What you need to know:
- Glenmorangie has joined the ranks of Midleton Distillery and Jim Beam in opening a small distillery for experimentation and innovation.
- The distillery is known as the “Lighthouse Distillery”.
- The distillery is made up of three compounds: a brewhouse, a stillhouse and a “sensory laboratory”. Mashing and distillation equipment are highly customisable and easily affect the weight and flavours of the resulting spirit.
- To celebrate the opening, Glenmorangie is releasing a limited edition expression called the Lighthouse. This whisky is 12 years old and aged in both bourbon and sherry casks.
- We’re less excited about the Lighthouse expression, but would love to see what comes out of the real Lighthouse in a few years down the line!
How does scotch taste today? How could scotch taste tomorrow? Dr Bill Lumsden, the master distiller at Glenmorangie Distillery, had spent countless hours pondering these questions.
Dr Lumsden has an actual PhD in the study of yeasts, has delved into the science of fermentation, barrel-aging and even sent whisky into space to understand how maturation takes place in a zero gravity environment.
Now, following the recommendations of Dr Lumsden, Glenmorangie has recently unveiled its new ”innovation distillery” known as the Lighthouse Distillery. The multi-million-dollar compound can be seen for many kilometres around the countryside like an actual lighthouse. The name is also a metaphor for the mission of the distillery.
What would happen in the Lighthouse Distillery?
Unlike the main distillation compound, the Lighthouse Distillery is not designed for high yield, but rather designed solely for experimentation. Here is where Glenmorangie’s distillers are not limited by the economics of production, and can let their imaginations run wild and adjust any aspect of Glenmorangie’s production process. If Dr Bill Lumsden, the master distiller, discovers something that tastes extra special in the Lighthouse, production of the same stuff can be scaled up in the main Glenmorangie Distillery.
The Lighthouse Distillery is made up of three compounds: a brewhouse, a stillhouse and a honestly fluffy sounding “sensory laboratory”.
Production begins in the stone brewhouse. Here is where mashing and brewing takes place. The brewhouse contains a custom-built mash tun that is able to make wort of different levels of concentration, thus affecting the type of flavour compounds that go into the resulting spirit.
Right next to the brewhouse is the iconic glass stillhouse.
You may recall that Glenmorangie’s main distillery is famous for its really tall “giraffe” stills, famous for creating Glenmorangie’s signature fresh, light-bodied and smooth texture. The Lighthouse is home to two similar “giraffe” stills built to the same specifications. However, these stills are said to have customizable features, allowing them to behave as if they are taller or shorter than they actually are, again affecting the spirit, making it either lighter, or heavier bodied.
As Dr Lumsden elaborates, “The necks of Glenmorangie are the tallest in the Scotch malt whisky industry, but by using, for example, the water cooling jackets on the necks to increase the rate of reflux, it’s almost like metaphorically, I will be able to double or treble the height of the stills.”
Finally, after a six-hour spirit run, it is time to assess the results. Atop the glass stillhouse sits the Lighthouse’s sensory laboratory with a picturesque view overlooking the Dornoch Firth. Dr Lumsden and his team would sit in this lab and taste the results of their latest experiment.
Operations at the Lighthouse Distillery would be powered by biogas.
Limited Edition Lighthouse expression
To celebrate the opening of the Lighthouse Distillery, Glenmorangie is releasing another limited edition expression: the Glenmorangie Lighthouse expression.
The Lighthouse expression is bottled at 48% ABV, 12 years old and aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks that are now used to adorn the Lighthouse Distillery’s walls. This is a limited run of 3,000 bottles and currently only available at the distillery’s visitor centre at £85 a bottle.
The official tasting notes mention aromas of vanilla, red apples, honeycomb and a ‘whisper’ of oak. On the palate, flavours of honey, almond, milk chocolate, apricot, fudge, baked oranges, honeydew melon come through, leading to more orange, vanilla and oaky notes on the finish.
At first glance, the Lighthouse expression seems like the antithesis of what the Lighthouse Distillery stands for. It requires no stroke of inspiration or innovation to think of an expression aged in a combo of bourbon and sherry casks. The official tasting notes also do not appear to mention any flavour out of the ordinary. Perhaps the Lighthouse expression is intended to show what a long way Glenmorangie still has to go in creating interesting whiskies...? We will just have to see the reviews of people who have been able to get their hands on an expression.
That said, I am optimistic to see the variety of new releases that Glenmorangie would be offering down the line. Dr Lumsden has said that it would take a minimum of three years before products are launched, and it may possibly take even longer. Afterall, the creations need to be aged for a respectable number of years.
It seems like starting a mini distillery is in vogue now. Glenmorangie joins the likes of Midleton Distillery and Jim Beam in having an experimental facility. The futures of Scotch, Irish and American whiskey are looking bright!