What makes a single malt whisky unique? In the case of Glenmorangie, it is several factors.
The most outstanding is the stills in the distillery, said to be the tallest in Soctland. At 8m in height and 5.1m wide at the neck, they are the height of an adult giraffe.
Taller stills mean that only the lightest vapours make it into the final product. Having less liquid after distillation gives the whisky a smooth taste. With shorter stills you get a heavier, oiler liquid.
Glenmorangie was founded in 1843, and is located in Tain, Ross-shire.
The company’s business development manager for Europe, Africa and the Middle East, Charlie Steel, was in Nairobi recently. I caught up with him to learn more about the world of whisky.
Steel is no stranger to East Africa. His father was born in Kenya in 1944, where he lived until he left school. He eventually joined Glenmorangie, and worked there for 20 years.
“I’m following in my father’s footsteps,” he says.
Single malt whisky is made with only water, barley and yeast, and has to be matured for at least three years.
Casks are a major determinant of the flavour of whisky. Anywhere between 40 per cent to 70 per cent of the flavour is from the oak.
“We use ex-bourbon casks. The casks are more mellow after they’ve been used to mature bourbon. We only use our casks twice, to get the maximum flavour from them,” Steel said.
The liquid sits in the cask for 10 years, and comes out as Glenmorangie Original.
The longer the maturation, the more mellow the whisky as more of the alcohol evaporates.
For extra maturation, the original goes into sherry, red wine or sauterne casks for two to four years. The result is richer colour and stronger taste.
Water is another important factor in making whisky.
So who is drinking whisky in East Africa?
“I’ve found that Kenyans are eager to learn more about single malt whiskys. Mixologists use it in some of their cocktails. I’ve been doing some training while in Nairobi. Rwandan’s drink more champagne than whisky,” Steel said.
How does one best enjoy their whisky?
“Any way you like. Whisky is versatile. You can add about a teaspoon of water and see the fatty particles separate. A little water will soften the alcohol, causing a change in the texture and bouquet of the whisky, and revealing further layers of aromas and complexity. For older whiskeys, you can enjoy it neat and taste its full intensity,” Steel said.
Adding two or three large rocks of ice to your whisky will close down the top notes that were released with water accentuating instead the base flavours from the oak barrel.
“Pour a tot of whisky into your glass. Sniff it by putting your nose and mouth at the mouth of the glass. Then inhale deeply through your mouth. Take a small sip and chew. The whisky coats your palette and you get the full array of flavour — spice, orange, honey...” Steel added.