Review: Glenmorangie Allta
For the tenth installment in its annual Private Edition (aka limited release) series, Glenmorangie turns its attention to a relatively unexplored aspect of whiskeymaking (at least by consumers): Yeast.
Sure, a few folks — namely Four Roses — are incredibly nerdy about yeast, but most distilleries have a “house yeast” they rely on, rarely mixing things up in that department. In some distilleries, yeast can be so prized that it gets taken home with the master distiller to avoid something happening to it.
With Glenmorangie Allta (Scots Gaelic for “wild”), Glenmorangie’s Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks, Dr. Bill Lumsden uses yeast growing wild on Glenmorangie’s own barley to inoculate and ferment its mash. A little back story:
Yeast has always been a key ingredient in Scotch whisky. But over the years, its impact on taste has been all-but forgotten and emphasis placed on other aspects of whisky-making instead. With a background in yeast physiology, however, Glenmorangie’s Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks, Dr. Bill Lumsden, has always remained keenly aware of yeast’s potential. Years ago, he recalled a little-known story the late, great whisky writer Michael Jackson had told him, about a unique ‘house’ yeast Glenmorangie was said to have possessed. And he began to further explore yeast’s influence on flavour.
As Dr Bill walked the barley fields near the Distillery, he was inspired to collect a few ears of Cadboll barley and take them to the laboratory for analysis. There, he discovered Saccharomyces diaemath – a species of wild yeast unidentified until that point – and which, crucially, could be used for creating whisky. Dr Bill was intrigued to discover this wild yeast’s effect on Glenmorangie’s spirit. So, he arranged for the yeast to be cultivated and, when the barley on which it had grown was ready for use in the Distillery, he brought them together in the whisky-making process, to create an exceptionally fragrant spirit. He then transferred this spirit into superior ex-bourbon barrels, including many second-fill casks, to showcase the fruity character given by the yeast. The rich, creamy whisky which emerged years later, unveils a new seam in Glenmorangie’s character.
So the question remains, is wild yeast growing in the fields of Highland Scotland better than its traditional strain? We sampled it to find out.
The nose is bold and forceful, a shift from the usual elegance of Glenmorangie, feature notes of toasted cereal, pepper, and tea leaf, sweetened with brown sugar and notes of overripe banana. The palate doesn’t stray to far from this aromatic setup, focusing strongly on the granary notes, with a bold undercurrent of dusky spices and forest floor notes. The whole thing isn’t all that dazzling, coming across as a bit weedy at times, with lingering notes of charcoal and green pepper. Compared to other recent Private Edition releases from the distillery, it’s surprisingly one-note and straightforward — although taken on its own, it has enough character to at least hold the drinker’s interest for a while.