Assured UK Malt
Case Study - Glenmorangie
Finest Ingredients and Caring Tradition Go Into Glenmorangie
The rain water which falls on the hills above the Glenmorangie Distillery gently seeps down into the local sandstone. It is estimated that it does not see daylight again for around a hundred years. At that point it finally flows through the spring that provides 10,000 litres of water every hour for the production of single malt whisky. During its hundred year journey this water is naturally filtered to make it pure, clear and rich in minerals. In fact the minerals it picks up make it unusually hard compared to the water used by many distilleries in Scotland for whisky production.
As distillery manager Graham Eunson points out, it is just one of the factors that gives Glenmorangie single malt whisky its distinctive taste, along with the malt, yeast, and the oak barrels used for maturation. The story of the water used to make Glenmorangie shows the degree of care that goes into all the ingredients that are used. While none of the other materials take quite so long to produce, they are, nonetheless, the result of many years of skill and experience, like the whisky itself.
For Bill Lumsden malt is a key part of the process. He worked at Glenmorangie before taking overall responsibility for all three group distilleries: Glenmorangie, Ardbeg and Glen Moray. He has also worked as a maltster, and understands the importance of this most vital of whisky ingredients.
"When I took up my current position,” he says, “I was determined to take malt that fulfilled the highest standards and came only from a very limited area. Within the group all our malt comes from the UK, and the vast majority, including all that is used at Glenmorangie, comes from Scotland.
“The malting barley all comes from the UK, and in fact we do use barley from the Cadboll Farm just down the road. From the malt made with this barley we produce a special Cadboll Spirit. We know that all our malt is made from barley grown to the highest standards within a farm assurance scheme.
“Equally all our malt is produced by companies within the Assured UK Malt (AUKM) scheme. I am a great supporter of the scheme and I think that more people should know about it. At Glenmorangie we do not treat malt as a commodity. We are concerned about issues of quality, reputation and traceability. Brand values and authenticity are a crucial part of our business, and buying AUKM malt supports those values.”
As you would expect Glenmorangie is a company with a long heritage. Brewing took place on this site on the south side of the Dornoch Firth as long ago as 1736. However, the history of distilling here dates back to 1843, when William Matheson applied for a license to distil. In setting up his distillery, Matheson introduced one of the factors which contributes to the unique taste of Glenmorangie to this day - the height of the stills. The stills he bought were second-hand and had previously been used for producing gin. At 5.137m (16 feet 101/4 inches), they are the tallest in Scotland.
Given the exactness of the measurements given by Graham Eunson, one can clearly see the degree of care that goes into ensuring the ongoing authenticity of the whisky produced by Glenmorangie. While each year’s production is, like fine wines, very slightly different, consistency of quality remains an obsession for those who work at Glenmorangie. Even though the number of stills has been doubled twice in recent years –in 1977 and once more in 1990 – the original design has always been adhered to.
Graham describes lovingly how the malt is processed prior to mashing, the exact temperature of the spring water used at each of the three ‘washes’, and the 52 hours required for fermentation in the ‘washbacks’, before the liquid moves on to the still house. Here the alcohol is distilled twice, once to produce the ‘low wines’ at around 24% alcohol, and then in the spirit still where the new-made spirits will be produced. However, it is only the middle portion of this spirit that ultimately goes into Glenmorangie whisky, with the first portion (the foreshots), and last portion (the feints) returning for recycling. Glenmorangie says that it takes the smallest cut in the industry of the spirit that ultimately goes on for maturation, and this is just one more sign of the care which goes into producing their whisky.
Although the central console gives control over the stills, the process is very far from automated, and the worker in charge changes the flow by hand to determine when the changeover point occurs between the foreshots, the whisky spirit and the feints.
From here the whisky spirit goes to be filled in casks. Glenmorangie uses ex-Bourbon casks for its maturation process. While some spirit goes into casks that have only ever had bourbon in, and some goes into 2nd fill casks that have previously been used for whisky, care is again taken to ensure the best possible conditions and consistent quality. At any one time around 138,705 casks will be maturing in the 15 warehouses used by the distillery.
Here it will stay for a minimum of 10 years – the ten year old single malt is Glenmorangie’s signature product. However, it may be kept for longer and could also be ‘finished’ in a different cask that has previously been used for wines such as port or sherry.
Glenmorangie is one of the top selling single malt scotch whiskies. Around half of its production goes for export to 126 countries throughout the world including Japan, the USA, Russia and India as well as mainland Europe. Furthermore, every year around 22,000 visitors travel up to the north of Scotland to see the distillery and find out for themselves how Glenmorangie is made.
The answer according to Graham Eunson is clear: from clear spring water, from the best malt in the world, from excellent yeast, and through maturing in the best oak casks available. However, for anyone visiting the distillery and talking to people such Graham Eunson and Bill Lumsden, who are responsible for its production, it is clear that Glenmorangie is made not only from the finest ingredients, but also with a tradition of loving care and attention to detail which is over 150 years old.
Assured UK Malt Director Colin West concludes: “As the only malt scheme in the world that is independently audited, and internationally recognised, AUKM provides a degree of brand protection that makes it first choice for companies like Glenmorangie.”