Wood is the vital spark in a whisky’s flavour. It contributes more to the taste of the spirit than any other ingredient or process. For that reason we take our wood management very seriously. We also approach it originally.
In The Beginning Was The Wood…
Whisky cannot be Scotch whisky – to be technical and legal about it - unless it has been matured in oak - only oak - for a minimum of three years. In the past, other woods were often used, chestnut especially, but nowadays it is oak which is required. To be Scotch, a whisky must be matured in a warehouse in Scotland. For us that means on the shores of the Dornoch Firth at the Glenmorangie distillery where our whisky can interact with a cool, damp Scottish scene!
Glenmorangie Original, our flagship expression, spends 10 years in oak. Some producers favour European oak, but for us it is American white oak which allows us to create the elegant, alluring Glenmorangie taste. Our pioneering research into the effects of wood took us to the Ozark Mountains of Missouri where we found the slow growth-wood which brings the greatest maturation effects. Slow-growth timber contains more of the porous growth which takes place in springtime and it is this wood which goes into our ‘designer casks’. But first it is air-dried (not kiln-dried). All drying reduces astringency and further improves the wood’s permeability, but it is air-drying which additionally brings out the soft and smooth qualities of our whisky.
The casks made from the slow-grown, air-dried oak are used for maturing Bourbon for four years and then shipped to the Scottish Highlands. Being American white oak they deliver the cleanest possible taste; and with a little more vanilla and less tannin they help reveal Glenmorangie’s natural sweetness and fruitiness.
Having gone to such lengths in creating highly specific casks, you might think we’d keep them forever. But actually, despite the expense of the proposition, we only ever use them twice: first-fill and one single refill. That’s because cask activity, the positive effects the wood has on the liquid – the purifying delicacy, the addition of fragrance, flavour and colour – diminishes after each fill. So for us the casks are exhausted after two uses.