Ah, the marvel of malt. From three simple ingredients that are treated pretty much the same way throughout Scotland, we get a drink with a myriad of different flavors. Despite the strict rules governing the freedom to experiment, certain distillers have been investing in new casks and then putting barrels away for years, specifically to develop styles and flavors. And this group of highly talented individuals keeps finding new ways to add to the taste of the malt.
One of these distillers is Dr. Bill Lumsden, the whisky maker at Glenmorangie. Even by his own high standards, he has excelled with his latest offering. Signet ($200, glenmorangie.com) is a superpremium malt and the most remarkable release of 2008. Lumsden’s latest creation is evidence that Scotland can continue to dominate whisky for years to come. If you can find it, be sure to try it.
Lumsden and his team have combined roasted and dark-chocolate malt, often found in dark beers and chocolate stout but rarely if ever used in whisky. They have used special barley strains and unusual casks. And they have used some virgin wood, which adds a rich spiciness and liqueurlike orange notes. In addition to the coffee and chocolate flavors, there is orange, cherry, plum and butterscotch, suggesting a remarkable balance between sherry and bourbon casks. There’s also a minty freshness and fruity vibrancy that gives the malt a distinct balance between a young, zippy whisky and a venerable one.
Interestingly, Signet has no age statement, reflecting the trend away from maturity as the arbiter of quality and suggesting that Lumsden has mixed malts of different ages. But whatever is in here is innovative and deliciously indulgent. It’s a work of art and further proof that Scotland’s whisky makers are at the top of their game.