What’s more original than The Original?
Whisky began, for me at least, with Glenmorangie Ten Years Old. Of course, I had tried whiskey and whisky before, but they were mostly mixed with Coke or consumed in a fashion where speed, not savoring, was emphasized.
It was in St. Andrews’ Central pub, perched on a stool covered in threadbare floral cloth of another era, that I took my first tentative steps toward what is now my abiding passion. Though I eventually branched out into different distilleries, regions, and countries, the genesis of my fascination with this elixir will always begin with the Sixteen Men of Tain.
My memories of Glenmorangie include not just the whisky, but the bottle and its label. The crimson text popped out against the yellowy-orange background. An aerial photograph of the distillery floated, cloud-like, in an oval with soft edges at the center of the presentation. Just underneath, the whisky’s maturity was stated boldly, in black text: “TEN YEARS OLD.” While whisky labels aren’t typically in danger of winning any design awards, I always thought this had an outmoded beauty to it that was unique among its peers.
Time went on, as it does. Things changed, as they do. I departed Scotland in 2005 and returned to my homeland, bringing with me the occasional Scotticism as well as a more-than-occasional hankering for Scotch whisky.
Glenmorangie, meanwhile, underwent its own changes. Owner LVMH redesigned the packaging for the ten year old expression, rechristening it “The Original” and reducing the prominence of the age statement. The bottle took on a curvaceous bulge around the shoulders, and gold foil accents were added to the label. Glenmorangie became a capital-B-“Brand,” and bottles of The Original became staples at every bar, every duty free shop, and every supermarket.
I assiduously ignored Glenmorangie for more than a decade. Perhaps it was the ubiquity of the whisky, perhaps my tastes had just evolved, or perhaps I was slightly ashamed at my hobby’s humble beginnings. Regardless, I’m fairly certain I didn’t have drop of the stuff until I decided to revisit the brand through a tasting set of four miniature bottles in 2017. To my surprise, The Original bested Lasanta, Nectar d’Or, and Quinta Ruban, despite their being older and having fancy cask finishes. That day, the simplicity and elegance of the humble ten-year-old was enough for me.
Speaking of surprises: on a recent grocery run to a not-very-distinguished store in a not-very-distinguished part of town, I took a glance at the locked liquor display case. Blinking rapidly, I briefly wondered if I hadn’t inadvertently consumed some hallucinogens. Could it be? It was! An old-style bottle of Glenmorangie Ten Years Old! I frantically waved over the clerk and indicated my quarry. Why this remained in inventory for so long I can only guess, but I wasn’t asking any questions at that point.
So, that brings us to the review. I am hopeful and fearful; I am conscious of simultaneously indulging and tempering my nostalgia. Set your time machine to 2005!
This is single malt Highland whisky, but you knew that. The bottle code of L5 tells us that this dates from 2005. I paid $42 for 750 ml; “The Original” currently runs closer to $34 around these parts. It is bottled at 43% ABV, consistent with the American release of the current incarnation.
Glenmorangie Ten Years Old (2005) – review
Color: Medium-pale straw.
On the nose: This is an incredibly pretty nose. Peaches and cream, lychee, mint. There’s a topnote of malted barley that is absolutely wonderful. A subtle woodiness and even a hint of barnyard appear here, but mostly it’s fresh and lightly fruity. There’s a deceptive simplicity to this, in a way; it presents straightforwardly enough but, given just a little time and attention, there are layers that begin to unfold. If I were training someone to nose whisky, I would start with this one.
In the mouth: This is exceedingly soft whisky, for better and worse. The front of the mouth is a watery muddle of malt and wood. As this moves toward the middle of the tongue there’s a freshly floral flavor along with a more piquant woody mouthfeel that emerges. This reaches its height as it blooms toward the roof of the mouth with a flavor of almonds that tiptoes on the precipice of bitterness. Finishing with a subtly soapy texture and a note of rosewater, this disappears without lingering much.
I can see why I fell in love with this in a prior life; it was so much more interesting than anything else I was tasting at the time. Particularly on the nose, this is complex without being challenging. As I said, it’s the perfect introduction to smelling whisky for a novice. The palate mostly underwhelms, however. Again, I can see this being more interesting to a beginner, as there’s a variety of textures here that engage but don’t overwhelm the tongue. It hasn’t got any flaws, but there’s no flavor interesting or intense enough here to warrant a mark above the median. I could see myself potentially docking a point on this, but I won’t… for auld lang syne.