A spirit inspired by the sun

Private Edition 8

A burst of Madeira’s sunshine in a glass. In Dr Bill Lumsden’s Cabinet of Curiosities – the workplace deep within the Glenmorangie warehouse where his most rare and unique experiments come to life – this was how he first imagined the sweet complexity of Glenmorangie Bacalta. Discover how the island’s sun-baked Malmsey wine inspired Dr Bill Lumsden’s vision.

Imagine cupping in your hands a glass filled with sunshine – its layers of baked fruits and honeyed sweetness radiating from Madeira’s island shores.

That is the single malt which Dr Bill Lumsden had always yearned for Glenmorangie to create. Inside his Cabinet of Curiosities – the workplace where the Highland Distillery’s most innovative whiskies are born – the Distillery’s Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks envisioned a whisky which would encapsulate the spirit of the island’s long, sun-soaked days. It would hint at the sweet memory of the Distillery’s world first, Glenmorangie Madeira Wood Finish, released in 1995 and still sought after today. And it would celebrate the pioneering creativity for which Glenmorangie has been revered since 1843. But the perfect casks are rarely available, and for years, this tantalising vision glinted softly, awaiting realisation…

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Inspiration glimmers

“Secretly, I became determined to revisit Madeira wood-finished whisky,” confides Dr Bill Lumsden. “If I was going to do that, I wanted to call on our years of expertise in pioneering cask management, to create the best whisky I possibly could…”

And so dawned the vision of Glenmorangie Bacalta (Scots Gaelic for “baked”), the eighth release in Glenmorangie’s Private Edition, which showcases rare and intriguing single malts. Capturing the essence of Madeira’s sunshine, every aspect of Glenmorangie’s Bacalta’s extra-maturation has been custom designed by Dr Bill Lumsden, to create a whisky of almost endless complexity, bespoke from cask to bottle.

Creating the perfect casks

It took years of painstaking preparation before Dr Bill Lumsden was able to begin the extra-maturation he envisaged. The first step was to source and season the perfect casks – and he knew just what he was looking for. “A Madeira drum is 550-600 litres. But I wanted smaller casks made, out of the same wood that I use for my top-specification designer barrels.” Once created, and heavily toasted to his specifications, the wood was ready for seasoning with the island’s wine.

Sweetness baked in by the sun

Madeira wine comes in several styles, but for Dr Bill Lumsden’s creation, only the sweetest and most prized would do. “If I think of the perfect style of Madeira cask in which to finish Glenmorangie whisky, it’s Malmsey,” he explains. “Its sweetness and its richness work best with Glenmorangie.”

After observing rows of Madeira-filled drums stored in the rafters of vineyards to mature in the heat, he added: “I loved the concept of wines being baked in the sunshine, in the traditional way. “There’s no question, it does impart fascinating oxidised flavours. Although I marvelled at how they got the drums up there!”

The patient vigil

After a careful seasoning in the heat of Madeira’s sun, the casks were transported back to Glenmorangie’s Scottish Highland home to impart their sun-baked flavours into a parcel of specially selected spirit, already matured in ex-bourbon casks.

“Extra-maturation is all about capturing that wonderful moment when everything is in balance,” explains Dr Bill Lumsden, whose experience in wood management allowed him to imagine the intriguing depth of Glenmorangie Bacalta. Even so, early tastings were surprising, with the base whisky initially retaining much of its original character. “We waited patiently and suddenly, it was as if all the flavour of Madeira came piling out of the casks.”

A radiant dram

Just as he intended, the character taken on by the casks perfectly complemented the subtle complexity of Glenmorangie.

“What I was trying to achieve in this whisky, was the goodness of the sun being baked into the flavour profile of the wine,” concludes Dr Bill. “When I taste it, I believe I can sense the Madeira sunshine. That’s what I’d hoped to encapsulate – the idea of a burst of sunshine in a glass.”