DOWN IN A VALLEY IN SCOTLAND’S RUGGED NORTHERN HIGHLANDS LIES A PRICELESS TREASURE. IN A COUNTRY FAMOUS FOR ITS FINE WHISKIES, THE HOUSE OF GLENMORANGIE IS AMONG THE ELITE, KNOWN WORLDWIDE FOR ITS GOLDEN SPIRITS. WE VISITED THE LEGENDARY DISTILLERY IN THIS MYTHICAL LAND.
FROM BARLEY TO WHISKY
Driving the winding road from Inverness to Glenmorangie gives you some sense of the history of northeastern Scotland, near the estuary of Dornoch Firth. At the time of the Roman conquest, the Pict tribes of the region, who painted their bodies with inks and pigments, were already growing barley in the areas they had settled near the Highland hills. Evidence of their presence can still be found in Ross-shire. One of the finest examples is the Hilton of Cadboll stone: the original has been removed to the National Museum of Scotland for safe-keeping, but a beautiful replica stands proudly in a clearing by the sea, on land owned by Glenmorangie. In fact, the distillery’s signet was inspired by the one of the designs on the famous carved rock.
According to legend, it was not until the 15th century that the “uisge beatha” made from local barley began to appear near the Royal Burgh of Tain. Centuries have passed, but the precious liquid, still produced in similar methods, has become the foundation for a regional renaissance.
BIRTH OF A DISTILLERY
In 1843, impressed by the crystal-clear waters of the Tarlogie Springs and the quality of the barley grown in the fertile soil near the River Tain, William Matheson obtained a permit to establish a distillery near the Morangie farm. The peaceful, bucolic environment, and proximity to the farm that had housed a brewery since 1734, inspired Matheson to name his new establishment Glenmorangie, which means “vale of tranquility” in Gaelic.
The mineral-rich water that carves its way through the limestone and sandstone hills was the key ingredient in his product. The original skilled artisans of the day, known as the Sixteen Men of Tain, developed a beautiful, straw-coloured single-malt whisky with complex flavours that quickly became a favourite.
The company, whose huge copper stills are the tallest in Scotland, remains proud of its heritage. Over time, methods have changed and production has been diversified, but Glenmorangie still relies on the expertise of 30 artisans who watch over every stage, from malting to brewing, from fermenting to distilling. “These men and women of Tain are still key people in our production process,” notes Brendan McCarron, Head of Maturing Whisky Stocks.
IT’S ALL IN THE CASK
Every step is important when making a high-quality single-malt whisky, but it’s the maturing in casks that gives a whisky its unique character. The classic Glenmorangie, with its hint of vanilla, spends ten years in casks of American white oak, while Lasanta owes its full-bodied flavour to casks previously used to age bourbon and Pedro Ximirez and Oloroso sherry.
Pride 1974 is the result of years of research and experimentation. Only 503 bottles were produced of this whisky, aged 41 years to create a remarkable balance between the traces of sherry and sweet bourbon. The nose evokes old Madeiras, fine cognacs and chocolate, with a few surprising salty, menthol notes. The mouth is full, round and mildly spiced, while the long finish hints of caramel and sweet brioche. Not all Glenmorangie whiskies are products for connoisseurs; Many are just fine spirits to delight those beginning to enjoy the pleasures of Scotch whisky.
YOU TAKE THE HIGH ROAD…
If you dream of immersing yourself in the history of the Northeast Highlands of Scotland, or visiting a distillery with a rich and famous past, do take the road to Glenmorangie. At the end of a drive bordered by ancient stones stands Glenmorangie House, a charming 17th century country manor, known for its fine cuisine, but also for its Scotch tastings.
Nature lovers will enjoy the wildlife in and around Dornoch Firth, and applaud the return of oysters to the area, which has been preserved by the Marine Conservation Society, in partnership with Glenmorangie. History buffs can follow the story of the Picts, stopping to examine the monoliths found throughout the region, while fans of the Medieval period can draw inspiration from the pilgrimages of King James IV of Scotland (1473-1513) and honour the memory of Saint Duthac by wandering among the ruins of a 13th century sanctuary. Of course, whisky lovers will get a kick out of a guided tour that covers every corner of the Glenmorangie distillery and every stage of whisky production, ending with a dram of one of the finest Scotches around.
The Scottish Highlands are worth visiting just for their picturesque landscapes, the wild beauty of their coastlines, and their rich history. But if Scotch whisky is your passion, and the ultimate reason for a trip to Scotland, then you’ll want to take Brendan McCarron’s advice. With a glass of whisky in hand, follow the path that leads from Glenmorangie House to the sea, and savour a little bottled gold in the last light of the setting sun.