Jonathan Ray

An evening with Glenmorangie

An evening with Glenmorangie
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We had quite a coup the other day when Dr Bill Lumsden, Director of Distilling at Glenmorangie (and also, incidentally, Ardbeg), chose the Spectator boardroom in which to launch Glenmo’s majestic new release, the Grand Vintage 1991. Apart from a handful of drinks journalists the night before, those Speccie readers lucky enough and swift enough to have grabbed a ticket were the first in the world to sample this extraordinary whisky.

Dr Bill, as he’s fondly known by one and all, is one of the leading figures of the Scotch whisky industry and was named Master Distiller/Master Blender of the Year by Whisky Magazine’s Icons of Whisky Awards in 2016 and as Master Distiller of the Year by the International Whisky Competition in both 2016 and 2017. In short, he knows his onions.

As for Glenmorangie, it’s celebrated for the complexity of its whiskies and its Highland distillery, with its eight towering pot stills – the tallest in all Scotland – is a veritable cathedral to single malt Scotch. Dr Bill made the perfect guide to the range.

Readers were greeted by a specially created Glenmorangie cocktail along with delicious canapés before being led by through a tasting of Glenmorangie Original, Glenmorangie 18 Year Old and, finally, the fabled Glenmorangie Grand Vintage 1991 itself.

Oh, and before I forget, Dr B explained that Glenmorangie rhymes with ‘orangey’ (the colour of the Original’s label), as in ‘Glen-morangey’ rather than with ‘Angie’ as in ‘Glen-more-Angie’. Just saying.

Dr Bill told us how he first encountered single malt whisky as a young man in 1984. “I remember the place, I remember the girl, I remember the song and I remember the whisky – Glenmorangie 10 Year Old. I was completely smitten. How different things might have been if it had been Lagavulin...”

Before long he had found himself a job at Glenmo and has now worked there for longer than he cares to admit. Dr Bill was the brains behind the launch of ‘Signet’, the stunning Glenmorangie expression based around whiskies that are almost 40 years old and which was named Whisky of the Year at the 2016 International Whisky Competition.

He is even more proud of the Grand Vintage 1991 and with reason, for it’s spectacular. Dr Bill explained that he selected two contrasting styles of whisky to create this vintage release. Both long-aged in bourbon casks, each had been finished in oloroso sherry casks or in burgundy casks for more than a decade. With a master distiller’s flair, he married them, softened by a hint of whisky aged in new toasted oak, to create an expression of rich intensity. Dr Bill said: “Bringing together two such incongruous whiskies goes somewhat against convention which, in part, is what drew me to the challenge of combining them. The result is a single malt with a rich plum character, deep, mellow aromas and tastes of ripe fruits and milk chocolate.”

The whisky’s autumnal sunset colour comes from the burgundy barrels for sure and there is also oak on the nose followed by toffee apple, cedarwood and, according to our guide, “the aroma of a freshly lit cigar.”

In the mouth, the whisky is peppery, spicy and mouth-watering with hints of plums, apricots, peaches, cherries and raspberries. There are truffles too and even aniseed. Glenmorangie’s whiskies are known for their complexity and, crikey, this is nothing if not complex. It also changes in the glass, teasing and tantalising with each separate sip.

Dr Bill had encouraged us to add little splashes of water to our previous whiskies (“but not ice, that’s a no-no as it brings out bitter notes in whisky”) but with the 1991 he suggested we supped it neat, to enjoy its complexity and depth.

The Glenmorangie Grand Vintage 1991 is a cracking dram and no mistake and you can be sure that nobody left until the bottle was drained. It was a special evening and there was a distinct bounce to our collective step as the boardroom lights were flicked and finally we felt obliged to depart.

Glenmorangie Grand Vintage 1991 (RRP: £630) is available to buy online at and at leading retailers such as Master of Malt and the Whisky Exchange.

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Written byJonathan Ray

Jonathan Ray is the Spectator's wine editor.

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