For the last several decades, the Scottish whisky distiller Glenmorangie, under the supervision of its Creative Director, Dr. Bill Lumsden, has been pushing the boundaries of the aroma and taste profile of Scotch whisky.
The company has now gone a step further, recently unveiling a new experimental distillery that further expands its ability to innovate its whisky production protocols.
According to Glenmorangie:
Using barley, water, yeast, wood and time, its whisky creators are endlessly experimental on their quest to dream up delicious whiskies for more people to enjoy.
That experimentation has ranged, from among other things, pioneering the use of cask finishes, to maturing new make spirit in cask wood from alternative white oak species, to testing the impact of maturation in the weightless environment of outer space, to innovative distillation techniques and using site specific barley for mashing.
Designed by Paris-based Barthélémy Griño Architects, with construction overseen by the Scottish engineering consultancy Blyth & Blyth, and dubbed “The Lighthouse,” for its innovative lighthouse-style design, the new facility:
Is conceived as a playground for whisky makers. Its towering, glass stillhouse and purpose-built sensory laboratory give them the creative space to let their imaginations run wild.
Lumsden’s, whose colleagues describe his favorite phrase as “what if?”, is ideally suited to oversee the new experimental facility. He has a PhD in biochemistry and decades of experience, including more than 25 years with Glenmorangie. At the distillery, he has “challenged himself and his team to take whatever captures their imaginations and turn it into whisky.” In the process creating an unparalleled legacy of innovation.
He has been named to the Icons of Whisky Hall of Fame and he has won the International Whisky Competition’s award for Master Distiller of the Year more times than anyone else. Additionally, he has been twice named as Master Blender/Distiller of the Year by the International Spirits Challenge.
The glass still house is 65 feet tall. The pot stills in the “Lighthouse” are comparable in size to the stills in the main distillery. The necks in those stills are 16 feet 10 inches, making them the tallest in Scotland.
Long still necks maximize reflux, the condensation of vapor in the neck causing it to fall back into the pot still and be redistilled. The necks of the stills in the Lighthouse distillery also have a water jacket, allowing the distiller to cool the temperature of the spirit vapor and further fine tune the amount of reflux.
Increasing reflux will creates a lighter style of spirit.
In addition, the Lynn arm, the portion of the still that connects the still neck to the condensers, has a purifier. This is a small pot-like attachment with a water-cooled jacket attached to the Lynn arm.
The purifier can be switched on or off to control reflux and select between a lighter or heavier spirit. A pipe from the purifier returns any condensed spirit back to the pot still for re-distillation.
According to Lumsden, controlling the temperature in the water jacket and the purifier allows him to mimic the spirit he would get from still necks that were double or possibly triple the length of the existing stills.
The Lynn arm is attached to both copper and steel condensers. This allows the distiller to choose which condenser to use and to maximize or minimize the amount of copper contact that the spirit vapor is exposed to.
Less copper contact creates a heavier, meatier spirit. The choice of directing spirit vapor into either copper or steel condensers is also a feature of Diageo’s Roseisle distillery in Elgin.
Additionally, the fermenters are temperature controlled, an innovation unique among Scotch whisky distillers. Typically, the temperature of the wort rises during fermentation since heat is a byproduct of yeast metabolism of the sugars in the wort.
Temperature control allows the distiller to reduce the temperature in the fermenter and lengthen the fermentation cycle. Longer fermentation creates more flavors, principally by maximizing the production of floral and fruity esters in the wash.
Esters are compounds created by the interaction of alcohols with organic acids and are a major component of the aroma and flavor profile of a whisky.
Another unusual feature is a grist house, which can switch more easily to different grinds and grains. This allows Lumsden and his team to assess how different grinds can affect the aroma and flavor profile of a whisky.
The grist house also has a pressure cooker, giving Lumsden the option of cooking all or a portion of the grains as well as a variable mash tun that control the amount of sediment in the wash. Opaque washes, those with a lot of sediment, produce whiskies with different aroma and flavor profiles. These whiskies, for example, often have more pronounced nutty notes.
Lumsden has also acknowledged that he plans to experiment with other mash bills besides malted barley, in particular rye grain. He’s even suggested he might even look at incorporating fruits and vegetables into a mash bill. This is a practice more common among craft distillers and would undoubtedly run afoul of Scotch Whisky Association rules.
In a Scotch whisky industry first, the distillery embedded cask wood from casks previously used to mature a special release, Glenmorangie Lighthouse, directly into the walls of the still house. The expression is meant to commemorate the opening of the new facility and is only available at the distillery’s gift store.
According to Glenmorangie:
Enveloped in the glass walls is a hybrid wood and aluminum cladding. The cladding has been designed to include some of the sherry and bourbon casks used to age Glenmorangie Lighthouse – a delicious limited-edition whisky created to mark the opening of the innovation distillery.
In theory, the flexibility of the distillation setup at the experimental distillery would allow Glenmorangie to produce very different whiskies. It’s not clear whether those whiskies ultimately released would all be under the Glenmorangie brand or whether the distillery might create additional brands for those whiskies that differed significantly from Glenmorangie’s typical aroma and flavor.
What should be clear is that the Lighthouse is not an experimental distillery but a full-sized distillery intended for experimentation. Given its multimillion-dollar price tag, that’s a bold and imaginative step on Glenmorangie’s part and by its corporate parent, French conglomerate LVMH.
There is little doubt that Glenmorangie has been on a roll of late. According to Thomas Moradpour, President and CEO of the company, Glenmorangie has been seeing growth in both its traditional market in the US and Europe, but also in new markets in Asia, Africa, Australia and southeast Asia.
Currently, according to Moradpour, the company is seeing new, younger consumers being attracted to Scotch whisky. More importantly, these new consumers are not traditional Scotch drinkers but are migrating from different spirit categories.
The combination of steady growth in new markets and the growth in the number of new, younger consumers has lead the company to increase its production to two and a half times its current sales.
Global demand for Glenmorangie is growing significantly. The first of its kind, our Lighthouse experimental distillery is the keystone of our plans to stay at the forefront of taste innovation. By giving our talented creation team free rein, we will welcome even more consumers worldwide to enjoy delicious whiskies.
Buckle your seat belt. No doubt there’s a lot more to come from Glenmorangie.