The Spectator

Advertisement Feature: Beauty and the Beast

Single malt can be a very complex business but, for the sake of simplification, consider these two outstanding whiskies at opposite ends of the style spectrum

Advertisement Feature: Beauty and the Beast
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Advertisement Feature


The objective at Glenmorangie is whisky perfection; there are no quick fixes and, at each stage, only the best will do. The distillery has been pursuing this same goal since 1843 and makes Scotland’s favourite single malt.

Glenmorangie is known for having the tallest stills in Scotland, standing at an impressive 5.14 metres (16ft 101/4 inches). In a Darwinian idiom, the more the alcohol vapours have to defy gravity as they climb to the top of the stills, the greater the likelihood that the fatter, heavier ones won’t survive. Thus, the tall stills result in only the very lightest and purest spirit making it over the top of the elongated necks, giving a more elegant and less oily whisky.

For maturation, the finest oak casks are selected but, unusually, they are only used twice. It is not unusual for casks to be used five times or more in the industry, but Dr Bill Lumsden’s view is that the maximum extraction of flavour during maturation is essential to deliver Glenmorangie’s trademark taste profile and mouthfeel.

It is arguable that no one knows more about wood than Glenmorangie as pioneers of the concept of extra maturation in the 1980s. Led by the charismatic Lumsden, the Glenmorangie whisky creation team searches the world for exceptional casks that will provide additional, intriguing layers of flavour to the original character of Glenmorangie. The voluptuous Quinta Ruban is matured in port pipes and the full-bodied Lasanta in Oloroso sherry butts. ‘With 60 per cent of the flavour coming from the cask we knew that if we improved the quality of our wood, we would improve the quality of our whisky. That is why we are passionately, and scientifically, committed to creating the perfect casks in which to mature our precious spirit.’

Glenmorangie Original tasting notes

This elegant, floral yet complex whisky is at the core of the Glenmorangie range. A delicious 10-year-old single malt which harmonises Glenmoragnie’s delicate spirit with the judicious use of both first and second-fill American white oak casks.

Nose: the scent of citrus and ripening peaches is softened by the aroma of vanilla.

Palate: initially, vanilla is detected on the tongue before a burst of flowery fruitiness.

Finish: a satisfying, clean and comforting aftertaste with hints of orange and peach lingers.


One of eight distilleries on the Hebridean island of Islay, Ardbeg (meaning ‘small headland’ in Gaelic) makes the peatiest whisky of them all and is, perhaps, diametrically opposed to Glenmorangie. The house style is briny, phenolic, all tarry rope and smoked fish. However, Ardbeg is never one-dimensional, as the peaty thwack is balanced by sweetness and citrus. Whisky industry insiders were not surprised to learn that an Ardbeg scooped the 2010 Scotch Whisky of the Year Award in Jim Murray’s Whisky Bible for the third year in a row. He called Ardbeg ‘unquestionably the greatest distillery on earth’.

Here, the maturation process is about taming the untameable spirit that runs off the stills.

Unlike some Islay malts, Ardbeg 10-year-old doesn’t flaunt its peatiness; rather it gives way to the natural sweetness of the malt to produce a whisky of perfect balance. Most single malts are chill-filtered and reduced to a strength of 40% ABV. Ardbeg 10, however, is non-chill-filtered and has a strength of 46% ABV, thus retaining maximum flavour but at the same time giving more body and added depth. Think of it as whisky with none of the goodness taken out, a liquid reflection of its rugged island home.

Look out for the Ardbeg Land Girls who, in typically unconventional fashion, will be offering samples of Ardbeg 10 in a variety of locations, including the Vintage House on Old Compton Street. Visit for more information and join the Ardbeg Committee for exclusive offers.

So there you have it, the two faces of single malt. On the one hand, the beautifully smooth, perfectly balanced, delicious layers of citrus, vanilla and peach of Glenmorangie. On the other, Ardbeg, the peatiest Islay malt whisky; it packs a powerful punch but has sweetness at its heart.

Ardbeg 10-year-old tasting notes

Nose: a burst of intense smoky fruit – peat infused with zesty lemon and lime, wrapped in waxy dark chocolate. Bold menthol, black pepper, tarry ropes, graphite, smoked fish and crispy bacon.

Palate: peat, tangy lemon and lime juice, black pepper, cinnamon-spiced toffee, ripe bananas and currants. As the taste lengthens and deepens, liquorice root and tarry smoke develop.

Finish: this whisky goes on and on – long and smoky with espresso, aniseed, toasted almonds and traces of soft barley and fresh pear.