I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that there may have been a mix up here on Glenmorangie’s end, maybe even some deception. Despite sending them to three different people on several occasions, I never received answers to any of my questions so I didn’t bother sending the second wave of them for confirmation. With that in mind, I may be wrong… though there is a clear source of information quoting Bill Lumsden himself, posted on the Glenmorangie webpage that seems to confirm what I’m about to say despite what the bottle says in tiny print on the label.
Lots of well known bloggers accuse this whisky of being aged like a Bourbon and then talk about how Bourbon-like it is. The power of suggestion is strong, but my first few glasses of this left me perplexed. I’ve had a handful of American style malts before, and this was not nearly as bold as I expected. I understand that US mash bills have more room for variation but, in my mind, the casks they used to mature this (allegedly heavily-charred virgin casks coopered from the same forests that many familiar Bourbon labels use) should have made them much more similar to their American counterparts. It does have faint echoes of American whisky; slight grassy notes, cooling finish and it’s a little woodier than most single malts; but it’s still mysteriously different. I think it all boils down to one very subtle distinction that I think got misconstrued (or purposefully obfuscated) and sent down to the labeling department to be aggregated over and over again by bloggers who know better than to bother brand ambassadors with stupid questions.
While Glenmorangie’s webcopy doesn’t say the casks are charred or not, their press release implies that they aren’t using heavily charred virgin oak here; Lumsden comments that the Ealanta came from heavily toasted virgin oak, which won’t make this recognizable to someone expecting an American style Glenmorangie. Toasted and charred are two different levels of burning. Toasting is what sherry makers do to their casks and implies that many wood-sugar caramels are created. The wood will be dark brown and charcoal has not really formed. It makes for a sweeter spirit with more spice and nuttiness, but it can take longer to mature spirit in this type of wood. Charred casks are what Bourbon, Rye and American Malt whisky use. The word implies that they were burned enough to produce charcoal, which gives less spice but more vanilla and smoke. The charcoal acts as a filter, mellows some extra immaturity and darkens the spirit dramatically. Both types of casks are toasted while shaping them, but the charred casks get an extra blast of fire once formed.
Any diligent blogger would have caught this by sight, before even tasting the decidedly not-American-style palate. This is almost two decades old and lighter than most 2 year old Bourbons out there. That was one of the first things I noticed. Sure the climate is different in Scotland, but so much so that 19 years wouldn’t rival the color two years in Kentucky could procure? It’s not a desert; it does snow in Kentucky.
The palate and color considered, it makes me wonder if the Ealanta couldn’t be second-fill or refill ex-Bourbon casks, merely spiked with a few casks of virgin oak. Maybe they were even heavily charred casks, but only a tiny percent of the whole vatting. Those who can say for sure are understandably sticking to their guns.
Nose: The first wave to hit me was a blast of sour apricots and wood glue. Short ribs and balloon rubber. Eventually the whisky opens up to sweet-cream ice cream before surrendering to a horse stable filled with malted barley, obvious plums and unripe bananas. Grassy cinnamon, nutty ginger powder, light cumin and medicated menthol show up and clarify the woods pedigree. Nutty Buddy bars make occasional appearances. It took me a few minutes to figure it out what it was but if I pick up out of the glass a little and sniff, I definitely get a little butane at the back of my nose.
Palate: Peppery, flat caramel, plums, with a faint tinge of cola and uncanny tarragon. Mild wafts of cumin and nutmeg. Very farmy, slightly drying, and slightly woody for moments. Coppery semi-sweet chocolate in the finish which is cooling on the tongue. Slightly green. It has obvious similarities with a first fill ex-Bourbon cask, but really, I think the Bourbon aspects of this one have been over stated; for me, it shares more in common with the American craft whisky scene, like some of it was finished in a small cask.
The Ealanta is like a tangy, peppery, grassy version of the 10 year Original. It’s a predictably awesome whisky.
Thanks go to Gretha Smart and David Blackmore for the bottle!