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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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Something is brewing at Manhattan Bar! What’s that?

Our members got first-hand information on what’s brewing at Manhattan Bar last Wednesday. WhiskyGeeks is partnering both Whisky Butler and Manhattan Bar to bring about new whisky flavours and new barrel-aged cocktails. After last week’s introduction, we are back this week with a short update.

Sazerac Rye Whisky

To recap what happened last week, Manhattan Bar has placed the Sazerac Rye whisky into a barrel as an experiment of creating new whisky flavours. We tasted the original and a version of it after 6 days last week. Now, we are tasting it after 13 days.

The whisky after 13 days

In comparison to the original and the previous 6 days version, the 13 days version is much easier to drink. The sweetness of burnt maple syrup and caramel reduce significantly on the nose, and the acetone is almost gone. The whisky is now milder to drink, and the strong flavours on the palate are beginning to disperse, bringing caramel cola and hints of strawberries. It becomes refreshing instead of overwhelmingly sweet. The finish becomes even shorter than before. Sweet cola frizz, slightly minty but also tannic, astringent and slightly numbing on the tongue, similar to the feeling of eating GP-prescribed lozenges.

Conclusion

The barrel has imparted different flavours and characteristics to the whisky while taking away some of the whisky’s strong flavours. Overall, the experiment is going well as we see improvements in the whisky’s overall profile. In 13 days, the whisky is already milder in taste and an easier drink as compared to the original.

Exciting New Event: The Single Cask x Whisky Butler Tasting Session

The Single Cask Singapore (TSC) and Whisky Butler are collaborating once again to showcase exquisite spirits! This exciting event is, of course, hosted by our friendly neighbour – TSC and is happening on 30 September 2017!

What Can You Expect?

You will be taken on an exciting journey through 4 regions in Scotland before taking a flight to South America in this tasting session. TSC sourced and hand-picked every expression from a single barrel, so, each of them promised to be full of characters and flavours. Imagine the treat you will be in for!

What Should You Look Forward to?

You can look forward to taste the following whiskies:

  1. Highlands – TSC Glen Garioch 1995 (19 Years Old)
  2. Speyside – TSC Balmenach 2003 (12 Years Old)
  3. Islands – TSC Tobermory 1994 (22 Years Old)
  4. Islay – TSC Bowmore 2001 (14 Years Old)
  5. South America – TSC Diamond Rum 2004 (12 Years Old)

The Important Dates and Times:

When: 30 September 2017, Saturday
Where: The Single Cask, 30 Victoria Street, CHIJMES, #01-25
Time: First Session: 4pm to 6pm; Second Session: 7pm to 9pm

Tickets can be bought from TSC Website or Whisky Butler! Alternatively, you can try your luck by doing a walk-in. We encourage you to buy your tickets first to avoid disappointment!

How to Get to The Single Cask

We know that some patrons find it difficult to locate The Single Cask within CHIJMES. To help everyone find this cosy bar easily, we have come up with the directions below.

  1. From Carlton Hotel: Cross the road and locate the entrance to CHIJMES. Walk down the stairs, turn right and you will be at the door of TSC.
  2. From City Hall MRT: Locate Brotzeit and cross the road from there to CHIJMES. Once you reach CHIJMES, walk straight pass Toast Box and go all the way to the end. TSC will be right there.
  3. By Taxi/Grab/Uber: At the entrance of CHIJMES (near the church), walk straight from Caldwell House and turn left (follow the pavement). You will see Gyu Kaku at the end. TSC is just opposite the restaurant.

 

Exclusive Invite to The Dalmore X Amex Whisky Tasting Session

 

An exclusive whisky tasting session held by The Dalmore in collaboration with American Express was hosted by Singapore’s luxury airport terminal JetQuay on the evening of 24th August 17. As this event was meant to be cosy and intimate, only 20 participants were invited.

This was the second event that The Dalmore had held in Singapore in the recent months. The previous one was the special 50th-anniversary celebration of their Master Distiller, Mr Richard Paterson.

The evening started off with a dram of The Dalmore 12 years old as fellow whisky geek, Mr Benjamin Tan from Whisky Butler, waxed lyrical on the history of The Dalmore. The esteemed guests thoroughly enjoyed the story of how the 12-pointed Royal Stag came about.

Benjamin also initiated the guests into the process of whisky-making. Whisky is made using only 3 ingredients – barley, water and yeast. There are 5 steps to the whisky-making process.

  1. Barley is malted by soaking it with water and drying them either with hot air or with a peat fire.
  2. The malted barley is milled and then mixed with hot water in a process called mashing to extract the sugar content into a sugary liquid called wort.
  3. The wort is then fermented by adding yeast in a large vessel called a washback. The yeast converts the sugar into alcohol, known as a wash, which is around 8% abv.
  4. The wash is then distilled in different heated pot stills. The heart of the spirt from distillation is then collected for use.
  5. The new spirit is filled into oak casks – for The Dalmore, they use American white oak bourbon casks and exclusively aged sherry casks. The spirit is then left in the casks for maturation.

The guests were treated to a tasting of The Dalmore 15 Years Old after the short introduction. In this segment, Benjamin taught the guest how to taste a whisky. While there is no “correct way” to drink a whisky, it is a good learning journey to find out how we can find out more about a particular whisky by following the few steps below.

  1. Hold the whisky up to the light and observe its colours.
  2. Swish the whisky lightly to open the nose and palate of the whisky
  3. Hold it to the nose and sniff it
  4. Nose it again, this time with the mouth slightly open
  5. Sip the whisky; coat it around your palate and chew on it
  6. Take a bigger sip; hold it in the mouth for a while before swallowing
  7. Observe the aftertaste of the whisky in your mouth

It takes some practice to decipher the flavours and characteristics of the whiskies, but practise it regularly and you will soon get the idea!

The guests had a great time trying the steps above and some of them began to get some tasting profiles by the time The Dalmore 18 Years Old was served. A healthy debate began between some participants with regards to the various flavours they got.

Benjamin took the chance to explain the complexity of whisky and how a dram of whisky could change according to the way a person drink it. He informed the fascinated crowd how water, ice and soda water change the aroma and palate of a whisky. He also shared how the simple act of aeration could change the experience of drinking whisky. Benjamin taught the guests how to differentiate a balanced whisky from an unbalanced one as well.

The crown jewel of the night – King Alexander III was served right after the short but insightful information about the complexity of whisky. Guests were eager to try their new-found skills on the last dram of the night.

King Alexander III is the pride of The Dalmore’s Master Distiller, Mr Richard Paterson. Nicknamed as “The Nose”, it was said that he could smell anything in a dram of whisky! An interesting fact was “announced” by Benjamin – Mr Richard Paterson’s nose is insured for £2.6 million!

As Benjamin introduced Mr Richard Paterson to the guests, he also mentioned about his 50th-anniversary celebration in Singapore and the exclusive Dalmore 50 Years Old. The guests got so excited that they requested for a taste of this exquisite liquid. Alas for them, the beautiful liquid was not available that evening. Nevertheless, they were not disappointed with King Alexander III as Benjamin put them through the tasting process again.

A group photo was taken right after the tasting session ended, and guests were invited to mingle with Benjamin and the rest of the staff.

WhiskyGeeks had the chance to mingle and speak with the guests as they lingered around in JetQuay after the event. We spoke to several guests, all of whom said it was a wonderful evening.

One particular enthusiastic guest, Mr Joel, commented, “Please tell The Dalmore that this was the best whisky tasting session that I had ever been to! Most of the other tasting sessions were conducted in uncomfortable chairs and freezing conditions. Tonight’s session was conducted with comfortable armchairs, food and wonderful whisky! I also liked the way Benjamin presented the history of The Dalmore. There was so much information that I could take away.”

Another participant, Mr Steven, said that he is not a whisky drinker. However, his son is an avid supporter of whisky, so he helped his son to collect some of them. He mentioned that he had never heard about The Dalmore before, but now that he has, he would be trying more. Mr Steven bought 4 bottles that evening – the 12 YO, 15 YO, 18 YO and King Alexander III.

We also spoke to Mr Larry, who is an avid fan of The Glenlivet. He prefers older aged whiskies and dislikes peaty ones. He has not tried The Dalmore before, as he prefers to stick with what he likes. However, he likes the King Alexander III and showed his support by buying a bottle home. He also said, “The Dalmore is pretty sweet and is something that I like. I will be trying The Dalmore more often in the future!”

Before the guests left for the evening, WhiskyGeeks managed to catch hold of Dr Jimmy just as he was filling in his purchase form. He is a regular Dalmore drinker, having tried not just the 4 bottles offered that evening, but also The Dalmore Cigar Malt. Dr Jimmy was delighted as he said that the presentation helped him to understand The Dalmore better as a brand and also as a drink. He bought a bottle of the 18 YO. “It is my favourite expression. I am buying yet another bottle even though I already have more than one at home.” He quipped, laughing as he filled in his credit card details for the purchase.

It was indeed a wonderful evening filled with laughter, enjoyment and a transfer of knowledge from Benjamin to the invited guests. We certainly hope that The Dalmore will host more events in the future to share their wonderful liquid gold with more whisky drinkers in Singapore.

More About The Dalmore

The Dalmore is founded by Sir Alexander Matheson in 1839, in the Scottish Highlands. A restless entrepreneur and international businessman, Sir Alexander Matheson wanted The Dalmore to go above and beyond in creating luxurious single malt whisky.

For over 100 years, The Dalmore has continued to realise Sir Alexander’s dream by creating an unbroken chain of exceptional whisky through their whisky makers. Mr Richard Paterson, their current Master Distiller, is one of them. For nearly 50 years, he is the Master Distiller at The Dalmore, creating luxurious and much-coveted whiskies for the community. He is the man who, together with The Dalmore, created a category of super luxury single malt, that continues to impress the world up till today.