Glenmorangie releases $ 900 Grand Vintage Malt 1997 and limited edition 18 year old

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“I’m a PhD chemist, but I see myself more as an artist than a scientist,” says Glenmorangie Master Distiller and Blender Dr. Bill Lumsden. “I see my whiskeys in terms of colors.” I recently spoke with Dr. Bill over the phone about two of Glenmorangie’s new releases. The first is the latest in their Bond House No. 1 vintage series: The Glenmorangie Grand Vintage Malt 1997 ($ 900), with whiskey aged for a decade in bourbon casks, then further aged for 13 years in red wine casks from Château Montrose in Bordeaux. The other is a collaboration with Japanese artist Azuma Makoto, who created the botanical sculpture “Dancing Flowers of Glenmorangie”, inspired by the floral motifs from Glenmorangie 18 Years Old. The artwork will be displayed on a limited edition series of the bottling.

Tell me about the story of Glenmorangie’s vintage series.

Just back then I was asked to give an older expression to one or two markets. I put together a 25-year-old on the basis that it was a one-time course that should never be repeated. The markets came back and said we love it, can we have some more? I put together an approximation to that recipe and made another release. Then our company was acquired by LVMH in 2005 and they wanted a third release and wanted it to be global.

And so you decided to let go of the consistency and make each release aim for something unique?

Yes, we decided we wanted to celebrate the inconsistency. We would bottle from a single year and have them all deliberately different. 1997 is this year’s offer, and what makes it special is 14 years ago, I bought small quantities of barrels from Château Montrose in Saint-Estèphe and put whiskey in them, and it helps to put the mixture together. All the whiskeys inside are 23 or 24 years old and distilled in 1997. Some are from American oak and some from sherry casks, but a healthy bite is from the Château Montrose casks, which I think give the whiskey a complex sweetness.

How often did you taste the Château Montrose dishes over the years to see how they evolved?

I think I tasted it after a year and then forgot it a bit and was then pleasantly surprised. We’re one of the smaller companies, but I have half a million barrels, so sometimes I rediscover them a little later. I also hide many of my barrels so they are only released when I think they are ready. I usually look almost ten years ahead and want to find things I can keep doing for such a long time. I have already put together the recipe for the next vintage 1998.

What do you think about all the attention tags that put on limited editions? Do you think it detracts from the core releases?

I think this trend is here to stay. Everyone wants new things, and new releases keep me interested and consumers interested – it adds a little spice. But if what you do does not taste good, there is no point. I have the final veto on what goes in the bottle, and if my experiments do not work, they will not be released. But I would like to emphasize that at least 50% of my work goes into maintaining the core selection, products that we try to keep consistent. Although it seems that the more new products I offer, the more they want.

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What led to the collaboration with Azuma Makoto about the limited edition 18-year-old?

The 18 Years Old has an incredibly floral perfumed bouquet. I refer to it as the Chanel No. 5 of malt whiskey. So when we were looking for an artist to collaborate with our friends, we pointed in the direction of Azuma Makoto, who makes sculptures of living flowers.

Did you do an in-depth tasting with him to help him understand the whiskey?

When I met with him, I said I can talk to you for hours about distillation, but you do not have to worry about it. All you have to think about is how delicious the taste is and what images and emotions it evokes for you. So he made “Dancing Flowers of Glenmorangie.” Since it was made of real flowers, it was not something we could send on a world tour – it only lasted two days. What was most frustrating is that even I did not get to see it because of COVID. But he chose all these beautiful flowers that reflect my descriptions of the whiskey.

Do you like the collaboration of the artists?

People look at making whiskey in quality as a serious business, but when drinking, it’s all about pleasure and fun. Many of the artists I have worked with, whether it is a chef or a clothing designer, are open to thinking about things in a different way. I am a Ph.D. chemist, but I see myself more as an artist than a scientist. I see my whiskeys in terms of colors.

Are there good and bad colors for whiskey?

There are no bad colors, only those that reflect the taste and texture of the whiskey. If I think of Glenmorangie The Original 10 in one or two colors, it would be lemon and green, light and summery. With the 18 there are shades of purple and violet, it is much darker and Azuma Makoto really captured it with the sculpture.

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