Go to content

Main menu:

Glenmorangie Company

Whisky Concerns

GLENMORANGIE  COMPANY,  het eigendom van Moët Hennessy

Capacity:

Ardbeg: 1.000.000 litres
Glenmorangie: 6.000.000 litres

Friday 21 August 2015

Tough trading conditions in China have failed to prevent whisky distiller Glenmorangie from serving up an 8 per cent rise in annual profits.
The firm, owned by French luxury goods group LVMH, said it was "very encouraged" by demand for its eponymous single malt and stablemate Ardbeg, which helped generate a 16.5 per cent jump in sales.
Latest accounts filed with Companies House show that the Edinburgh-based group made an operating profit of £17.7m for 2014, up from £16.4m a year earlier. Glenmorangie described the performance as "solid" amid an overall single malt whisky market that grew by 5 per cent in volume terms during the year.
Turnover in the year to 31 December rose to £81.7m, against £70.1m in 2013. However, the distiller added: "While the group recorded excellent momentum with solid growth from both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg brands, performance has been impacted by continued destocking by distributors in China."Partly as a knock-on effect of the government austerity campaign in China, overall direct exports to the country - the 26th largest market for Scotch - fell by 23 per cent to £39m in 2014, according to the Scotch Whisky Association trade body.
Glenmorangie, acquired by LVMH in 2004 in a deal worth £300 million, said: "The group continues to invest in advertising and promotion to support the accelerated growth of its brands in existing and emerging international markets."
At the end of March, the firm sold the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) to a group of private investors following a decade of ownership.
Writing in Glenmorangie's annual report, president and chief executive Marc Hoellinger said that the sale of SMWS had followed a review aimed at finding ways of helping the society deliver more growth.
Hoellinger said that, since acquiring the business in 2004, the French-owned company had "invested and supported the expansion of the society both in the UK and internationally".
He added: "The society management team and the Glenmorangie Company reviewed how best to grow the society further, exploring a number of options to ensure a prosperous future in the best interests of the society and its members. Following this review, the society management team and the Glenmorangie Company determined that new investors will enable the society to continue to flourish."
The firm, which counts golfers Sir Nick Faldo and Tony Jacklin as its brand "ambassadors", employs more than 200 people and said it would "continue to support the development of its brands with the resultant positive impacts on increases in production and employment in its operations".


Bill Lumsden Glenmorangie Ardbeg
Cask master: Dr Bill Lumsden is famed for his innovations in maturing Scotch whisky
Maybe it’s the ‘Dr’ prefix. Maybe it’s the sometimes unruly mop of hair, or the scattergun, staccato way of speaking. Whatever it is, Bill Lumsden is sometimes characterised as the mad scientist of Scotch whisky, the restless experimenter, the Prof Emmett Brown of single malt.

Not that he cares. ‘I don’t worry about that at all,’ Glenmorangie's director of distilling and whisky creation tells me. ‘I think it’s quite a nice thing to be known for and I am a little bit like that. The way the company has managed me – they’ve built the job around me and my skill set and my personality – not every company would necessarily tolerate someone like me working for them.’

The idea of ‘managing’ Lumsden is an interesting one. His innate scientific rigour is undercut by a determination to follow his own path – one that doesn’t necessarily lend itself to toeing the company line, and one that led him to Glenmorangie in the first place, in 1998, after 10 years with Distillers Company Ltd, the precursor to Diageo.

‘That was a very difficult decision to make, but you know I was always somebody who didn’t necessarily like being too rule-bound and, while DCL was brilliant, you very much had to work to a regimented pattern,’ he recalls. ‘And I thought that moving to this smaller company, where I reckoned I’d pretty much be left to my own devices, would probably be an interesting move.’

Interesting indeed. That ‘smaller’ company has, since 2004, been part of the LVMH colossus, the Unilever of luxury goods, the business built by Bernard Arnault into a group that encompasses Givenchy and Christian Dior; Hennessy and Krug. That’s a large pond, in which Glenmorangie ranks as a mere minnow, but Lumsden isn’t unhappy about that.

‘This is quite an emotive answer, Richard, but in my opinion LVMH saved the Glenmorangie brand,’ he says. ‘There was no focus on the single malt brands. The former board will dispute this, but it was all about volume, and satisfying the City every year with a little bit more profit. In my view, that led to short-term thinking.

‘This is quite a damning statistic and I need to be careful what I say here, but over a 10-year period, under the previous board – a period of time I refer to as The Dark Ages – in sales terms the growth of the Glenmorangie brand was zero, absolute zero, and to me that paints a very vivid picture.

‘And in one of the early LVMH Annual Reports in our time with the company, M Arnault made a very interesting statement that, over a period where single malt Scotch whisky saw spectacular growth, “Glenmorangie chose not to take part in this”.’ Lumsden pauses to mimic thrusting a knife in below the ribs. ‘Whoosh! Get in there!’

By contrast, he ranks the past decade as ‘unquestionably’ the best and most interesting of his career: Glenmorangie has doubled its sales to 500,000 nine-litre cases; Ardbeg has hit 100,000 cases. ‘These are two quite important psychological milestones,’ he says. ‘We’re running the distilleries at pretty much flat-out capacity, so we’re investing for much more growth in the future.’

WOOD-BASED EXPERIMENTATION

More growth means more new products, more innovation. But where will this come from? After all the wood-based experimentation that epitomises Lumsden’s tenure, has the book been written on cask finishes?

‘I actually think there’s still quite a lot to be done with wood,’ he counters. ‘There’s one or two wine regions, for example, one or two wine brands that I still want to try to get hold of and try things. There’s one in particular, a very cult wine which is probably the most famous wine from that part of the world, which is the Middle East, and I’m sure you can think of what it is.’

And beyond the cask? ‘If you look at the overall blended complex of a malt whisky, you could argue that as much as 60% – sometimes even a little bit more – is contributed by the wood and possibly by the liquid that has been in the barrels previously, but of the remaining flavour profile, the yeast has to be responsible for a very large chunk of that.

‘There’s a lot that can be done there, and we’re already exploring that, and many other companies are… I don’t want to go too much into specifics, but there’s barley varieties, there’s the way in which it’s grown, the way in which it’s malted, the way in which it’s kilned, for example.

‘And even, if you go back to Islay, a lot of the old distillers will certainly have a view that the peat from the Kintour Moss has a different characteristic to other parts of the island. That’s a bit of a moot point in my mind, but there’s so many things that we haven’t really explored yet.’

Dr Bill Lumsden

Arch-innovator: Dr Bill Lumsden at the launch of Glenmorangie Milsean

For one not overly enamoured of the rule book, Lumsden isn’t entirely convinced that Scotch’s famously strict regulations are ripe for change, mentioning the ‘thin end of the wedge’ and arguing, for instance, against the use of non-oak wood for maturation – ‘I’ve tried a few of them and it was horrific.’

However: ‘I could see some areas, for example the way in which your barley is malted – there’s some scope to do some things in there; I’ve done many things there which I’m keeping up my sleeve to see what may or may not evolve.

‘I can’t help thinking that, back in the day, the distillers for their malt whisky wouldn’t just be using malted barley, dried over a peat fire, there’d be all sorts of other things used. They would be using a mixture of barley and oats, and things like that. I think that would be quite interesting.’

FEBRILE AGE

All of that said, even Lumsden acknowledges that innovation for its own sake can go too far, particularly in this febrile age of endlessly demanding marketing departments.

‘I try and keep up with the opposition,’ he says. ‘As you say, it’s not easy because there’s so many new variants, and sometimes I think: “Really? What’s the difference? I don’t really pick up anything”.’

He cites two Glenlivet travel retail bottlings from 2015. ‘One of them was the worst Glenlivet I’ve ever tried, and the other one was unquestionably the best Glenlivet I’ve ever tried… I think the one I didn’t like was the Nàdurra, and it was just a very bad bottling of it – nasty, cloying, bitter, slightly sulphury Sherry cask, which you can sometimes get, but it had been bottled.

‘And the other one was the Master Distiller’s Reserve and it had Alan Winchester’s signature. God, marvellous whisky! I just loved the complexity, the delicacy of it, it had all the key markers I look for in Glenlivet: the green apples, the slightly custardy sweetness, and it was a truly sublime whisky. It was the best new product, outwith our own stable, that I tasted last year. I keep meaning to write to Alan to tell him about it – just so good.’

Dr Bill Lumsden

Big name: Dr Bill Lumsden moved to Glenmorangie after 10 years with Distillers Company Ltd

Not that Lumsden doesn’t feel the pressure on occasion – he recounts the genesis of travel retail exclusive Glenmorangie Dornoch, the prototype recipe for which was drawn up the same day as the request came in for a ‘one-off, tactical product, a limited release’ from World Duty Free.

The result, he reckons, was ‘too good – I wish I’d kept it for one of the Private Edition releases’, and the fastest-selling single malt ever in World Duty Free. ‘That doesn’t normally happen,’ he adds ruefully. ‘On that occasion we got away with it.’

HEIR APPARENT

We’ve spent most of our conversation – over breakfast at London’s Brown’s Hotel, between the launch of Glenmorangie Milsean, the latest Private Edition, and activity for new travel retail release Glenmorangie Tayne – in the company of Brendan McCarron, officially Glenmorangie’s head of maturing stocks, but more accurately described as Lumsden’s right-hand man and heir apparent.

McCarron’s presence prompts talk of Lumsden’s legacy (although he has no plans to head for the golf course for several years yet). Surprisingly, while he goes on to talk about innovation and the likes of Signet, his first thought is of the core range, Glenmorangie Original and 18-year-old.

‘I’d like to think that I respected people’s views of these whiskies, but made them even better, put some bells and whistles on them, reinvigorated the wood management policy, so made it a better whisky to drink,’ he says.

‘If you don’t have the backbone of the core range, then you’ve no platform on which to introduce innovations. I think that’s part of the – I would say, they may not agree with me – but it’s part of the problem with Bruichladdich. They haven’t established a core range or a core expression.

‘What’s Glenlivet’s core expression? It’s the 12-year-old. What’s Glenmorangie’s? It’s Original, the 10-year-old. What’s Laphroaig’s? It’s the 10-year-old. What’s Bruichladdich’s? Haven’t a clue. Depends what day of the week it is.’

Ouch. Nonetheless, Lumsden is full of praise for the Bruichladdich belief that ‘terroir matters’ – in other words, that the area in which the whisky is made, from barley to bottle, has some indefinable effect on the way it tastes. It prompts one last thought from the great innovator before we part.

‘It’s a completely impossible dream and I don’t know how we would do it, but I’d love to try and make Glenmorangie whisky in a distillery somewhere else, just to see if we could do it,’ he says.

‘So if LVMH turned around and said: “Brendan and Bill, you’re such great guys, here’s £20m, go and build a Glenmorangie distillery at Ardbeg,” it would be interesting to see what would happen. I think what would happen is that we’d squander £20m and get fired. It would answer a lot of questions, possibly shatter a number of myths as well.

‘But we’re scientists – so we need to know the answer.’

BILL LUMSDEN ON...
His first taste of whisky (version #1): ‘That was 1984 as a student, malt whisky, and it was Glenmorangie 10-year-old as it turned out. It was a seminal moment, it was almost like a coming-of-age, a rite of passage.’

His first taste of whisky (version #2): ‘I was 17, and it was Stewart’s Cream of the Barley, with my friend David when we plundered his parents’ drinks cupboard. We were playing air guitar, then we thought, wait a minute, [David’s brother] Richard’s a musician, so we took his Gibson Les Paul with its rosewood case and metal strings – I shredded my fingers and got blood all over it, so it ended in a battering and tears.’

His mentor: ‘I was studying in the Department of Brewing and Biological Sciences as it was then; Dr Geoff Palmer, the West Indian lecturer, took me under his wing because I started going out with the departmental secretary, who he had a wee fancy for. She’s now my wife.’

NAS whisky: ‘The first serious NAS whisky we introduced was Ardbeg Uigeadail. Almost no-one asked us about the age of it – it wasn’t important. To this day, I’m sure that lots of people don’t even realise that Uigeadail is an NAS whisky. The fact that the whiskies are between eight and 12 years old is neither here nor there.’

The ‘good old days’: ‘A large proportion of the whisky made 30, 40 and more years ago was horribly inconsistent… Ed Dodson, the former distillery manager at Glen Moray, he laughs and says: “Bill, you know, the reason we closed the floor maltings down was because the malt we made was shit, because we couldn’t do it properly, we just didn’t have the facilities to do it.” The whisky was all over the place.’

GLENMORANGIE ALLTA CREATED WITH WILD YEAST
January 2019
Glenmorangie is releasing a whisky created using wild yeast as part of its Private Edition series of experimental malts.

Glenmorangie Allta - Bill Lumsden and Michael Jackson pictured in a frame
Pushing boundaries: Glenmorangie Allta is the distillery’s first whisky made using a new yeast strain
Glenmorangie Allta – Scots Gaelic for ‘wild’ – is thought to be the first Scotch whisky produced using wild yeast.

The strain, called Saccharomyces diaemath, is said to have been discovered by Dr Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s director of distilling, whisky creation and whisky stocks, growing on ears of barley close to the distillery in Tain.

Lumsden said the yeast imparts more floral, bready notes to Glenmorangie’s new make spirit that ‘are not as accentuated in the house spirit, which has more herbal, fruity and pear drop aromas’.

After maturation for around eight years in mostly second-fill and refill ex-Bourbon casks, Glenmorangie Allta (51.2% abv) is said to have aromas of ‘carnations and Parma violets, baking bread and very gentle vanilla’ with notes of ‘butter candy, creamy vanilla, orange syrup’ with a ‘slightly yeasty background’ on the palate.

Lumsden said: ‘Glenmorangie Allta is a worthy whisky with which to mark the Private Edition’s 10th anniversary.

‘Yeast’s influence on taste has been overlooked for years, but it’s an area ripe for exploration.

‘Ideally I’d have liked to age it for longer but I was concerned that with the ever-increasing influence of wood we’d lose the impact of the yeast itself, which was at its maximum in the new make. That’s why we used only second-fill and refill Bourbon casks.

‘Glenmorangie Allta opens up compelling possibilities for the future of Scotch whisky.’

Natural inspiration: Lumsden discovered the yeast strain on ears of Cadboll barley growing near the distillery in Tain



As one of the three ingredients used in the production of Scotch single malt whisky, alongside barley and water, yeast plays a significant role in the creation of flavour.

The majority of whisky distillers use distilling yeast to maximise yield, although some have been experimenting with less efficient strains that can produce different flavours.

Glenmorangie’s exploration of yeast began at the turn of the century after whisky writer Michael Jackson laid claim that the distillery had cultivated its own house yeast in his book, The World Guide to Whisky (1987).

After finding no evidence that the strain existed, Lumsden, who has a background in yeast physiology and was at that point distillery manager, decided to cultivate Glenmorangie’s own house strain of yeast.

The distillery began introducing the house strain into its production process around 2010, although it continues to use industry-grade yeast for the majority of its whisky.

Lumsden added: ‘We wouldn’t want to use it for everything; it would change the character of Glenmorangie.’

Now in its 10th year, the Glenmorangie Private Edition series has explored flavour innovation in Scotch whisky, with each expression released as an experimental twist on the Glenmorangie Original 10 Year Old.

Previous editions have included Glenmorangie Ealanta (2013), matured in virgin American oak casks; Glenmorangie Tusail (2015), made using floor-malted Maris Otter barley; and Glenmorangie Spìos (2018), matured in ex-American rye whiskey casks.

Glenmorangie Allta is available for £79 a bottle from specialist whisky retailers worldwide from today (29 January).

IS YEAST WHISKY’S NEW FRONTIER OF FLAVOUR?
January 2019
For years rising whisky demand has encouraged distilleries to prioritise yield. Now, as new distilleries come online and more experiment with the boundaries of flavour creation, yeast’s role has come front of mind.

Depths of flavour: Whisky producers are looking to fermentation’s role in flavour creation
Where does a whisky’s flavour come from? Barley? Distillation? Wood? Think again. In the words of Dhavall Gandhi, master blender at Lakes distillery, ‘fermentation is the frontier that offers tremendous possibilities in terms of flavour creation’. That, in turn, means looking afresh at the influence of yeast.

It might not be surprising in the week that Glenmorangie’s Allta (claimed to be the first whisky in the modern era to be made using a distillery’s own yeast strain), was launched that Gandhi finds an ally in Dr. Bill Lumsden, whose career started in yeast physiology. ‘It’s an area which is close to my heart,’ Lumsden says. ‘Yeast is one of the great unexplored areas of whisky flavour.’

Ever since the phasing out of brewer’s yeast in the 1970s, the Scotch industry has used the ‘M’ strain of distiller’s yeast. Now it appears that yeast is suddenly being talked about, though as Lumsden points out, his experiments started more than 20 years ago.

It is not as if Scotch distillers have lived in a bubble. It is widely accepted that yeast strains can have an effect on flavour, so why have they been so apparently resistant?

Glenmorangie discovered its house yeast strain amid its Cadboll barley

For Ian Palmer, managing director at InchDairnie, ‘circumstances dictate direction. It was quality, consistency and economics that drove the yeast type.’ In other words, yield.

‘Scotch distilleries have had no reason to look at this vital ingredient in the past because yield has become the industry obsession,’ was how Lone Wolf’s distiller Steven Kersley saw it.

‘The ‘M’ strain is one tough cookie. It’s efficient, converting almost all fermentable sugars into alcohol, and does this at great speed, which nicely increases a distillery’s working capacity. This yield obsession has meant a great opportunity to introduce different flavours has been missed.’

However it seems that things are shifting. For Glenmorangie it started by looking at yeasts on its own barley fields. ‘I knew that barley was a good place to start,’ Lumsden explains, ‘So Gillian [Macdonald] and Karen [Fullerton] ran with it.’ They took swabs from the Cadboll estate barley, which the distillery uses for 1.5 weeks a year, and then worked with yeast research and development firm Lallemand to isolate a strain, then culture it to commercial levels. The result is a new strain called Saccharomyces diamath [Gaelic for ‘God is Good’].

While the utilisation of new strains appears to represent a sudden shift in thinking, the decades-long timescale suggests otherwise. A similar lengthy process is also underway at Diageo.

‘We’re fortunate to have the scope and resources to be running experiments on a constant basis,’ says Richard Cowley, distillery manager at the firm’s Leven pilot plant. It starts with bench trials, which can then be scaled up to 500kg cereal batches at Leven. ‘This allows us to lay down casks, which is invaluable to our blenders as it provides a huge insight into how the spirit will perform.

‘Right now, we have full-scale batches maturing under the watchful eye of the whisky specialist team. I can imagine in five to 10 years some of these trials appearing on a whisky bar somewhere near you.’

Diageo conducts the majority of its whisky experiments at its Leven test facility

Yeast trials have been part of the original concept at many new distilleries. At Lakes, Gandhi is using yeasts from Pinnacle, Fermentis & Lallemand and is in the process of trialling a fourth strain.

‘The new make is divided into three distinct groups based on aroma and flavour profile,’ he explains. ‘Each group is distilled separately using a unique yeast strain and fermentation profile, then the groups are blended to create a final spirit with the desired quantity of base, middle and top notes.’

At Lone Wolf, trials started with ale, wine and distillers’ yeasts. ‘We knew it would play its role in determining new make flavour profiles, but its impact was incredible,’ says Kersley. ‘The red wine yeast delivers big on dark and stone fruits. The distiller’s yeast helps with showcasing malt flavours and supports in areas where the other yeast struggles.’

InchDairnie’s Palmer has worked with supplier Mauri with a number of different ale and wine yeasts in combination with its standard distillers’ yeast. Kingsbarns meanwhile uses two strains (‘M’ and a fruit-generating strain from Lesaffre) for its ferments.

Creating a wider range of flavour was not the sole learning from the trials. ‘When we used Saccharomyces diamath, the new make was immediately different, and yields were substantially lower, which made it all the more compelling for me,’ says Lumsden with evident glee. ‘I’ve always had a gut feeling that the lower the yield is the tastier the spirit.’

Yeast produces both alcohol and congeners during fermentation

​​​​​Yield is of secondary importance to Gandhi. ‘I select a yeast based on the congeners it produces. Whisky is all about creative expression. As the writer Haruki Murakami once said: “If you only read the books that everyone else is reading, you can only think what everyone else is thinking”.’

While the work done by Glenmorangie and Diageo shows that yeast trials are industry-wide, is it of greater importance to new distillers needing to establish a point of difference?

‘Some of us are foregoing efficiency gains and replacing this with added value from a different direction, a differentiated flavour profile,’ says Palmer. ‘Yes, this is particularly true of the newer distillers where differentiated flavour is key to building a brand and there is little baggage holding things back.’ Yeast can be an additional element within a large player’s portfolio, and it can help define a newcomer’s character.

Yeast’s role in whisky’s flavour matrix may be rising, but it is only one element within many. As Palmer says, ‘Yeast is part of the mix. We are working with different cereals, malts and processing parameters. The yeast selection is complementary to the development of the flavour. It is the distillery and the maturation as a whole that matters.’

This is borne out at Lone Wolf, where the yeast trials have been run in tandem with work on barley varieties Maris Otter and Golden Promise. This, in turn, has led Kersley to develop a different distillation regime, running a high reflux, single distillation which in his words gives ‘an oily distillate full of esters but which, importantly, is bold on the Marris Otter and Golden Promise malt’.

Spirit yield is of little concern to LoneWolf distiller Steven Kersley

​​For Cowley it was all part of a natural evolution of whisky. ‘I think that as consumers we're looking for new experiences, new knowledge and stories, so naturally as an industry there is an openness to embrace the opportunity.

‘We can see this with changes to the standard mash bills using more specialised malts, yeast strains and differing maturation regimes. It’s really an exciting time for innovation in Scotch.

‘There's a whole world of flavours that we can unlock with yeasts, which helps us to have new conversations with consumers. For me that can be only a good thing.’

Are we now at the start of a step-change in whisky’s development? Neither Palmer nor Lumsden feel so.

‘We will continue to use Saccharomyces diamath once a year and it’s not outside the realms of possibility that it may be joined by other strains,’ said the latter. ‘The research time, the cost and the drop-off in yield mean I don’t see this as a step-change. The industry is still driven by efficiency. But if you want flavour, yeast is one area to explore.’

Kersley was more bullish. ‘The curious among us wish to understand how to move the needle on flavour and develop new flavour concepts for the betterment of whisky. Yield doesn't come into the conversation.

‘With the flavour impact being so tangible, yeast will undoubtedly make up a big part of this conversation in the future. As distillers, we have a responsibility to learn and explore this as much as possible.’

Something new is clearly bubbling away under the surface

Back to content | Back to main menu