A passion for wood
Interview with Andy MacDonald
MacDonald has dedicated himself to Glenmorangie’s pioneering single malt since becoming the Highland Distillery’s manager nine years ago. Assisted by Glenmorangie’s select craftsmen, the Men of Tain, he ensures that the Distillery’s delicate spirit emerges pure and smooth as ever, from Scotland’s tallest stills. And, drawing on Glenmorangie’s generations of expertise in wood, he oversees the spirit’s meticulous maturation in the finest casks, which are only ever used twice to create the smoother, rounder tastes of the Distillery’s signature single malt, Glenmorangie The Original. A vocation such as Andy’s takes up much of his time. But whenever he has a spare moment, he takes out his bicycle – and immerses himself in the Highland landscape to which Glenmorangie owes so much. Which is why the whisky’s pioneering collaboration with Renovo Hardwood Bicycles to create bicycles made from The Original’s casks, is so close to his heart. Here, he reveals the secrets of these celebrated casks.
What are the casks you use for Glenmorangie Original?
We use only the finest American white oak casks to mature Glenmorangie Original. These ex-bourbon casks, made to Glenmorangie’s own specifications, are hand-selected – and then shipped to the Distillery to be filled with our delicate spirit, which is distilled in Scotland’s tallest stills. And although many other distilleries may fill their casks many times, we only ever use our casks twice.
Why do you only use casks twice at Glenmorangie?
Each time a cask is used the influence of the wood diminishes slightly. Glenmorangie Original’s smooth and rounded taste, its buttery, soft mouth feel and its long finish, are created when our pure spirit is enriched with wonderful wood flavours that emerge during its maturation in the finest first and second-fill ex-bourbon casks. By the third fill, casks no longer give the flavours required for our signature single malt, so we stop using them after just two fills.
What do the first fill casks bring to the whisky – and what do the second fill casks bring?
The spirit from the first-fill casks is deeper and darker in colour. It contains more of the classic American oak notes of vanilla, honey, caramel, coconut and clove. The second fill brings these wood flavours with a lesser intensity – and this allows our distilled spirit flavours of lemons, oranges and soft white fruits to shine through. Together, the whisky from the first-fill and second-fill casks culminate in the perfect balance of wood and distillate flavours. You can detect apricots, peaches, lemons, oranges, honey and spices in this complex single malt whisky.
Why do you mature The Original for ten years?
We find that after at least a decade of peaceful maturation in Glenmorangie’s earth-floored warehouses, on the tranquil banks of the Dornoch Firth, watched over by the Men of Tain, our whisky reaches the smooth complexity that we seek for Glenmorangie Original.
What is the overall effect of this maturation in The Original’s tastes?
The result is a wonderfully complex whisky, which is certainly my favourite Glenmorangie expression. The Original’s uniquely smooth and delicious taste means that it appeals to those just discovering single malt, as well as the connoisseur. It makes me proud that the experts continue to praise our signature whisky. The Original has won a series of awards at prestigious international competitions – and Jim Murray, who is such an authority on whisky, describes it as ‘complexity at its most complex’.
What usually happens to the casks after Glenmorangie has finished using them?
After two fills our casks no longer create the flavours required for Glenmorangie The Original – but there is still plenty of life left in them. After their work at our Distillery is done, they may be used at other distilleries – or creatively recrafted as part of our Beyond the Cask series. So far, we’ve made the world’s first Scotch whisky sunglasses and the world’s first bicycles made from whisky casks. The possibilities are endless!
Tell us about your passion for cycling?
As far back as I can remember, I have always been a cyclist. I really do love it. Cycling is a great way to explore places. You get an amazing sense of freedom, particularly in the hills around Glenmorangie – great cycling country. In April, I took part in the Etape Loch Ness, not far away from the Distillery. That was a fantastic event – a 66-mile (106km) route around the legendary loch, with a very steep climb into the hills. It was hard work, but well worth the effort for the views alone. As it turned out, the climb was good training for my recent trip cycling through the Pyrenees from the Atlantic to the Mediterranean. What an experience that was… my legs are still aching at the memory! In my opinion, nothing beats a day on the bike.
How do you like the Glenmorangie Original bicycles crafted by Renovo?
For me, it’s a match made in heaven to have a bicycle made from ex-Glenmorangie casks, alongside a small proportion of sapele wood. I have the first Glenmorangie Original wooden bicycle here at the Distillery. It looks absolutely beautiful. Thanks to the wood, it’s really sleek, and the craftsmanship stands out immediately. I was surprised at how light the bicycle was too, thanks to the engineering that gives it a hollow frame. Even more importantly, it gives a very responsive and comfortable ride, handling like a high-performance bike should.
Finally, Andy, tell us how you most enjoy drinking Glenmorangie Original?
My favourite way to drink The Original, is with a dash of chilled spring water. Of course, The Original is also delicious on its own, or with a few chunks of ice. And if you’re intrigued by mixology, you’ll find that this whisky is perfect for subtle, approachable cocktails