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February 1, 2012

Glenmorangie Artein

‘You’d like to visit the Glenmorangie Distillery, Long John Silver, up in Tain?’

‘Arrrrr – Tain!’

Excuse the pun. I’m quite sure it is not how Dr Bill Lumsden would like his latest creation in the Private Editions range to be introduced but I’d much rather fool around with a piratical play on words than go through the Scots Gaelic derivation.

‘Stone’ follows on from Sonnalta and Finealta in the Highland distillery’s more experimental annual releases. The whisky is a vatting of two thirds 15yo spirit to one third 21yo spirit, matured in ex-Bourbon hogsheads and finished in Super Tuscan wine casks. The distillery’s water source is famously hard. I tried to clamber up to the Tarlogie Spring while I was up in the area during the summer, but pulled out of the attempt before I became too sodden. The limestone surroundings are said to ‘contribute to the whisky’s complex fruity aromas’.

The wood finish is one Lumsden is especially interested in. ‘I was fascinated by the role stony ground played in cultivating the vines – therefore influencing the flavour profile of the famed Super Tuscan wines,’ he said. ’I was inspired to experiment with extra maturing Glenmorangie in these wine casks and was thrilled with the result – a rich, outstandingly fragrant whisky – born of stone.’

I sampled the Sonnalta at the distillery, and whilst I admired its citrussy richness, I felt the malt only wore the Pedro Ximenez finish like a sumptuous Parka, without absorbing its characters. Here are my thoughts on the Artein.

Glenmorangie Artein 46% vol. £69.99

Colour – Stunning: rich orange with pinkish depths.

Nose – Hovering around the rim of the glass is a wall of matte, moist barley sweetness, sandiness (like I find with the LaSanta) and veins of oak. There is also a clean, buttery toffee aroma and a warm, rich grapiness halfway between the robust Quinta Ruban and the sweet, crystallised Nectar d’Or. With the nose in the glass, the red grape, winey notes build but what really interests is the silky Bourbon presence: corny and sweet with sugary plums. Clean peach tones in addition to rich vanilla cupcakes. After a sip and some time, mandarin and nectarine emerge along with ever-so-sweet cereals. Iced cinnamon buns.

Water sweetens the experience still further with delicate citrus mousse tones. Perfumed and chunky – yet smooth – maltiness. Bourbon oak returns: heavy, oily corn and eucalyptus. Oozing rich toffee. Mandarin again and milk chocolate. More time reveals orange and marzipan as well as fudge. The whole arrangement boasts a remarkable clarity.

Palate – Fruits come to the fore, although at first they are definitely cask-driven: orange, date and apricot. The cling and sugars all come from the Bourbon casks, but they are lovely examples; so creamy but, yes, corny.

Water does not detract from the clinging quality. It is still sweet with citrus fruits and honey. A rich earthiness builds, before dark oak rolls into view. Chocolate biscuit.

Finish - Much of the Bourbon influence here – in fact, if more of the Bourbons I drank finished as gently and sublty as this I would be a happier man. Long with jammy notes (strawberry and plum). Creamy vanilla suggesting French pastries, although the concluding flavours are cake-like.

Water renders the effect more gentle still with soft, leathery malt and fig rolls. Icing sugar and apple puree. The oak returns and they are fine, rounded casks. Plums and corny Bourbon at the death.

So…?      This is a strange whisky: rich and involving, but not exactly Glenmorangie. Indeed, with such a hefty proportion of well-matured stock I had expected a little more finesse, perhaps with more of that ethereal sweetness which the Nectar d’Or has in spades. A common thread in the tasting notes was the strong Bourbon character and this I found very enjoyable indeed. It reminded me a lot of a more well-mannered version of the Wild Turkey 101 I’ve been drinking in St Andrews: rich, full, creamy and fruity. Of course, the Wild Turkey is about a third of the price.

The Glenmorangie Artein is a very assured – even charming – whisky, but there is far more to be had at a more competitive price from the Quinta Ruban.

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