Dr Bill Lumsden is Glenmorangie’s long-time whisky-maker, or to give him his correct title, ‘Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks’. His favourite whisky of all is Glenmorangie Original. It is at the core of all Glenmorangie whisky expressions, the essence found in every bottle, and it is very close to his heart.
30 years ago, in 1984, Bill Lumsden was in the second year of his PHD in Microbial Physiology and Fermentation Science in Edinburgh. He already had a degree in Biochemistry from Glasgow. But it wasn’t all work and no play for this creative academic because one evening in May he was at a party in a flat in the Marchmont area of Edinburgh, that lovely residential part of Scotland’s capital city just south of The Old Town.
“I vaguely knew the host, which was probably the case with most people at student parties. We were chatting, dancing, being cool (or maybe not…). I remember that on the record player – yes, that was the medium back then – ‘Let’s Hear it For The Boy’ was playing, a song by Deniece Williams. It had been used in the film, Footloose. Anyway, a friend said ‘Bill, have a whisky’ and he handed me a glass. Now, I was a 24 year old Scotsman so of course I’d tasted the stuff. But I suppose I’d only been exposed to some very average blends, dabbled with some unexceptional whiskies in my teenage years and I wasn’t excited. But I had a sip of this and, well, I had a eureka moment. I didn’t have the whisky vocabulary back then. But I didn’t need it. This was silky and smooth, utterly exquisite. Oh, and it fits my debonair personality I thought!
“The music died away. Audioception wasn’t to be my thing it would turn out. But those closely related senses of smell and taste suddenly came powerfully to life. I learned I was drinking a glass of neat Glenmorangie 10 Year Old. And I remember it exactly all these years on, the creaminess and the fruitiness, tastes I still call upon in creating all Glenmorangie’s expressions even now.”
Any number of people growing up in the 80s have songs like ‘Let’s Hear it for The Boy’ stuck in their heads. Luckily for the whisky world, Bill has the taste of that Glenmorangie still stuck in his.
“It’s not overstating the case to say that I felt a sense of destiny there and then,” he says. “Certainly, it sparked my interest and for the rest of my student days in Edinburgh I would occasionally make for The Jolly Judge, a cellar bar just off the Lawnmarket, and treat myself, on meagre student means, to an interesting whisky from their excellent selection, increasing my knowledge, working my senses. This was the beginning of my whisky education and pretty soon I knew where my career would lie.”
Bill, now Dr Bill, would enter the whisky industry and spend 10 years learning the ropes and becoming a highly respected whisky research scientist. Then in 1995 he joined The Glenmorangie Company where he now develops all our whiskies. Crucially, he is responsible for the consistent brilliance of The Original, a not unsubstantial job, one might say.
In 2007 Glenmorangie 10 Year Old, that whisky Dr Bill first tasted back at the student party, became Glenmorangie Original. It was a relaunch but only a small change. The age profile became less important and we introduced the use of air-seasoned barrels, reducing the bite, increasing the depth. It is imperceptible to some, but overall The Original is, if possible, even smoother, even better. The Original is not our entry-level whisky. Rather, it’s the standard for all our whiskies, carefully created using stills which are the tallest in Scotland.
“The Glenmorangie Distillery has stills whose necks are 5.14 metres high, a joy to behold and a joy to produce whisky with,” Bill says. “They deliver the purest spirit and therefore the purest taste. But that pure spirit is unforgiving. It is able to pick up delicious flavours but could feasibly take on less desirable characteristics. That’s why we use only the very best casks. It perhaps explains how we came to be so pioneering in extra-maturation.
“The spirit those tall stills deliver is the perfect canvas on which to carefully create a delicious single malt, one that is soft, pure, clean and a little sweet, something original: Glenmorangie Original, in fact, the one and only, the heart and soul of our family of whiskies. Clever wood finishes allow us to build on it as with, say, the 18 year old, the 25 year old, our various private editions too. For me though, The Original is the classic. First love and all that…”
Dr Bill is not alone in his evaluation. We know that many others feel as Bill does because Glenmorangie Original has accumulated countless accolades throughout the whisky industry over the years, most recently securing, once again, a double gold medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition.