Whiskies with a twist: the value of standing out from the crowd

Glenmorangie has a well-earned reputation for disturbing Scotch whisky's norms, and it's a risk that is clearly paying off.

Dr Bill Lumsden, its director of distilling and whisky creation, has been recognised as the world's finest, named as master distiller/blender of the year at Whisky Magazine's Icons of Whisky 2016 awards.

The decorated doctor is known for pioneering innovation, especially with Glenmorangie's Private Edition range, released every year since 2010.

"I think people, particularly within our industry in Scotland, maybe take things a little bit too seriously and lose sight of the fact that whisky's supposed to be fun," Lumsden tells 51698009. "It's supposed to be enjoyable to drink it." 

Private education

Previous Private Edition instalments include Ealanta - a whisky that spent 19 years in virgin American oak, Companta - aged in a combination of Burgundy and Rhone Valley wine casks and Artein - finished in 'Super Tuscan' wine barrels from Italy.

I actually sincerely hope we do upset the traditionalists, because it's something different.

Dr Bill Lumsden

Glenmorangie Milsean, meaning 'sweet things', is the seventh and latest release. This time Lumsden started out with an old-fashioned British sweet shop as his inspiration, styling a cask finish to suit.

Portuguese wine casks still dripping with their former contents were deeply toasted to caramelise the sugars deeper into the wood, with the objective of adding notes of candy to the finished product.

The playful sweet shop theme is maintained in stripey red and white packaging that will undoubtedly stand out on a shelf next to any of his rivals' products. Does he risk upsetting Scotch whisky's Old Guard?

Doing things differently

"Not only do we run the risk, but I actually sincerely hope we do upset the traditionalists, because it's something different," Lumsden says. "I love the packaging because it beautifully reflects the nature of the product."

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Lumsden spurns the "somewhat staid" approach of some of his counterparts in Scotch whisky.

"There's one or two people in particular who are very solidly traditional and there's one gentleman who shall remain nameless who always says, 'what you're doing Bill, it's not real whisky'.

"And I'll say, 'fair enough - you continue to sell 40,000 cases and we'll sell 500,000 cases [a year]'.

"At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what they think. I want to appeal to as many drinkers as possible and I want people to have a smile on their face when they drink our product," he says.

Franz appraisal

Whisky aficionado Franz Scheurer says Lumsden has been at the forefront of experimentation for so many years that it's difficult to perceive anything he does as 'out of the ordinary'.

"It's all in a day's work for him, but yes, for the traditionalist it can be 'sacrilege'," he says. "He certainly made a great whisky with Milsean albeit, in my book, a little short."

The refreshingly frank Lumsden agrees, suggesting he may have overdone the finishing stage. The Milsean was intended to be in the wine casks for five years, but it leached off the caramelised sugars far quicker than anticipated, so was removed after two and a half.

"If I'm honest about it I probably should have taken them out after two years. The base French oak is starting to come through and dominate a bit," he volunteers.

Old-fashioned flavours

Nevertheless, Lumsden says a glass of Milsean has its intended effect of transporting him, "straight to an old-fashioned sweet shop with its sweet and spicy bouquet, with hints of sugar cane, ripe fruits and fudge".

"I'm still pretty happy with it, but I think it could have been better."

He can't have missed the mark by too much. Top whisky critic Jim Murray awarded Milsean 94 points in his 2016 Whisky Bible.

Scroll through the gallery to see James Atkinson's selection of 10 whiskies featuring production twists ranging from unique to bizarre.