Trinity Hall Special Event: A Glenmorangie and Ardbeg Tasting with Dr Bill Lumsden
Our good friend Marius Donnelly at Trinity Hall continues to spoil us with great events! This time Marius went all-in, hosting a fantastic whisky tasting of the Glenmorangie and Ardbeg whiskies – and presented by two very special guests: Dr Bill Lumsden, head of distilling and whisky creation at Glenmorangie and Ardbeg, and David Blackmore, the Glenmorangie Global Master Brand Ambassador!
As we entered the pub, we were greeted by tables filled with pre-poured whiskies and a small plate of cheeses, salamis, crackers and a lamb chop and we nibbled away while waiting for the festivities to start.
Finally, the hour arrived and Marius introduced the two guests, and from then on, it became a fun-filled couple of hours. Now I’d heard that Dr Bill would, on occasion, share some slightly NSFW humor, and that proved very accurate…..within the first two minutes he launching into a couple of off-color jokes – but he got the crowd laughing and we only stopped when we were sampling a whisky!
The premise of the presentation was a side-by-side “competition”, as Dr Bill described it, The Classic vs The Cult, with the attendees voting at the end to decide the “winner” for the evening. David represented the Glenmorangie range and Dr Bill carried the banner for Ardbeg; each would give a description of background of the whisky, highlight some of the key flavors, and talk a little about the development and maturation process.
At our place-settings, we had three whiskies from each of the two distilleries. The format would have us compare them in pairings starting with the Glenmorangie “Original” 10 year old vs the Ardbeg 10 year old. The second contest was between the Glenmorangie Lasanta vs Ardbeg Uigeadail so that we could compare two whiskies with sherry maturation. And our final contest matched up two of the recent special releases, the Glenmorangie Bacalta and the Ardbeg Dark Cove. This was definitely an interesting approach since the Glenmorangie range tends to be on the delicate, fruity-floral side, while the Ardbeg whiskies are full-blooded Islay peated!
In the end, The Cult whisky, Ardbeg, was clearly the crowd favorite, but I think everybody knew that going in based on their initial reactions.
For me, there were some interesting – and surprising – results as we went through the samples.
WIth our first whisky, I was reminded just how good the Glenmorangie Original 10 yo is: delicate, fruity, softly floral, but very elegant and enjoyable. This is a great introductory whisky for new whisky drinkers, or even some bourbon drinkers, while still one an experienced whisky fan can appreciate. Honestly, this may have been my top-rated one for the evening!
The Ardbeg 10 yo, one which I honestly hadn’t visited in quite some time, brought out that big smoke and peat muscle, supplemented by underlying fruits and vanilla sweetness. Still good!
The Lasanta, a 12 year old whisky that starts with the Original 10 and then is finished for two years in Oloroso sherry casks, was distinctly sherried with its spices, dried fruits, and chocolate. This is another reliable whisky from the Glenmorangie core range, but, for me, the sweet sherry notes are a bit too loud.
The Uigeadail, and this was the most recent batch, btw, was a bit disappointing to me; that is a tough statement for me to make, because I’ve been a huge fan of Uigeadail for many years. However, in this batch, the sherry maturation and the peaty core seemed out of balance, the smoke and the sweet and spicy notes not dancing together. And the finish was very drying, almost mouth-puckering dry, certainly more than I remembered from past iterations.
When talking about the two Special Releases for this evening, Dr Bill describes how he takes the standard 10 yo malts and then tweaks them through wood (cask) influence or finishing experiments. For the Bacalta, this one seemed to continue a trend of these Glenmorangie special releases toward being overly sweet, and the sweetness here really came across as a little bit manufactured.
In talking about this afterwards, I began to wonder if the difficulty in avoiding this result lies in the fact that the Original 10 is so delicate, that the care needed to influence a different flavor profile without totally losing the core malt, pushes the whisky toward sweeter final products. Or, could it be that there is an intentional, marketing-driven force to produce something sweeter with an eye on the US market, to bring out a whisky that is an appealing crossover for bourbon drinkers?
The Dark Cove, like Bacalta, started with the Ardbeg 10 yo, but was then finished in “dark sherry” casks. Forgive me if I fail to recall all of the details from Dr Bill’s description – I didn’t bother taking written notes – but dark sherry is effectively a sherry reduction. Through whatever process, the sherry is coaxed into an almost syrupy consistency, rich, very dark in color, and sweet. If I heard correctly, this dark sherry can be used as a coloring agent in other sherries – but, please, don’t quote me on that and, by all means, let me know if I got this part wrong. After all, it was the end of the evening and the room had started getting louder, so I may not have heard Dr Bill correctly.
Anyway, for the Dark Cove, Dr Bill takes casks that had held this dark sherry and finishes the Ardbeg 10 yo in them for an unspecified time. The desired result was to create a smoky, peaty whisky that had a broader, sweeter sherry note. For me, as with the Bacalta, the Dark Cove, which I’ve had a few other times, while good, still has something artificial and lacks some cohesiveness.
All-in-all, it was a thoroughly enjoyable evening and a fantastic opportunity to hear firsthand from Dr Bill about how he create both the new releases as well as the standard bottlings for these two distilleries. Thanks to Dr Bill, David Blackmore, and to our favorite local Glenmorangie / Ardbeg rep, Dan Crowell, for taking the time to come to Dallas.
And, of course, thanks to Marius for putting this together and sharing his love of whisky with the world!