Single Malt Scotch Whisky
Sauternes Cask Finish
In hindsight it makes perfect sense for distillers to “finish” their whisky but it wasn’t always commonplace. At least no major distillers were really bragging about their ‘finishing prowess’ until Balvenie started doing so in the 1980s. Simply stated, finishing whisky is the practice of transferring the maturing whisky from its original barrel to a different type of barrel or cask. In Scotland, most whisky begins its maturation in ex-bourbon casks and if the whisky isn’t “finished,” it will simply stay in that barrel for its entire maturation time; 12 years, 15 years, etc. For those whiskies slated to be finished, the spirit will spend an additional six months to two years in the new cask.
As I mentioned earlier the idea of finishing makes perfect sense. In fact it’s a concept that whisky novices easily grasp. It’s a known fact that whisky’s color, aroma, and flavor are greatly impacted by the barrel that it is aged in, so why not change up the barrel to add layers of complexity to the final product? The most common finishing in Scotland is the ‘Sherry Cask Finish.’ Sherry is a Spanish fortified wine whose barrels lend sherry finished whiskies an array of dried fruit and spices not typically found in the primary maturation casks.
Seizing upon the success of finishing whiskies, Scotland’s whisky distillers went a little overboard with their experiments. In addition to the obvious attempts with casks originally used to age red wine, fortified wine, and various liqueurs, distillers threw out all of the handbooks and went for it by trying out hot sauce barrels and even barrels used for pickling herring. Some poor distiller’s lackey had to taste these ungodly creations.
If you’ve ever had the good fortune of tasting France’s golden nectar commonly referred to as Sauternes, you’ve surely wondered what took these distillers so long to employ Sauternes barrels for finishing whisky. The truth is that Glenmorangie, who was the first to finish in Sauternes casks, started distributing The Nectar D’Or in 2010 but the limited nature of the Sauternes casks makes this release sometimes difficult to obtain. The steep price of Sauternes casks makes it unlikely that it will ever challenge sherry as the go-to finishing cask. Almost every year since the inception of The Nectar D’Or, Glenmorangie has been tweaking the specs of this bottling and I suspect it has something to do with improving The Nectar D’Or’s availability while maintaining its level of excellence within the range.
THE PRONUNCIATION GAME
I’ve learned over the years that there are two types of people in this world; those who try to pronounce names as they were intended, and those who shamelessly don’t give a rip and pronounce names however it rolls off their tongue. What side of this pronunciation fence you’re on will determine how you pronounce Glenmorangie. Correct pronunciation for Glenmorangie is: glen-MORE-angie but if you honestly pull up to the bar and ask for it with the Scottish accent and have no blood ties to Scotland, you’re a third type of person.
The Glenmorangie has a delightful nose with rich notes of apple, vanilla, citrus, and caramel. The first sip delivers intense white oak balanced by fruit, and sweet spice on the palate. Go in for a second taste and the flavors just flourish to include lemon zest, custard, Christmas cake, and a slight hint of chocolate. It’s beautifully balanced with wave after wave of complex flavors.
CIGAR PAIRING: Aganorsa Leaf Signature Selection
This is one of those rare pairings that you come across where everything just works. The Aganorsa Leaf Signature Selection brings a rich and creamy profile of cedar, cocoa, and vanilla with a hint of pepper. The intenseness of the cigar and the scotch are evenly matched allowing both to just do their thing unencumbered. The whisky’s vanilla and caramel notes are elevated on the finish making an already delicious experience somehow better.