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A Chat with Brendan McCarron from Glenmorangie

Brendan McCarron, Head of Maturing Whisky Stocks at The Glenmorangie Company

WhiskyGeeks is fortunate to get a chance to speak with Brendan McCarron, the Head of Maturing Whisky Stocks at the Glenmorangie Company, during our DFS event. As the heir apparent to whisky legend, Dr Bill Lumsen, Brendan has plenty to work on. He joins the company five years ago and started work with the whisky creation team alongside Dr Bill.

Brendan’s Whisky History

Brendan hails from Glasgow, Scotland. As a chemical engineering graduate, he started his career in the whisky industry in 2006 when he joined Diageo. After three years, Brendan began work as the distillery manager at Oban. Two years later, he left for “Peatland” – Islay, where he worked with Lagavulin, Caol Ila and of course, Port Ellen.

Port Ellen is a malting facility where Brendan got to work with the maltsers on different requirements. Making smoky malted barley was probably one of his favourite thing to do! The smoky malted barley was also the reason that Brendan got to know Dr Bill Lumsen. After ten years of working as a distillery manager, Brendan decided to change his direction and joined The Glenmorangie Company as part of their whisky creation team.

Brendan’s Unique Journey

Brendan has a fantastic whisky journey from the day he joined the industry in 2006. He is probably one of the very few people in Scotland who has worked on all aspects of whisky making. From designing a brand-new distillery (building it!) to malting, distilling and maturing whisky, Brendan has done it all. These experiences at the various distilleries and malting houses have shaped Brendan’s knowledge and expertise along the way. Additionally, he also went out of his way to acquire theoretical knowledge through his pursuit of books, courses and degrees. All of these add to his practical experience and give him a well-rounded education in whisky making.

Glenmorangie and its whiskies

Glenmorangie Whiskies (Picture Credit: Glenmorangie.com)

We had a short chat with Brendan on the different exciting whiskies that are coming shortly. We understood that there is a 25-year-old whisky released, but so far, we have yet to see it land in Singapore. It may be soon, but we do not know when.

The exciting part of the chat is, of course, the single cask #1399, that we tasted during the DFS tie-up event that we did on 22 June 2019. It is part of their latest project to launch exclusive single casks for specific countries. Making its debut as a travel retail exclusive bottle is naturally the best way for a brand to market a rare single cask bottling in Singapore considering the sheer volume of people passing through our airport!

Glenmorangie’s Affairs with Wood

Wood has always been the talk for Glenmorangie. We know that they used exceptional “designer” oak casks for some of their limited edition whiskies. We asked Brendan about these casks.

The creative team at the distillery involves itself in the creation of the oak casks from the start. Their research led them to the Ozark Mountains of Missouri, USA, where they found slow-growing wood that suits the spirit of Glenmorangie. To bring the effects of the slow-growth wood further, the team discovered the trees in the Mark Twain National Forest, where the oak trees grow slowly and develop the porous nature that the Glenmorangie team needs for its whiskies.

The Making of Artisan American White Oak Casks

An Oak Cask (Photo Credit: Glenmorangie.com)

The entire process of making these oak casks started with the identification of specific trees within the Mark Twain National Forest. These trees are cut and then air-dried for two years for maximum effects. Air-drying not only reduces astringency and improves the wood’s permeability; it also enhances the soft and rich flavours of the Glenmorangie whiskies.

These tight-grained but porous wood are then made into casks. The casks will be heavily toasted and then lighted charred for the distillery’s needs. The cooperage then fills bourbon whisky in the casks for precisely four years. It is like clockwork. Once four years is up, the casks are ready for shipment to the Scottish Highlands. The whole process takes six years to complete. Such dedication to oak casks is impressive, and we salute the team for going through with this process.

Designer Wood Casks for Limited Edition Whiskies

Some of the designer wood casks hold the core range of the whiskies from Glenmorangie; others hold limited edition whiskies. One of the famous limited edition is the Glenmorangie Astar. Our team got the chance to taste the Astar at another event held at The Exciseman on 1st July, where Brendan gave a presentation to both trade and consumer alike. We will speak of that another time.

Due to the higher porosity of the cask, the whisky soaks better into the wood, extracting flavours that the distillery is after. The distillery also uses these designer casks only twice for maturation purposes. Brendan explained that the casks are no longer suitable after two uses, and they usually sell the majority of these casks. Some get left behind for experiments, and a small number of them go to Ardbeg.

Are Flat-Packing Barrels still a Cost-Saving Practise?

We asked Brendan some essential financial questions as well, that affects production. In the past, some distilleries broke up the ex-bourbon barrels they bought and flat pack them before shipping to Scotland. Once the vessel landed, the distilleries brought the staves to a cooperage and rebuilt the casks. The practice affected the quality of the casks, and the whiskies matured in such casks become a debatable topic.

According to Brendan, this practice is hardly used in Scotland’s distilleries today. The discovery that they do not save cost by doing so was one of the significant factors. However, the debate on the practice that MAY have affected production was probably the main factor that led to the abolishment.

The abolishment, unfortunately, led to a reduction of hogshead as most hogsheads are rebuilt from standard barrels. While this is a loss to the whisky industry, we must remember that cost is always a factor for end-consumers because higher cost equates to higher prices!

The Truth about Virgin Oak Casks

Some distilleries are making use of virgin oak casks to mature some of their whiskies. We even know of new distilleries that make use of virgin oak maturation to reduce the number of years needed to produce delicious whisky. Glenmorangie uses virgin oak casks as well, and we wanted to know what Brendan thinks about them. He thinks, that virgin oak casks may prove to be too strong an influence on Glenmorangie’s new make spirits. The virgin oak casks may hide the fruity notes of Glenmorangie and make it “un-Glenmorangie”. Brendan prefers to do finishes with virgin oak casks instead.

It is of interest to know that Glenmorangie does a lot of wood finishes to bring flavours to their whiskies. For example, the distillery finished the Lasanta in Oloroso and PX sherry cask, the Quinta Ruban in Ruby Port Pipes and the Nectar D’òr in Sauternes casks.

Factors that Affects the Choices of Cask Finishes

Brendan explained that they do not know all the elements of influences when the creative team chooses the cask finishes. They know for a fact that the spirit of Glenmorangie works well with Port and Sauternes casks finishes. Unfortunately, they do not know the reaction to all the casks in the world. Therefore, it is much of a trial and error for the team when they are choosing the cask finishes. By selecting items of interest which the team thinks would work with the spirit, they came up with various experiments of different finishing casks. The availability of the casks is also crucial, as they need enough casks to complete a new finishing experiment.

Brendan mentioned that the team also takes the opportunity when it comes knocking. If their suppliers offer casks which they have not tried before, they may take a few of the casks to create new experiments. Some experiments will succeed while others may not. Part of the fun is finding out if it works. For those of you who are curious, the casks that don’t work are not thrown away! The team reracks the “unworkable” casks into sherry or ex-bourbon casks to “reset” them. Usually, the age of the whisky will also help to rectify any issues that the team finds.

Brendan Wants YOU to Know This!

Brendan, the whisky expert

We thought that we have enough technical talk, so we asked Brendan what the one thing that he would like the whisky community to know is. The answer is not surprising. Brendan wants everyone to know that a single malt whisky comes from a SINGLE whisky distillery. It is one of the most misunderstood terms in the whisky industry. Many whisky drinkers confused single malt whisky and single cask whisky. Brendan shares his frustrations at how he always get that same question – “How is the whisky still a single malt whisky when you blend all these casks to create it?”

To set the record straight, Brendan shares that a single malt whisky can be a “blend” of 15 casks from the SAME distillery. As long as the whisky is made from malted barley and is not blended with whisky from another distillery, it is a single malt whisky.

What You Can Do If You Want to Work for a Whisky Distillery

Most of our younger folks here would probably be keen to work for a whisky distillery. We ask Brendan what we need to do if we want to work for a distillery. Here is his advice.

Get a science-related degree if you want to be on the distilling team. Chemical engineering or chemistry is a good start. Otherwise, biochemistry is helpful too. There are, however, many ways to get involved. You can still work in the industry even if you have a business degree. You can join the distillery in sales or marketing with it. Nonetheless, you will still need the passion and love for whisky before you can comfortably stay in the industry.

Do not despair if you do not have any of those. Brendan said that having experience is equally vital if you are not Scottish and want to work in Scotland. He started in pharmaceutical and the knowledge he gained there translated into his next job with Diageo. Working in a brewery also helps because that involves two stages of the whisky distillation. Ultimately, the potential candidate needs to be open and adaptable. When you combine the passion for whisky and your openness to adapt, you will be able to make headway into the career that you want. Start with a job that you can do and learn from there. You will never know where that will take you!

 

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WhiskyGeeks x DFS Glenmorangie Event

Photo Credits: DFS

As a blog, WhiskyGeeks has come a long way since we first started two years ago. We started our Facebook page in May-June 2017 and made the first post in July 2017. Since then, we had garnered interest from readers all around the world. The team at WhiskyGeeks humbly thank everyone for the support! Without our readers, we would not have gone this far.

In celebration of our second anniversary, WhiskyGeeks approached DFS Singapore to collaborate on a one-off whisky tasting in conjunction with the Whisky Festival at Changi Airport. We are honoured that DFS responded positively, and we had a great time hosting a small batch of our members at Changi Airport Terminal 2 on 22 June 2019.

The Glenmorangie Event

Brendan McCarron

We are fortunate to have Brendan McCarron, the head of maturing whisky stocks at Glenmorangie, with us during the event. Brendan is a talented guy who has experience working in both malting halls and distilleries. He is, currently, under the tutorage of Dr Bill Lumsden, and likely, will be the next Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation and Maturing Whisky Stocks after Dr Bill retires.

Travel Retail Bottles

As the event is a collaboration with DFS, we focus on the various Travel Retail bottles available for Glenmorangie. We tasted three expressions. There is a bourbon-matured 19 years old, the chocolate malt Signet and a 14 years old single cask. Each of them houses different flavours.

Photo Credit: DFS

Glenmorangie 19 Years Old – Exclusive Travel Retail

The 19 years old is a 100% bourbon-matured whisky. On the nose, we get vanilla, flowers, pine resin, unripe strawberries and some vegetal notes. Adding some water to the whisky brings out fragrant sandalwood, old books, with hints of cherries, lemon zest and confectionary sweetness. We get citrus and mango on the palate, with honey and the vegetal note lingering. With water, we get some musk and earthiness. The lemon zest also surfaces with confectionary sweetness. The finish is of medium length with honey, musk and lemon zest.

Glenmorangie Signet

The Signet is a familiar bottle in the Glenmorangie family. The signet on the bottle gives Glenmorangie its identity. Therefore, this bottle is of special meaning to the distillery. The malt in the Signet is done slightly differently when compared to the rest of the range. By roasting and burning some of the malt used in the Signet, it gives rise to what Brendon calls, “the chocolate malt”. The distillation team mixes traditional malt and the chocolate malt to create the highly delicious Signet.

The nose is full of roasted coffee bean, cold brew, mocha latte, and dark chocolate, with some cinnamon and dried fruits. The mouthfeel is rich, with cold brew, vanilla, marzipan and dark chocolate, each giving complexity to the dram. The finish is a combination of cinnamon, vanilla and dark chocolate.

Glenmorangie 2004 14 Years Old Single Cask (Cask #1399)

The 14 Years Old Single Cask is quite similar to the 19 Years Old. The difference is in the alcohol percentage and the fact that it is a single cask. In terms of prices, it is also much higher. On the nose, we get vanilla, confectionary sweetness, unripe strawberries and milk chocolate. When we added water, the dram becomes sweeter. The milk chocolate is more prominent, and there are hints of lemon zest and green apples. The palate is full of citrus, vanilla, cinnamon, chocolate and some vegetal notes. Water brings out the lemon zest found in the nose, as well as honey and a slight spicer palate. The finish has lemon zest, vanilla, honey and the cinnamon spice.

The Whisky House @ Changi Airport Terminal 2

After the event, the DFS team kindly opened up the Whisky House to our members to do more tastings. WhiskyGeeks is thankful for the generosity. It was a privilege for us to get access to the Whisky House after the event! Our members got to try many more whiskies, such as the Ardbeg 23 Years Old and the Octomores 7.2 and 8.2! One of our members even tried the Octomore 8.2 for the first time in her life, and enjoyed her first peated whisky!

The Ardbeg 23 Years Old

We like the Ardbeg 23 Years Old. The whisky has the right amount of smoke, peat, and sweetness to delight most of us peatheads. It is also one of the easiest to drink Ardbeg so far. We know that it would be harder to try this dram if DFS did not open up the Whisky House for us during the event as we would need to fly out of the country to get a taste. 🙂

For anyone who will be flying in or out of Singapore, do drop by the DFS counters at the various terminals for some tasting. The current range available will not disappoint!

We believe that most of you know that there is an ongoing promotion at DFS until 30 June 2019 in conjunction with the Whisky Festival. Travellers who spend above SGD$200 will receive a complimentary Glencairn glass at the departure hall. For those arriving in Singapore, spending $140 and above will guarantee you a pair of ferry tickets to Batam coupled with a city tour.

A Welcoming Host

Photo Credit: DFS

We want to add a note here, especially to thank the team at DFS. Our members enjoyed themselves during the event and told us that DFS was a fantastic host. We had plenty to eat and drink during the event. With delectable pairings such as artisan cheese, fruits, and nuts, to a variety of tarts and brownies to choose from, the DFS team fed us well in terms of food and drinks.

WhiskyGeeks is very grateful to the team for taking care of such a big group and giving us enough time to enjoy our whiskies.

A Fantastic Experience

From right to left: Brendan, Zerlina and Zicong

It was an awesome experience for most of us to get a chance to visit the transit area at Changi Airport without an air ticket. The experience was significantly upgraded with Brendan McCarron hosting us for the tasting of the three Glenmorangie expressions. It wasn’t easy to arrange the trip, but it was all worth it when we saw how happy our members were.

We hope to collaborate with DFS again in future, and once again, we want to give our heartiest thanks to the DFS team! You guys rock!

One Last Thing

Before we go, we want to mention that we did an exclusive interview with Brendan during the event. We are in the progress of writing it up and plans to release it sometime in July. Watch out for it, for Brendan did speak about the different casks the distillery uses, and also have advice for budding young whisky enthusiasts on “how to enter the whisky industry”. That means, “how to land a job in a whisky distillery”. Stay tuned!

 

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DFS Whisky Festival 2019 Special Releases

For 4th Edition of the DFS Whisky Festival, DFS Changi has its first pop-up bar in T3! If you are travelling anytime between 1st May to 10th June, the bar is opened from 8am to 12 midnight so be sure to check it out! Travellers can expect to enjoy their whisky with live jazz performances. You can find out more about the event here! The DFS Whisky Festival brings about some new releases as well! And I got to try some of these exciting drams, here are some of my opinions on it!

 

Glenmorangie 14 year old 2004 (#1399)

This single cask Glenmorangie is a Changi exclusive! It spent the first 10 years in ‘slow-growth’ American White Oak, and then spent the next 4 years partying in an oloroso sherry cask!

Nose:  The smell is initially sweet but reserved. Vanilla, Confectionary sweetness, unripe strawberries, notes of milk chocolate With water: Strong notes of milk chocolate, lemon zest and green apples with that sweet Glenmorangie spirit character

Palate: Citrus notes on arrival with vanilla. The dram had good texture, bringing hints of cinnamon spice, vegetal note and whiff of chocolate With water: Initially a burst of lemon zest, then stronger cinnamon notes, more chocolate-y this time round, alongside honey and vanilla, hints of dried fruits and figs.

Finish: Citrus, brioche and vanilla notes still lingers on With water: It’s much sweeter, with a stronger cinnamon spice

 

Chivas 21 year old The Lost Blend

This is a rather “rare and ghostly” version of the Chivas 21yo, but with an age statement! This Chivas 21 Royal Salute blend features some silent distilleries in the mix! Of the information I could get, there were two malt distilleries and one grain distillery: Imperial (mothballed in 1998), Caperdonich (closed in 2002), and Dumbarton (shut down in 2002). Although I didn’t have as many flavour notes to write about for this dram, I really enjoy the luxuriously high calibre of maturation. This is the best Chivas blend I have had! If only it was at cask strength……

Nose:  The smell is full of musk, leather, old books, and slightly waxy notes. Some hints of citrus gets through, with time it is more old and elegant oak

Palate: Musk somewhat reminiscent of the “old bottle effect”, earthy notes, mineral notes, scent of stone walls from a dunnage warehouse, old libraries! <3

Finish: Leather, old books, and limestone.The finish is surprisingly long and musky!

 

Compass Box No Name No. 2

One of my favourite blending companies coming with a strong blend! As usual, Compass Box has been very transparent with his recipe. This blend is made of:

75.5% Caol Ila matured in refill sherry butts

13.5% Clynelish matured in rejuvenated white oakhogsheads

10.5% Talisker matured in rejuvenated white oak hogsheads

The remaining 0.5% is a vat of 3 highland single malts finished in French oak barrels! This dram is a peaty beast initially, but the Clynelish sweetness slowly emerges with time.

 

Nose:  A strong initial peatsmoke, like a tight and warm embrace! bonfires, lemon zest, earthy vegetal notes, hints of yuzu. With water: more of that honey and vanilla appears and fruity sweetness and more citrus fragrances.

Palate: A strong arrival of peat smoke, smoky, earthy, BBQ grilled meat and honey sweetness With water: more vegetal note, and hints of apples, With time, plums, unripe strawberries, green apples

Finish: Earthy, and long lingering peatsmoke finish With water: The smoke stays, but lingers alongside sweet fruity notes, and waxy candle notes!

Jura 20 year old One and All

FIVE cask types! 5!!! 2 more cask types and I would be telling you the different casks types to the tune of Mambo No. 5! That is the work of none other than Jura’s Master Blender Richard Patterson. This dram has in it a bit of ex-bourbon, sherry oak, Pinot Noir barriques, Sparkling Cabernet Franc casks, and Cabernet Sauvignon casks. This Jura bottled at 51% works well. Due to its age and calibre of maturation, some people could not tell that it was peated!

Nose:  Cherries, cherry stones, soft hints of smoke like a extinguished campfire in the morning, eucalyptus, coastal notes. With water: The european oak shows as whiffs of roasted coffee, almonds and cinnamon come into play

Palate: A balanced cinnamon arrival with musky and earthy notes. Cherries, lemon zest, old oak and old books. With water: The chocolate becomes more apparent

Finish: The strong cherry note lingers with hints of cinnamon and musky earthiness.

 

Royal Brackla 20 year old 1998 Exceptional Cask

This mahogany beauty spent 9 years in an American white oak cask before spending 11 years in a Tuscany (Italian Red Wine) cask! Luckily, this is bottled at a higher strength of 50.6% to showcase its complexity. This for me was definitely more oak focused from the start but with water, the personality started to shine through!

Nose:  Treacle, chocolate, mellow cinnamon notes, walnuts, followed by notes of raisins, dried prunes With water: Floral notes appear, like a desert flower in the rain! This is soon followed by spicy cinnamon, strawberries and cranberries!

Palate: Cinnamon arrival with this savoury note, coffee note, dark chocolate bitters With water: A bit more sweetness and the flavours are a bit more balanced

Finish: Cinnamon chocolate and coffee finish With water: The dark chocolate note got more intense!

A 1L version of the Port Charlotte 10 year old is also available, so if you fancy a bigger PC10, you can get the upsized version at DFS!

Hope you get to visit the bar! Slainté!

Special thanks to DFS Singapore for the invite to the media launch 😀

DFS Whisky Festival 2019: The 4th Edition

The DFS Whisky Festival is back, this time with their first ever pop-up bar at Terminal 3. The beautiful pop-up bar features some new DFS whisky releases, so you can drink that travel anxiety away with the ambience of live jazz performances. If you are travelling anytime between 1st May to 10th June, you can visit the bar  from 8am to 12 midnight. The bar is located at T3 in the concourse space near Gucci and Burberry. Alternatively, you could just follow the sound of live jazz~

This pop-up bar is inspired by a whisky’s maturation journey in its cask. The oak used in the decor of the bar were ex-whisky staves to provide the bar with its aesthetics. The jazz is layered and complex just like whisky, creating a comfortable ambience for any whisky drinker.

In the 4th Edition of the Whisky Festival features some very exciting whiskies, and some surprisingly good drams! Some new releases include Glenmorangie 14 year old Single Cask #1399, Chivas 21 year old The Lost Blend, and Compass Box No Name No. 2! You can read some of my thoughts about the drams and tasting notes here!

The DFS Whisky Festival itself will last till 30th June, and brand ambassadors will be invited down to talk about their products! Travellers can get a complimentary whisky tasting as well!

Whisky Festival Promotions

There will also be festival exclusive promotions at T2’s Whiskey House Duplex, The Raffles Long Bar at T3 and The Whiskey House at T4. During the festival, a minimum purchase of S$250 on any whisky from the Departure store will come with a branded Glencairn whisky nosing glass. As for the Arrival stores, from 8th May to 30th June, spend a minimum of S$140 per passport that includes any whisky product(s) to receive a pair of ferry tickets and city tour to Batam (worth S$70).

But the Festival isn’t just happening in Singapore, check out this information released by DFS Singapore:

DFS Whisky Festival around the world:

1st May to 30th June:   

  • Singapore Changi Airport
  • Hanoi Noi Bai International Airport
  • Ho Chi Minh Tan Son Nhat Airport
  • John F Kennedy International Airport
  • Tom Bradley International Terminal

1st June to 31st July:  

  • Hawaii Honolulu International Airport
  • San Francisco International Airport

1st July 1 to 31st August:   

  • Abu Dhabi International Airport

Travellers planning their vacation in May or June might want to allocate some extra time at the pop-up bar to savour that sweet liquid gold! Special thanks to DFS Singapore for the invite to this event 😀