Last night, I had the great fortune of being introduced to John Skipworth—CEO of the Glenmorangie Company—by Lucas Paya at the Bazaar. Under his arm, a bottle of the much coveted Signet. As a rule, I am generally what one would call a purist—I like the un-evolved innate nuances of distillates. In the case of Scotch whisky, I like peat, Islay and brine—aromas that send you cascading into an ethereal world steeped in tradition. I generally tend to call on Laphroaig and Ardbeg—another Moët Hennessy product—though my proclivities have been leaning toward Lagavulin and Highland Park for some time now. A perfectly pleasant rut. And, as Skipworth told me, “we stopped peating at Glenmorangie about a century ago.”
Signet is anything but traditional—in fact, no one else is doing anything like it. Given the package—more Cognac than Scotch—and what I had already heard about this offering, I was not sure what to expect. I do like wood, by the way; everything has its place. The Sherry cask has taken whisky to unrivaled heights—I recently had the Bowmore ‘64 Oloroso Sherry Cask, which was truly sublime—and what Glenmorangie has already done with Sauternes is admirable, to say the least. But, this was a whole different animal. Just as Glenmorangie’s Dr. Bill Lumsden was seeking out the best of Jerez a quarter-century ago, he is trail-blazing once again.
Mr. Skipworth—a man of unbending eloquence—speaks with a controlled passion about his whisky, and the rare, storied history of Glenmorangie. I haste to attempt replicating his myriad tales of, but they date back to 297 AD when the indigenous people—whom the Romans called Picts, or Painted People—cultivated their very barley fields. In fact, The Cadboll Stone—an 8th century carving of the Picts—was unearthed on the Glenmorangie grounds. If you get the chance to meet this man, make sure to allow for ample time; he is a wealth of knowledge.
When Lucas inquired about the ideal tasting methodology for Signet, Mr. Skipworth began speaking of ice spheres, like those found in Tokyo. Lucas excused himself and returned moments later with stem-less Riedel Montrachet glasses, each containing perfect spheres. The nose was immediately singular, revealing distinctive aromas of caramel, chocolate, orange peel and mocha; with time, additional aromas of honey, spice, Sherry and subtle brine develop. The palate is as dark and brooding as its color, with unctuous layers of chocolate, tobacco, spice and a racy underbelly of Sherry and rum-like quality. The finish is long and intriguing, with a sweet nuttiness, great structure and impeccable balance.
The vast complexities partially result from the portions of decades-old whisky going back to the ‘71 and ’72 vintages, among others, which have been in cask since. But the majority of its uniqueness comes from higher temperature process; their selection of barley; a blend of chocolate malt and malted barley varieties most commonly used in brewing beer; their trademark stills, which are relatively taller; and new oak barrels made from hand chosen north-facing trees in the Ozarks, which are discarded after their second use. This is definitely something that every whisky lover should try; and a product that might help nurture new-comers to the category. A fine gateway, indeed.