Matheson bought two second-hand gin stills to make his spirit, and the distillery is famous for having the tallest stills in Scotland, although these days there are eight stills rather than just two (with more to come), and Bruichladdich claim that their stills are taller.
In 1918 the distillery was bought by Macdonald and Muir, who steered Glenmorangie through the difficult inter-war period when the combination of Prohibition and the Great Depression made conditions very difficult for the industry as a whole. Having survived, Glenmorangie went on to flourish, doubling the number of stills to four in 1977 and again to eight in 1990, the year after the company had secured the future of its own water source by buying 650 acres of land around the Tarlogie Springs.
Although they may not have been the very first company to experiment with the technique of wood-finishing (other sources claim that this accolade belongs to David Stewart and Balvenie), there is no doubt that Glenmorangie embraced the concept wholeheartedly in the 1990s under the stewardship of Dr. Bill Lumsden.
Dr. Lumsden began his tenure as Glenmorangie distillery manager in 1994, and is now Head of Distilling and Whisky Creation for the company. During his time as Distillery Manager, Glenmorangie introduced a long-running series of finishes, with the three main expressions having been finished in Madeira, Sherry and Port.Some of the more notable finishes have included the 1978 Tain L'Hermitage bottling; a 1975 vintage Cotes de Nuits Finish released in 2000; and a 1981 vintage finished in Sauternes casks from Chateaud'Yquem.
Other experiments include a memorable series of 1993 vintage Glenmorangie matured in different types of oak (eg Chinkapin, Missouri, Truffle, Burr)which have appeared as very limited bottlings in selected marketsto great acclaim and now attract prices only collectors could contemplate.
Under the guidance of Dr. Lumsden the company has continued to conduct dozens (if not hundreds) of experiments with different kinds of wood, seeking for the perfect casks in which to mature whisky. They now own a large piece of woodland within the Ozark mountains in Missouri, often earmarking individual trees for their casks. These 'designer casks' are used first to mature Jack Daniel'sbefore being returned to the distillery. The best results of this incredible attention to detail can be found in the recent 'Astar' expression.
All of Glenmorangie's single malt is aged in first or second fill casks and nowadays, due to rising demand for what is the biggest-selling malt whisky in Scotland, 100% of production is reserved for bottling as single malt.
Glenmorangie plc took over the Ardbeg distillery in 1997 and revived it with spectacular success under the management of Stuart Thomson (and latterly Mickey Heads), rescuing this most revered of Islay malt whiskies from the brink of extinction. The company (including both distilleries) has been owned by the international luxury conglomerate Louis Vuitton-Moet-Hennessy since January 2005.
The new ownership have overseen a total revamp in the Glenmorangie range since late 2007, when the old packaging was abandoned for more elegant bottles and labels, the 15yo and Madeira wood finish were dropped from the core range, and the Port wood and Sherry wood expressions were discontinued and replaced with Quinta Ruban and Lasanta. At the same time the Sauternes Wood finish was incorporated into the core range as Nectar d'Or. A new 18yo and 25yo expression were also released, before the successful Astar bottling in 2008.
Dr. Lumsden and his team have not confined themselves to wood experiments, however, as evidenced by their most recent release, Glenmorangie Signet. This remarkable whisky is a multi-vintage single malt including some spirit produced from roasted barley and chocolate malt (normally employed in the production of porter and stout).
This untiring dedication to innovation, coupled with the success and drinkability of their product, has enabled Glenmorangie to rise above the occasional bouts of sniping aimed in their direction from whisky traditionalists and emerge triumphant with the acclaim of the industry ringing in their ears.
Character and Style of Glenmorangie
Both the whisky and Dr. Lumsden himself have been showered with awards, as a quick trawl of recent accolades attests:
- Dr. Lumsden named 'Industry Leader of the Year 2008' by Malt Advocate Magazine;
- Glenmorangie was awarded Whisky Magazine's 'Innovator of the Year award' in their Icons of Whisky Awards 2009;
- Glenmorangie Signet voted both Best Packaging / Marketing Campaign and Most Innovative New Product at the 2008 Drammies organised by Scotchblog.com - who also named Ardbeg as Distiller of the Year.
In late 2008 it was announced that Glenmorangie plc was to sell off their bulk malt whisky distillery Glen Moray to French distilling group La Martiniquaise. The company has also sold its bottling facility in Broxburn and moved their headquarters from Broxburn to Edinburgh, as owners LVMH moved away from cheap supermarket blends and deep discounting to concentrate on repositioning their whiskies firmly within the luxury brands segment that makes up the rest of their portfolio.