As much as I complain about the difficulty of obtaining tasting samples for a wide variety of Scotches, few experiences can compare with spotting a bottle of something truly special while patronizing an unfamiliar bar or restaurant. While in Massachusetts recently, I happened to notice a bottle of Glenmorangie Signet sequestered among the almost-forgotten-about denizens of the highest shelf. Almost too dark to see, I recognized the logo on the label from blog posts of richer-than-me (or luckier?) whisky tasters. This stuff runs $200 a bottle, so I tentatively asked the bartender for the price of a pour. He had to look it up: $25. Normally I would scoff and walk out the door, but the Signet called to me. My friends were preparing to leave, so I cast a last, longing glance at the nearly-full bottle of ambrosia and reluctantly left.
The next day, I had an opportunity to pop back in to the same bar after a lengthy day of work-related meetings. I had been thinking about that Signet all afternoon. Bottled without chill-filtering at 46% ABV, this is a vatting of older Glenmorangie, about 80% of it between the ages of 30 and 35. A proportion (15-20%) of the barley is a roasted ‘chocolate’ barley malt. The ‘chocolate’ term describes a process of roasting that produces a chocolate-like color and nutty flavors – it is often used in heavy, dark beers like porter and stout; the chocolate malt whisky in the vatting is about 10 years old. The barrels are American white-oak, previously containing bourbon, although some small percentage of the vatting had aged in new oak barrels, which Glenmorangie itself sources in Missouri’s Ozarks.
Nose: Bourbon-y, vanilla and oak. Hint of lemon peel, a little minty background. After opening up, there are delectable notes of light roast coffee beans, marshmallow, and hazelnut butter.
Palate: Upfront there is a wave of milk chocolate, butter, and caramel. This evolves into a full, mouth-coating vanilla in time, round, full-bodied, and very well-integrated. The oak notes – the nutty ones – are big, bold, and melt perfectly with those chocolate-y, malted cereal and caramel flavors. Hazelnut butter rounds out the palate. Super smooth and elegant. Amazing.
Finish: Long, with mouth-drying oaky tannins. At the end, a ghost of fresh berries.
A few drops of water bring more chocolate on the nose. On the palate, the water gives a tendril of raspberry without diminishing the rest.
Overall: This is undeniably an excellent dram. There are no flaws, and the lack of any bitterness (despite all the oak) to the finish is impressive, as is the sequence of nutty, caramel, coffee, and chocolate flavors, all detectable independently. The $200 price tag is a bit high, especially considering the quality of Glenmorangie’s less-expensive offerings. If you want a big, luscious special-occasion highlander, and can handle the splurge, you will not be disappointed. If not, keep an eye out for a dram at a high-end bar. It’s an experience.