Whisky Focus - An Evening of Scottish Virtuosity 2019 With Glenmorangie & Ardbeg

An Evening of Scottish Virtuosity 2019 by Murray Cohen

22nd January 2019

This years annual Vintages/LCBO sponsored "An Evening of Scottish Virtuosity" event in Toronto, Canada saw Glenmorangie and Ardbeg whisky creator Dr. Bill Lumsden present some very rare premium whiskies from their extensive ranges, and once again our guest writer, Murray Cohen, a Member of the International Order of the Companions of the Quaich and Scotch Malt Whisky Forum Member was there to review the event and of course, the whiskies.

An Evening of Scottish Virtuosity 2019 - Murray Cohen (left) with Dr Bill Lumsden

The premier event of the Toronto single malt scene, "An Evening of Scottish Virtuosity 2019" which is sponsored by Vintages/LCBO was held at the prestigious National Club on January 15, 2019. Dr. Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation and Whisky Stocks representing the Glenmorangie Company led the structured tasting of nine single malts from Glenmorangie and Ardbeg distilleries. Bill had his hand in the creation of many of the whiskies offered by these two distilleries. His skill and knowledge in everything "whisky" is only matched by his quick wit and engaging personality which made the evening fly by too quickly.

Bill provided a cornucopia of factual and anecdotal information regarding whisky and particularly single malts from these two distilleries. He provided insight both as a scientist and whisky aficionado. Bill’s PhD in chemistry earned many years ago was actually on the effects of calcium and magnesium on fermentation.

Dr. Lumsden addressed some interesting tidbits associated with Glenmorangie. For example, the distillery has the tallest copper stills in Scotland so the mascot of Jeffrey the Giraffe makes perfect sense. Glenmorangie was established in 1843 but the stills were changed in 1887 and were actually second hand gin stills purchased in London. One of his main points was that the character of whisky is determined by what goes on in the walls in the distillery while the water from the local source provides less than a five per cent contribution to the final product.

Bill also proffered some fascinating information about Ardbeg Distillery. There are only two stills and the spirit still has a purifier on the lyne arm that recycles vapors into more floral/herbal complexity which balances the whisky, particularly the peaty component. No one would say that Ardbeg is a floral whisky but the process and science indicates that the purifier does provide a balance in aroma and taste as mentioned.

Dr. Lumsden is willing to push the limits of whisky innovation with offerings like Glenmorangie Signet with chocolate malted barley and Ardbeg grooves with experimentation with barrel effects.

I should mention that the nine whiskies presented were paired with some very unique food items including seafood, cheese, chocolate and meat. I choose not to avail myself of any of the food items as I wanted to create my own taste notes without any outside food influence that would obviously change my palate.

The nine whiskies tasted on the night at an "Evening of Scottish Virtuosity 2019" were:

  • Glenmorangie Spios Private Edition No. 9
  • Glenmorangie 18 Year Old
  • Glenmorangie Signet
  • Glenmorangie Grand Vintage 1989
  • Ardbeg Grooves Committee Edition
  • Ardbeg Twenty Something 22 Year Old
  • Ardbeg Corryvreckan
  • Ardbeg Uigeadail
  • Ardbeg An OA

You will find my description of the nine single malts sampled on the evening below, along with my own detailed taste notes and score for each of the eight drams.

Most of the whiskies are available to buy from specialist online whisky shops such as  The Whisky Exchange and Master of Malt

Glenmorangie Spios Private Edition No. 9 Review

This Highland whisky is bottled at 46% ABV. The term "spios" translates as "spicy" and has the benefit of maturation in ex-American rye whisky casks. Glenmorangie Spios Private Edition 9th ReleaseThere were only a few thousand cases produced.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Hay.

Nose: Honey dew melon slices impress immediately with waves of cotton candy and sweet strawberry candy canes. Berry salt water taffy awakens with a hint of smoky mocha.

Taste: Full-bodied and creamy. The spice makes its stage presence known with an additional surge of After Eight chocolate mints with some subtle leather elements and a peppery center.

Finish: Long, the mint delightfully expands with spice and leathery tannin protuberances with a green/grassy aftertaste.

Comment: This is the 9th limited edition bottling in the Private Edition Series. The whisky does have a spicy kick no doubt from the rye whisky cask influence.

SMW Score 89.5/100

Glenmorangie 18 Year Old Review

Bottled at 43% ABV, this whisky is aged for fifteen years in American white oak casks and approximately 30% is then transferred into Spanish Oloroso casks for three years. When both elements have reached 18 years, they are blended back together. Dr. Lumsden calls this whisky the Chanel NO. 5 of single malts.

Glenmorangie 18 Year OldMurray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Gold.

Nose: An assorted basket of fruit infuses into your olfactory system. Vanilla bean and banana split essences alight. A triad of pralines, honey comb and perfume beckons.

Taste: Full-bodied and creamy. Mandarin oranges headline a variety of exotic fruits delightfully satisfying with a sweet revolving door of flavors.

Finish: Long. A citrus and honey melange with a touch of butterscotch impresses. Fresh cantaloupe shows up on the caboose.

Comment: In some ways, this whisky fulfils my definition of a dessert dram with substance and panache.

SMW Score 90/100

Glenmorangie Signet Review

Bottled at 46% ABV. According to Dr. Lumsden, the Signet is his "magnum opus" of the Glenmorangie brand and the most unusual whisky made in Scotland. It is fashioned from chocolate barley malt, i.e., malted barley exposed to high temperature like roasting coffee. He noted that the chocolate malt recipe is a complicated one. There are obvious production secrets but I have heard that some of the whisky is 30 years old in addition to some whisky aged in virgin oak casks.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dark amber.

Nose: Blood oranges pervade with mango pudding, dried dark fruit compote and jammy essences. Chocolate infused with orange bits continue the journey. Intense espresso crema ( sugary sweet), black walnuts, roasted chestnuts, Ethiopian bold black coffee and chocolate pudding come in quick succession like a kaleidoscope. A leathery element can be discerned which balances the sweetness.

Taste: Full-bodied and oily. Swiss chocolate, spumoni and tiramisu top the menu along with fudge and crème de cacao. A late key lime pie serving is shuffled into the mix.

Finish: Long. Mocha and spice elements abound here with servings of Danish pastry. High coca content dark chocolate and fudgsicles give comfort. Caramelized brown sugar adds to the equation.

Comment: I just love the innovation here, the thickness and robustness of the whisky, the pungent aromas and flavors. It may not be for everybody including a very famous whisky pundit but for me it is a shining star in the whisky galaxy and one of my favorites.

SMW Score 96/100

Glenmorangie Grand Vintage 1989 Review

Bottled at 43% ABV. This Grand Vintage is the second release Vintage Collection Bond House No.1 (former still house). The whisky is finished in ex-Cote Rotie wine casks and is 27 years old. There was a limited supply of a few hundred cases produced. Bill Lumsden is proud of his creation here and it is deemed to be a connoisseur’s single malt by many.

Glenmorangie Grand Vintage 1989Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Reddish brown (if I may say, almost like a Canadian Fall season leaf during one stage of its life cycle.

Nose: The whisky in my view develops its nose in stages of temporal succession rather than hitting you all at once, thus moving along on an aromatic conveyer belt. Buttermilk pancakes fuse with sponge candy and then layers of caramelized bananas, nectarines, vanilla nougat, lemon meringue, butter pecan ice cream and Belgian waffles.

Taste: Full-bodied and creamy smooth. Once again emphasis on shortbread/butter biscuits, vanilla, toffee apple, grandma’s homemade apple jellies with candy store and pastry shop reminiscences.

Finish: Long. A spice halo hovers; the apple theme perseverates. Pistachio and citrus notes with an oaky presence enter the picture.

Comment: This quality whisky deserves time in the glass so the complexity and layers of aromas and flavors can unwrap and truly express themselves. I could have spent an hour with this one.

SMW Score 96/100

Ardbeg Grooves Committee Edition Review

Ardbeg Grooves Committee EditionBottled at 51.6%% ABV. Another of Bill’s creations, this whisky was matured in ex-wine casks heavily charred so as to produce grooves which created a more intense flavor profile.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Light amber.

Nose: A fruit bowl featuring exotic pickings and highlighting cantaloupe enmeshed in a smoky-peaty web with Islay written all over it.

Taste: Full-bodied and oily. An instantaneous peat sledge hammer breaks off a sugary crust followed by chilli and spice flavors.

Finish: Long. The spice becomes more potent and surges along like delectable lava.

Comment: This whisky is purported to be mellow but in my view it does have a few periods of intensity that should not go unnoticed.

SMW Score 90/100

Ardbeg Twenty Something 22 Year Old Review

Bottled at 46.4% ABV. This is the third bottling of the Ardbeg Twenty Something matured in ex-bourbon casks and distilled in 1996. Ardbeg Twenty Something 22 Year OldAccording to Bill, "It offers an incredibly flavourful, silky quality which is exceptional. I can think of no better way to celebrate those whisky lovers who helped keep Ardbeg alive during its darkest days."

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Peat on a lollipop along with bananas and vanilla leaking into maple syrup. Waffle cone and a hint of pomegranate evolve. The peat is ghost-like, there and then subtly vanishes.

Taste: Full-bodied. Peat n’ caramel alight with a smooth nutty paste and a gentle overall touch on the palate.

Finish: Long. Wafts "dainty" smoke and peat with spice tendrils and plays some sweet Ardbeg soft music.

Comment: Not your typical Ardbeg; a gentler more humble whisky with appeal to those wanting a less fiery, intense dram.

SMW Score 95/100

Ardbeg Corryvreckan Review

Ardbeg CorryvreckanBottled at 57.1% ABV. Here we have a whisky from first fill and refill ex-bourbon oak casks and French oak casks (reportedly a 50-50 mix) and takes its name from a tidal whirlpool to the north of Islay. This one has many accolades including winning World's Best Single Malt Whisky at the World Whisky Awards in 2010 and the Best No Age Statement Scotch from Jim Murray's Whisky Bible.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes: Black laces (licorice) tied to a particularly sweet anise with buttermilk, French toast and breakfast reminiscences.

Taste: "In your face" with the smoke and peat layers, spice, salt and a true Islay send-off.

Finish: Long. Fireplace elements maintain and shine on what’s left after toasting marshmallows on an open fire. A subliminal sweetness flashes in and out.

Comment: This is cask strength gem which fits the mould of a solid Ardbeg whisky.

SMW Score 93.5/100

Ardbeg Uigeadail Review

Bottled at 54.2% ABV. This one is matured in sherry casks from Spain and has 8 to 14 year old whiskies, 40% ex- sherry and 60% ex-bourbon casks according to Bill. Ardbeg UigeadailUigeadail refers to a "dark and mysterious place" and is the loch from which Ardbeg water flows.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Amber prism.

Nose: Intense, voluptuous and meaty on the olfactory sense. A sugary tinged peat collides with medicine cabinet and creosote flakes.

Taste: Full-bodied, smooth and creamy. A lovely bouquet of cherries jubilee, black cherries, dark fruit compote, sultanas; the sherry influence is unmistakable.

Finish: Long. A sequence of enjoyable essences: berries and peat, spice, Christmas pudding, ginger and cinnamon. The aftertaste goes to infinity.

Comment: The whisky is a connoisseur’s dream especially as regards the number and variety of aromas and flavors packed inside with a neat bow to open.

SMW Score 94.5/100

Ardbeg An OA Review

Ardbeg An OaBottled at 46% ABV. Here we have a combination of spirit aged in Pedro-Ximenez sherry casks and bourbon barrels married in a French oak marrying vat. An Oa is named after the Mull of Oa in the south west of Islay.

Murray Cohen's Tasting Notes:

Colour: Deep gold.

Nose: Medicinal, seaweed, salt all wrapped in black licorice strings. Anise lingers on the nose with flashes of sweetness.

Taste: Full-bodied and smooth. Peat and figs feature with a longer fruity interlude which bows to a spice melange. Dare I say essence of cigar rolling by hand.

Finish: Long. The spice and peat perseverate and lichee nuts (unsweetened) enter the fray with peanut on the half shell.

Comment: A satisfying whisky in all respects. Bill is very high on this whisky.

SMW Score 92/100

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