The Glenmorangie Private Edition series reaches its tenth instalment with the release of the Allta, which is all about the yeast, or in this case, the wild yeast strain Saccharomyces diaemath.
LVMH Moët Hennessy loves to spin a good yarn with these special releases and the annual Ardbeg offering. By all accounts, this wild strain was found on barley growing near the distillery by none other than the renowned horticulturist Dr Bill Lumsden. If you’ve never been to Glenmorangie, then let me set the scene for you. Sitting on the outskirts of Tain, this once-farm distillery is surrounded by fields and has a pleasant view over the Dornoch Firth. I suspect that Dr Lumsden found this barley as he ventured to the nearby Lidl’s to pick up his regular supply of Queen Margot whisky. After all, there isn’t much worth buying in the distillery shop nowadays, and that’s a sad truth.
Mark has reviewed a handful of these Glenmorangie Private Editions in recent times, which he deemed experiments. The Glenmorangie Spìos warranted an average score, the Glenmorangie Bacalta was more favourably received, and the Glenmorangie Milsean warranted a shrug of the Tweedlord’s shoulders. The general trend has been quick concepts with cask finishes and being overcharged for the admission.
For 2019, the Allta offers something a little different, as the yeast isn’t applied as a finish and will feature right from the beginning. When describing the importance of yeast in distilling, I tend to summarise it as the spark plug of the process. It gives life, flavour and impetus to the basic core ingredients. It is the foundation of a whisky, and just as important as the barley and the field in which it is grown.
However, for many years the industry has peddled us the line that the yeast doesn’t play such a major role, content to standardise and limit the options that go into your whiskies. Brewers will tell you otherwise, as will those who have looked into why whiskies from bygone decades were loaded with fruits and flavours in general. We’ve now reached the point where everything is standardised and computerised. The soul of a whisky has been almost sucked dry, and what we’re often left with is a vacuum liquid that is a hapless shadow of what could have been.
My day working at Ballindalloch distillery underlined the important of the yeast, fermentation and the mashing process. Different strains of yeast unlock hidden flavours and allowing extended fermentation opens the door to let these characteristics to come through. Now Dr. Lumsden is a believer in the properties of yeast all of a sudden?
Perhaps he should venture up the road to the Dornoch Distillery? The Thompson brothers are using different strains of yeast and then going beyond the mere fermentation times utilised by juggernaut distilleries such as Glenmorangie. Right here, I’d like to talk about the makeup to the Glenmorangie Allta, how the yeast was implemented, and their fermentation times. Sadly, this level of detail isn’t available, when ideally, it should be. I suspect, given the importance placed on production, efficiency at the distillery comes first, as LVMH Moët Hennessy have their costs.
I know generally that fermentation at Glenmorangie is a mere 52 hours, which is pretty short when you compare it to Dornoch—pushing 2 to 3 weeks—or the GlenAllachie distillery at 160 hours. However, Glenmorangie isn’t alone by cutting down on fermentation times. You can put the best yeast in the world into your process, but if you’re only allowing 52 hours prior to distilling, you won’t reap the benefits. The general train of thought is that the yeast can offer 20% of the flavour to the whisky; I know this doesn’t leave much room with the Waterford barley chat or Macallan’s wood ethic. Ultimately a degree of common-sense dictates that they all play a part, and should be given their opportunity for showcase their skills.
The Glenmorangie Allta lacks an age statement, which is disappointing, but not an oddity, within the Private Edition series. The strength has been beefed up to 51.2%, suggesting that an expansive range of flavours are somewhat in limited supply.
Glenmorangie Allta Private Edition – review
Colour: Light gold.
On the nose: A gentle caramel, freshly sawn wood and a hint of orange peel. Putty, biscuit-like here with lemon thyme. Warmed Scotch pancakes, baked apples and golden syrup. A limited spectrum of aromas.
In the mouth: Very lacklustre, lacking defintion and a resemblance of style. Creamy toffee, bananas, vanilla from the ex-bourbon casks and a slice of lemon. The yeast factor is there with a dough-like aspect towards the end, but it is a struggle to dissect much more.
Very disappointing. The most annoying aspect is you can nose and taste the influence of the yeast to a small degree. It has had an effect on the whisky, but I’d argue this experiment is a half-baked failure. A much longer fermentation time and maturation in the cask would have been more beneficial and frankly interesting.
That’s the flaw with these Private Edition releases. They are lined up years in the advance and something has to give each year to keep the series going. The Allta feels like it has been snatched before its time, possibly as not to offend the North American market who lap up anything from this distillery. Big bold yeasty flavours and pushing boundaries probably don’t sit well with those enjoying a slug of Glenmorangie from a tumbler, whilst sitting in their golf cart on some Californian course. Glenmorangie’s current success is based upon a safe path and core flavours.
It is overpriced for the experience and perhaps represents the end of the line for the series? I’ve heard rumours that this will be the last Private Edition release no doubt replaced by some other concept to fleece gullible onlookers. If true then the Glenmorangie Allta is a fitting end to the Private Edition series that hasn’t enhanced the reputation of this once great distillery.
Lead image from the Whisky Exchange and there are commission links within this article – we don’t hide that fact nor does it influence our opinion. Sample purchased at the Dornoch Castle Whisky Bar thanks to our Patreon supporters.