing to themselves “Cor – ‘e's 75, ‘e is – went to the 1936 cup final ‘e did”. The two older gents just sat there smiling to themselves, and I struggled not to burst out laughing.
Just goes to show—with age, comes impressive smoothness, but not necessarily a reduction in complexity.