Today I am reviewing Tusail, the latest NAS (no age statement) single malt Scotch whisky release from Glenmorangie. Tusail is the sixth in Glenmorangie’s Private Edition series, and it hit the US market in early 2015. Made with Maris Otter barley, a winter variety said to provide a high quality brewing malt that, in the words of the Glenmo Marketing Dept.,
“imparts rich, rustic malty flavours. Now used only by a select few who continue, like Glenmorangie, to uphold an ethos of sacrificing yield for quality by using only the finest ingredients, the result is a whisky celebrating the variety’s renowned taste profile.”
Under the watchful eye of Dr. Bill Lumsden, who happens to be Head of Distilling and Whisky Creation for both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, these two distilleries seem to be the industry leaders in the NAS category, releasing a seemingly endless series of NAS bottlings. From Glenmorangie alone we have had…...
…..Astar, Sonnalta, Artein, Lasanta, Ealanta, Finealta, Taghta, Companta, Nectar D’Or, Quinta Ruban, Signet…..
….that is quite an extensive list of innovative, new whiskies, and while some have succeeded, others have not fared particularly well.
Now I have to be fair to Dr. Bill. He is obviously willing to take chances, to try new things, and to push some boundaries while remaining true to many of the traditions of scotch whisky-making. In an era where consumers continuously seek something new, Dr. Bill is certainly making the effort….and he was one of the first to really embrace and seek out opportunities do so. Over the last decade or so, Dr. Bill and Glenmorangie have undertaken a vast array of experimental production approaches; exploring a range of “finishing” maturation using a variety of traditional and non-traditional casks, employing casks that held Manzanilla Sherry, Port, French Sauterne, Super Tuscan” and even Grand Cru casks from Clos de Tart, a sweet fortified wine from Côtes du Rhône. He has explored using different malt species, as we have here, and also using highly roasted “chocolate” malts as he did with Signet.
While, so far at least, Glenmorangie has retained their core 10, 18 and 25 year-old releases, almost all of their most recent work has gone down the NAS path. The most significant problem I have with these NAS releases is not necessarily their quality, but the cost and the lack of transparency that goes hand-in-hand with almost all the NAS releases hitting the market from most distilleries, not just the whiskies from Glenmorangie or Ardbeg. (Be forewarned: this is a topic that likely will be an ongoing thread in my ramblings because the whole NAS concept continues to expand, so we are likely to see more and more NAS releases being put forward for our purchasing dollars.)
Just for the moment, though, I will pick on Glenmorangie a bit, since their Tusail release is the subject of this review. Consider this: there is no information – zero, zip, nada – on the bottle or on their own website about the whisky in this release beyond telling us it was made with Maris Otter barley. There is nothing to tell us how old any component whisky was before it became part of Tusail (this is true for all of the recent Glenmo NAS releases).
Why is that an issue? Well, for decades, the whisky industry itself has informed us – the consumer – through their own words and actions, imprinting on our consciousness, the idea that you cannot rush the creation of Great Whisky. Time. Age. Patience. These are fundamental to making the Finest Scotch whisky. Being patient, allowing the whisky TIME to sit in a cask is the only way create the richness and quality of flavors that make Scotch, Scotch! Yet, for all we know about Tusail, and most other NAS whiskies, they could do nothing more than simply meet the absolute, barest minimum age necessary to qualify for definition as Scotch whisky – three years….because the distilleries tell us nothing!
Beyond the lack of information about the whisky, the cost of many NAS whiskies is the kicker. Here we have Tusail, which costs $89.99 at Total Wine, while the age-stated Original 10 year-old sells for $29.99. So in Tusail we have a bottle of whisky, with no age statement and no real information about the whisky, from the same distillery, costing THREE TIMES AS MUCH as their own standard 10-year-old bottling. When it all comes down to it, this is really what irks me – and so many other whisky fans; that these NAS releases continue to hit the market at prices that range from a little to a lot higher than the same distillery’s “base-line” bottle that usually carries a 10 or 12 year-old age statement. And we are asked to blindly accept that this is a 3x “better” whisky……..I may have been born at night, but it wasn’t last night!
Okay then, in the minds of the distilleries, exactly what is the justification for me (or anybody) to fork over $90 – or more in some cases! – of my hard-earned cash for one of these NAS whiskies when there is such a lack of information? I can accept the premise that age, alone, doesn’t mean that there is an inherent quality to any specific whisky, but at least I can grasp the reasoning for the frequently increased cost of an older, age-stated, whisky. The rarity factor, the evaporative loss, and storage, insurance and carrying costs, etc. are all production-associated cost concepts I, as an individual and as a consumer, can understand whenever I contemplate spending more money on an individual bottle. But with a NAS bottle – do these same cost factors play any real role???
Oh well, this whole NAS issue is a rather complex debate that has been going on for years and certainly won’t be solved by me, at least today, but I bring it up because, like in my previous post, to me, this reeks of a continuing shift to a “marketing-first” emphasis at the expense of the true, “quality-first” focus….and that is sad. I feel that it It devalues me as a consumer.
In closing, I offer only a word for consideration by the Scotch whisky industry. The latest data shows that US sales of Scotch whisky was down by 7% from last year….could this be an early warning sign that the US consumer is tiring of being manipulated – or feeling taken advantaged of – and is perhaps beginning to look for alternatives to Scotch whisky. Only time will tell whether the bubble is about to burst!
Okay, I think I need a drink after all that, so let’s get to the review…..!
Review: Glenmorangie Tusail
(Sorry about the fuzzy photo……darn camera phone! I promise that it wasn’t that I’d had too much to drink! Anyway, I included a second photo to let you actually see the label and whisky color!)
Color: Golden amber
Nose: The nose is full of sweet malt – and the malt continues to play a central role throughout. Ripe red apples, fresh Bartlett pears, a hint of vanilla, cinnamon. With time I got some stone fruits, maybe a touch of cream.
Palate: Soft, buttery arrival, fruity, delicate malty cereal notes, vanilla. Good mouthfeel.
Finish: Short. Focused on the ripe orchard and stone fruits, some soft vanilla and the ever-present sweet malt.
Overall: I’d have to say Tusail was rather disappointing. Not that this is a terrible whisky, mind you, but it is just…..generally nice, although a tad overly simple. In all fairness, though, I do want to say that this sample was from a freshly opened bottled and it was somewhat closed. I’d be curious to try this again after it has had some time to breathe and, hopefully, open up into something more.
All-in-all, this is an average whisky, a reasonably good whisky, albeit somewhat simple and lacking any real excitement. Tusail unquestionably shows its relationship to the typical Glenmo profile – light, fresh, delicately fruity. But given these first impressions, in my opinion this is definitely nothing superior to the 10 y.o. (which I quite like) and, wIthout question, this is absolutely not worth the 3x higher price tag.
Type: Single Malt Scotch whiskey, (Northern Highlands)
Age: None (NAS)
Maturation: no information provided
Availability: Currently on the shelves
Sample Source: NTSS President Pete