The town of Tain is a royal burgh and parish in the County Ross, Scotland. Located on a windswept peninsula in the northeastern part of the famed Highlands, the town is named after the local river that flows into the Dornoch Firth. The scenic background of the firth provides the ideal settings for the Glenmorangie distillery – a handsome series of red sandstone buildings and sprawling surroundings, covering an area of 650 acres.
Distilling at Glenmorangie began in 1843 when, inspired by the peaceful surroundings of the Dornoch, William Matheson, originally a partner at the local Balblair distillery, decided to come up with a pioneering single malt, one that was unique and appealing at the same time. While distilling had been undertaken at the site since 1738, it was Matheson who transformed the whole operations. Using water of the local Tarlogie Springs, which makes Glenmorangie unique as one of the few hard water -based sites in Scotland, and only locally dug peat, he brought forth a product that was exceptionally smooth yet wonderfully complex.
The Matheson family steered the business till 1887, when the firm was sold to the Glenmorangie Distillery Co, co-owned by Duncan Cameron and the Maitland brothers. The change of ownership also saw the introduction of what is now almost a Glenmorangie trademark – long necked copper stills – the tallest in Scotland. The extra height of the stills, which gives the floor the feel of a cathedral, allows for a longer interaction between the alcohol vapor and copper, helping the distillery set its own, and much appreciated standard.
Glenmorangie continued with its robust innovations, and soon became one of the earliest later-Victorian distillers to sell their whisky outside the local area. So strong was their urge to expand that by the start of the First World War, they had become one of the first single malts to truly established across the British Empire. The whisky was also being used in blends, like a Highland Queen.
Myth or Fact: Alcohol, it seems, is not the only spirit at the Glenmorangie Distillery. The resident ghost, reverently referred to as The White Lady, used to do most of her hauntings near the (now decommissioned) floor maltings, and is said to have removed whole sections of wallpapers without causing a tear. These inexplicable happenings (the walls were bone dry – ruling out the possibility of the wallpaper coming off due to damp) only cemented her legend.
Distillery Manager Graham Eunson had this to say in 2005, “Back in the days when Glenmorangie had its floor maltings site, the shovellers were expected to work around the clock. Given that one sleepy shoveller could ruin the next day’s mash, it’s possible the threat of an imminent apparition was all that was needed to keep the night shift awake.”
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End of World War 1 came with a promise for a greater and brighter future, but it seemed fate had something else in mind. The Prohibition in the United States, and the Great Depression of the subsequent years, resulted in a worldwide slump in whisky demands, forcing a global player like Glenmorangie to shut shop between 1931 – 1936. World War 2 added to the troubles of the distillery, when barley rationing became the cause for closure between 1941 – 1944.
Since reopening towards the end of the Second World War, Glenmorangie has gone from strength to strength, becoming one of the best loved single malts in the world. The growing popularity has resulted in the distillery doubling its capacity in 1980, and then once again in 1990 – to arrive at the current level of 4 million liters and 8 stills.
The product is matured on-site, in ex-American oak casks, which conform to the exacting standards set by the distillery – slow-growth white oaks from the north-facing slopes of Missouri, which have then been air-dried. These ‘bespoke’ casks are used only twice, with all the second-fill barrels being sent to mature in the firm’s damp ‘dunnage’ warehouses, for increasing oxidative driven flavors. As the product ages, it picks us a rage of flavors, including fruits, honey, mints and chocolates.
Glenmorangie is currently owned by the French giant Louis Vuitton Moët Hennessy (LVMH), which acquired the operations in 2009, and is the third most sold brand of single malts globally.