First, a quick whisky-making lesson: As a whisky matures in a cask, layers of aromatic molecular wood compounds intermingle with the distilled spirit. This is why younger Scotch whiskies tend to express fruitier and more floral notes. Over time, wood deepens or even silences those delicate flavors, also adding notes such as vanillas, fig, raisin, caramel and tannins, the element that lends a structure to a fine spirit then finessed under the care of a talented whisky maker. Too much tannin and aged whisky tastes like biting into the side of a tree or an orange pith.
Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie's head of distilling and whisky creation, admits that he normally doesn't like really old whisky.
"It's often too woody and dusty," he says.
However, he accepted the challenge from his team to make a rare whisky by exploring some of the oldest aging casks.
"I pushed the envelope as far as I could with this one, to see where the edge of a beautiful whisky could lie," Lumsden says.
The Pride 1974 is a vatting — or marrying — of whiskies matured in two different casks, one in American oak casks that formerly held bourbon, the other in ex-Spanish casks that used to hold Oloroso sherry. 41 years on, a union of liquid matured in these two types of casks became the rare bottling. Single-malt scotch distillers commonly fill their distillate in ex-bourbon or ex-sherry casks, with each type contributing different attributes to the whisky over time.
"I was looking for individual old barrels that would harmonize nicely together and that fans would still recognize as a Glenmorangie, Lumsden says. "Of course, it should also be a reflection of Scotland."
After a nose and a sip, I interpret that to mean lush and wistful, with hints of orange, toffee and chocolate. A whiff of cedar wood — just enough to give it a slightly rugged and masculine character without overpowering the more perfumey attributes, rounds it out. It lingers. It's sublime.