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Glenmorangie Whisky Distillery

The Glenmorangie distillery was established in 1843, on the site of a former brewery by brothers William and John Matheson. The name Glenmorangie means ‘Glen of Tranquility’ and it’s still a very peaceful spot on the Dornoch Firth, located about 35 miles north of Inverness in the Highland region. The distillery remained in the hands of the Matheson family until Leith wine and spirits merchant Macdonald & Muir, founded in 1893 Roderick Macdonald and Alexander Muir, acquired a stake in the company in 1918 and eventually gained full control in the 1930s.

Changing owners at Glenmorangie
It remained under the same ownership for the next 90 years, but Glenmorangie still suffered from the ups and downs that plagued the industry throughout the 20th century. The American market was particularly important for Macdonald & Muir with their Highland Queen blended whisky, named after Mary Queen of Scots. Consequently, Glenmorangie struggled throughout Prohibition, which came into force in 1919, and the distillery closed in 1931, only to reopen in 1936.
In 1996 the parent company changed its name to the Glenmorangie Company. The offices moved from Leith to a modern facility in Broxburn, West Lothian. Then in 1997 it bought the dilapidated Ardbeg Distillery on Islay from Allied Distillers for £7 million, which sounds like something of a bargain now but at the time Islay single malts were a niche market. The company already owned Glen Moray, bought back in 1923, and various blended whisky brands including the much-loved Bailie Nicol Jarvie.

The move to single malts
But the ‘80s and ‘90s saw a gradual move away from blends to concentrate on single malts. For many years, the 10 Year Old expression was the only one bottled by the distillery but in 1987 Glenmorangie released a 1963 vintage single malt which was finished in oloroso sherry casks. This was followed in the early ‘90s by a Port cask-finished whisky and then a plethora of other cask finishes like Madeira, sherry and Sauternes. The switch to single malts was completed in 2014 when the Bailie Nicol Jarvie was discontinued.
By this stage, after more than 90 years involvement, the MacDonald family sold up to French luxury goods giant Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessey (LVMH) for £300 million. Then in 2008 it sold Glen Moray distillery to another French company, La Martiniquaise, to concentrate on Glenmorangie and Ardbeg.

The Glenmorangie style
The classic Glenmorangie style as epitomised by Glenmorangie 10 majors on fresh fruit like oranges and peaches burnished with sweet American oak. Whisky creator Dr. Bill Lumsden is fond of saying that “that the orangey is morangey in Glenmorangie”, as a way of communicating the core flavour profile and how to pronounce the distillery name.
The process of making Glenmorangie whisky starts with hard water from Tarlogie Springs and an unpeated Scottish barley. The distillery has a stainless steel full lauter mash tun and 14 stainless steel washbacks. The stills are unusual, at over 5m (17ft), they are the tallest in Scotland. This means a massive amount of copper contact and therefore reflux leading to a fruity and very refined new make. The vast majority of ageing takes place in ex-bourbon casks and what are known as ‘designer’ casks, made from specially grown oak in the Ozarks and then filled to Glenmorangie’s specifications with bourbon.

The 16 men of Tain
Glenmorangie claims that it is made as it always has been by the ‘16 men of Tain’ but one name more than any other is synonymous with the distillery today: the aforementioned Dr Bill Lumsden. He was the distillery manager from 1995 to 1998, and from then head of distilling and whisky creation for everything in the Glenmorangie Company’s portfolio. Under Dr Lumsden the cask finishes continued such as Sauternes barrel Nectar D'Or, Port cask The Quinta Ruban 14 Year Old and sherry-finished Lasanta 12 Year Old. He’s also been at the forefront of experimentation earlier in the whisky making stage with products like Signet made using chocolate malt, Cadboll made with single estate barley, and A Tale of the Forest which uses barley kilned with botanicals.

In 2021, Glenmorangie unveiled The Lighthouse, a purpose-built mini distillery equipped with two Forsyth’s copper stills identical to those in the main building so that Dr Lumsden would have somewhere to experiment. Whisky lovers can’t wait to see what he will come up with next.

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