Glenmorangie was the distillery that first got me interested in single malt Scotch just over a decade ago. Granted this was largely because I was very attracted to the idea of their old lineup of wine cask finished malts; I had an ambition to one day own all of the releases in the old “Sherry/Burgundy/Port/Madeira Wood” range. I never quite got there–I think it was the Burgundy Wood that cured me of that ambition–and I grew to like the simpler 10 yo instead.
In the last 5-6 years I’ve lost interest in Glenmorangie. Some of this, if I am to be honest, probably springs from a desire to distance myself from distilleries and whiskies I was enthusiastic about when I was a less seasoned drinker; and some of it doubtless has to do with a distaste for the trend towards premiumization/bullshit in the Scotch world that Glenmorangie under the LVMH ownership have been one of the prime drivers of. Their new releases have often seemed more like “cool” ideas than whiskies I’d want to actually drink.
But those irrational/rational biases aside, it’s also true that I’ve not cared very much for the few whiskies I’ve had from their newer lineups in recent years: the Quinta Ruban (the new version of the Port Wood) and the Nectar d’Or (the sauternes finish) taste more like whisky cocktails than whisky to me (only a slight exaggeration) and the 10 yo seems to have slipped too. I will say though that I have really enjoyed the few pours I’ve had of the current 18 yo and I really liked a sample of the Signet (but there’s no way I’m paying close to $200 for a bottle). Still, when a sample swap offered the opportunity to taste some of the relatively recent “designer” releases I decided to go for it.
The first up is the Astar; reviews of the recent Artein and the less recent Sonnalta PX will follow soon. The Astar was first released in 2008. As per a quote from Bill Lumsden on John Hansell’s old “What Does John Know?” blog (now the Whisky Advocate blog) the Astar is matured in “slow growth, air seasoned, heavily toasted, lightly charred, ex-bourbon, American oak barrels.” For some reason I’d thought it incorporated virgin oak matured whisky as well but obviously I was wrong. You can find out more about it at that link.
Glenmorangie Astar (57.1%; from a sample received in a swap)
Nose: Gentle malt and vanilla at first, then some apples and honey. Quite apparent wood but it’s mellow and toasted. The malty note gets a little more cereally (toasted wheat) and there’s also a hint of melon. Smells like quite a healthy breakfast (though I wouldn’t advise it). The fruitiness expands with time and melds quite nicely with the toasted wood. With even more time it becomes quite lemony and there’s a touch of ginger too now. With a few drops of water the vanilla and cream expand and there’s more peppery spice now too.
Palate: Ah, very oily and rich. Flavours are very much as advertised by the nose. The wood is not at all aggressive on the palate either, at least at first. Surprisingly drinkable at full strength with a nice spicy kick at the end–this is where the wood speaks the loudest–but it’s not tannic, more cinnamony. With time the spicy wood becomes the dominant note. Water mutes the fruit and amplifies the wood.
Finish: Medium. Not terribly interesting. And with time the woodiness becomes a little unbalanced and unpleasant.
Comments: I really liked this at first nosing and on my first few sips, but it began to get more astringent on the palate and especially the finish after that. And water accelerates that unfortunate progression. Luckily, it doesn’t need water to be drinkable. It’s an interesting whisky and I wouldn’t turn down a pour but I don’t know that I would want a bottle. And I can’t join the ever enthusiastic John Hansell in his 93 point rating.
Rating: 84 points.
Thanks to Alex S. for the sample!