Wine & spirits: Hot scotch
“Honeyed nose with a burst of ripe plums. Delicate nuances of citrus, spice, nuts and vanilla. Creamy mouth feel with a long, dry, ‘tingly' finish.”
Sound like a wine-tasting note to you?
In fact, these descriptors were gleaned from a well-known Scotch whisky distiller's corporate bumf.
Traditional whisky imagery employs terms like grainy, grassy, heathery, malty, peaty and smoky. But traditional whiskies appeal primarily to traditional (older, male) tipplers. And those fellows are tough to convince that producing anything that's not traditional is justifiable. The problem with the old boys is, they're getting older.
Fifteen years ago, Scotland's 162-year-old Glenmorangie distillery embarked on an undertaking to find new customers, especially women. Research revealed embryonic lifestyle trends; the timing was perfect.
Modern consumers who couldn't afford a posh, downtown pied-à-terre, a sports car or a sunny winter vacation, would gladly shell out for a night on the town, a meal at a fancy restaurant, or a good bottle of wine. Faith Popcorn and Lys Marigold call them “small indulgences” in their book Clicking: 16 Trends To Future Fit Your Life, Your Work, and Your Business ($16, HarperCollins Canada, 1996). And a bonus for Glenmorangie, at retail liquor stores, women bought 42 per cent of its product.
In the late '90s, Glenmorangie introduced innovative wood-finish whiskies. These mature whiskies were enhanced by additional aging in once-filled barrels from famous estates in some of the world's great wine regions. During the additional aging period, the spirit would absorb the distinctive flavours from the wine casks.
Messing with tradition, however, can be a dangerous thing. Old boys tend to be purists, pedants or, simply, pigheaded. The response to the new whisky was devastating. Those so-called connoisseurs claimed the company had bastardized their beverage and dishonoured the reputation of Scotland's best-known product.
If Glenmorangie execs fretted about the reaction, they needn't have. Since their introduction, the wood finish Scotches have exceeded Glenmorangie's expectations, as well as those of tens of thousands of new consumers who discovered the tastes and enjoy them regularly.
The Glenmorangie Range
Here's a sampling of the Scottish distillery's offerings:
Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky, 10 Years Old (750 mL, $46*). This traditional whisky, which is aged in bourbon barrels, has a classic bouquet of honey, heather and sun-dried hay. It's the basis from which all the wood-finish versions are created.
Burgundy Wood Finish Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (750 mL, $56*). Traditional French wine barriques from good Pinot Noir bestow the subtle flavours of confected fruit and berries, percolated coffee, and spices.
Port Wood Finish Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (750 mL, $56*). Large hogsheads that were once used to hold ruby port impart a light pink colour to this spirit, along with the sweet and seductive flavours characteristic of ripe red fruits.
Sherry Wood Finish Single Highland Malt Scotch Whisky (750 mL, $56*). Second-hand oloroso sherry barrels add a lovely nutty flavour and nuances of vanilla and dark toffee.
Prices vary from province to province