Let me tell you a tale: one time I won a cake-eating contest… and I didn’t even know it was a contest!
Hypothetically, the dram I’m reviewing today should be right up my alley, as it sits at the intersection of two of my favorite things: whisky and cake. Even casual readers of this site will be aware of my passion for the water of life. What may not have been apparent to you all is that this affection is matched by my enthusiasm for cake generally, and for fudge cake in particular.
Why all the talk of cake? Well, the whisky we’ll be considering is literally named after cake. It comes from Glenmorangie, which – you might recall – was my point of departure for serious consideration of whisky. My own journey with this brand feels like it mirrors the broader whisky market’s history, and I will now recount that story in the hopes that I can elucidate how we got to where we are.
Following its sale to current parent LVMH in 2004, the core Glenmorangie range (comprised of the mainstay Ten Year Old and a trio of cask finished expressions) got a facelift in the form of more elegant labels and a mellifluously-shaped new bottle. Experimentation with different wood types (anyone remember the Swamp Oak cask?) was curtailed for a few years, while the distillery added four more stills to the existing eight in 2009.
I went through my own period of Scotch dormancy around this time. I was enjoying whisky casually, alongside other spirits, and never gave too much thought to whether I was sipping a single malt or a blend. A burgeoning interest in wine led me to develop a friendship with a fellow oenophile who was also a malt enthusiast, leading me back to concentrating on whisky with more focus.
Around this time, Glenmorangie began releasing its Private Edition range in 2010. Though the name was a curious one (the Editions have never been “private;” they have always been general retail releases), the success was nearly immediate. Some of the earliest bottlings like Finealta (2011) and Artein (2012) were personal favorites of mine. 2013 brought the release of Ealanta, which won top plaudits from a now-infamous critic. Completists began to buy up prior years’ bottles at escalating prices.
From the perspective of hardcore whisky enthusiasts, the Glenmorangie shine seems like it began to fade toward the middle of the last decade. One can speculate as to the causes of this: the novelty factor of the annual releases declined in a market crowded with limited editions, including competition from a more cultishly-adored distillery in LVMH’s own portfolio. The core range was stable if unexciting; the “Prestige Expressions” like Signet (enjoyed by both myself and Dora) and the Grand Vintage Malt 1990 remained out of reach for those not prepared to shell out for bottles with three or four digits on the price tag.
Milsean, the last Private Edition that I purchased at retail (in 2016), failed to land for me. It seems I was not alone; I also noticed at the time that bottles were piling up on shelves, in a stark contrast to other limited edition whiskies that seemed to vanish as quickly as they appeared. After several months, remaining bottles would be discounted to clear the way for the next iteration, a practice which – paradoxically – depressed demand for the incoming release. After all, why pay full retail when an eventual sale price was guaranteed? A recent check of online inventories today reveals bottles of Spios and Allta remaining available for purchase at initial release price, both in the U.S. and abroad.
In the last five years, Glenmorangie has more or less faded from my consciousness. I have written before about brands becoming remote from their former audience, and that is certainly what transpired between me and Glenmorangie. I have not contemplated the purchase of a Glenmorangie whisky for some time, nor paid much attention to the occasional press release announcing this travel retail exclusive or that fresh lick of paint on the bottle. That brings us to the current day.
I was only tangentially aware of the release of A Tale of Cake, having seen some ad or other for it somewhere online. As noted immediately prior, I had not found myself in danger of snapping up any new releases from this distillery and assumed that this one would similarly pass me by, with nary a tug of FOMO, nor a bitter tear of regret shed.
However – as is the wont of fate – I found myself in possession of a sample bestowed on me by a friend (thanks, Troy). Knowing nothing about this expression, I undertook my customary preliminary research, using this opportunity to re-acquaint myself with the brand.
Performing my due diligence took me to Glenmorangie’s own site, where my eyeballs were overwhelmed by a burst of orange before a color-saturated scene of two hands clinking cocktail glasses appeared. In fact, the first several images I saw were of cocktails, perhaps an emphasis resulting from the recent launch of “X by Glenmorangie.” This new expression is dubbed “the perfect single malt whisky for mixing.” The what for what?!?
As though that weren’t indication enough of the changes to The House that the Sixteen Men of Tain Built, I also had a hell of a time finding the actual product information. To Illustrate how far Glenmorangie has pivoted toward style and away from substance: I needed to click on a menu bar, then navigate through a page of scrolling images, before finally finding one to click on to bring me to the “Our Whiskies” page, where some clunky animation gave way to a catalogue of bottlings.
I found the taxonomy revealed here interesting, and possibly indicative of… well, I’m not sure, exactly. “The Core Expressions” were as I left them, bar the addition of the aforementioned “X.” The “Prestige Expressions” contained the same types of ultra-super-mega-luxury bottles that I’ll be reviewing here as soon as one of these lottery tickets hits. The “Private Editions” section is confusingly presented in non-chronological order, but I’ll let it slide. “Exclusive Core Expressions” highlighted the travel retail range, while a lone whisky sat underneath “The Legends” heading (Cadboll; yeah, me neither). Man, they’re really making me work for my cake!
At long last, at the very bottom, I found the “Limited Editions” section. Sitting all alone, like the last desiccating half slice of Red Velvet at a bridal shower, I finally located A Tale of Cake.
Announced in September of 2020, A Tale of Cake comes with the usual accompaniment for Glenmorangie’s special limited release private editions: a short anecdote about Dr. Bill Lumsden. Spoiler: he loves cake. The only factual information on the page is the following: “[Lumsden] devised this whisky to conjure the magic of a cake moment, finishing his favourite Glenmorangie Single Malt in the finest Tokaji dessert wine casks.”
I actually love Tokaji (a Hungarian sweet wine pronounced tock-EYE), not quite as much as I love cake, but well enough indeed. I typically pair it with a foie gras brûlée. I’m actually excited to try this whisky! The press release also mentioned a tie-in with a bakery (speaking of trends that died in the mid-2010’s: remember $10 cupcakes?). I can’t bear to summarize it, so here it is, fresh out of the oven:
“In honour of its release, award-winning pastry chef Dominique Ansel has devised a cake and cocktail pairing, a ‘CakeTail,’ inspired by A Tale of Cake, featuring a reimagined pineapple boat cake and a pineapple Old Fashioned. He has also created CakeTail pairings in honour of Glenmorangie’s Original, Lasanta and Quinta Ruban whiskies, which will be available to a lucky few customers at his New York bakery.”
If you’re feeling lucky, stop on by Dominique Ansel’s bakery in Soho and treat yourself to a Caketail. Or don’t. I’m moving along to trying the whisky neat, which is very much not the way one is meant to drink Glenmorangie in the year 2021, by all appearances.
A few final morsels of information, before I dive in: this comes to us bottled at 46% and carries a suggested retail price of £75. Current pricing in the U.S. seems to range from $100 to $130; I’ll be using the low end of this range for scoring, as it is most consistent with the current exchange rate. Without further ado, let’s see if I can have my cake and drink it, too?
Glenmorangie A Tale of Cake – Review
Color: Medium-pale maize.
On the nose: There is, indeed, a lot of cake in here. I get a whiff of angel food with a heaping dollop of vanilla frosting. The ripe fruitiness of pineapple is accented by a piquant scent of dried ginger. I smell some lemongrass and toasted coconut. Remarkably, there’s a underlying maltiness here that shines through the cask overlay, as well as a gently woody note and slight nip of ground nutmeg.
In the mouth: The front of the mouth gets a unexpected, piquant kiss of oak. This broadens out somewhat as it moves up the tongue, where the richer fruit flavors (pineapple again, but also some ripe Anjou pear) begin to emerge. As this rises toward the roof of the mouth there’s another unexpected turn, this time into a stern stoniness that marries with a resurgence of the malty character. There’s a tartness to this as well, with a slightly bitter edge as it moves into the finish, and a very faint note of cocoa powder. A lingering flavor of floral hand soap and the airy sweetness of confectioners’ sugar round off what is a light-bodied but persistent mouthfeel. This has a drying texture in a way that makes the taster crave another sip, which is a nifty and dangerous trick for a dram to play!
If this whisky were a birthday celebration, it would definitely be a surprise party. Given my prior underwhelming experiences with Glenmorangie cask finishes, I’m pleasantly astonished that I enjoyed this so much.
The Tokaji cask finish brings out all of the promised cake notes on the nose, with plenty of fruit and spice in the mix for balance. Whereas the Milsean felt off kilter due to the sugary notes amped into overdrive, all those elements are more restrained and more elegantly integrated in this example. I particularly like that the palate offers some of the nose’s same facets, but with greater focus and intensity, while still allowing the underlying malt to express itself.
This would be the perfect Scotch whisky for an outdoor birthday party on a summer day. It’s fun and sweet and rich in places, but not cloyingly so. Though a pricy bottle at $100+, I feel that this delivers enough quality and novelty to warrant the splurge (particularly for a special occasion), as well as a positive score.
I’m always glad to have my preconceptions dashed, and I’m able to report that my aforementioned misgivings about Glenmorangie have been rebutted, at least by this expression. I’m not prepared to go whole hog on the next bottle the distillery brings out, but I’m more positively inclined and would definitely give it a fair hearing. In the meantime, I’ll be looking for my own bottle of A Tale of Cake, to which I’ll make many happy returns.
Images courtesy of Glenmorangie.