Glenmorangie is said to mean The Glen of Tranquility. What is beyond debate is the growing contribution the distillery makes to the enjoyment of discerning whisky enthusiasts worldwide. And, in particular, in its native land, for Glenmorangie is the most popular single malt sold in Scotland itself.
The distillery can be found a mile or so west of Tain just off the A9 close to where it crosses the Dornoch Firth on its way north from Inverness to Wick and Thurso. The local production of spirits goes back until at least the early 1700s when a still was recorded at the nearby Morangie Farm. The existing Distillery, however, had its origins as a brewery; before being converted to a legal still in 1843. Most of the existing buildings date from 1887.
On approaching the distillery from the A9 you are led past the distillery pond and through to a car park located above the distillery itself. The shop and visitor centre are as interesting and tempting as you would expect from such a prestigious brand.
Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Glenmorangie's process is its distillation. The stills at Glenmorangie are unique in several respects. They are much smaller than is usual and they have a boil pot, or small bulge, at the base of the still column on both the wash and spirit stills.
They also have the tallest columns of any stills in Scotland, at nearly 17 feet. There's a reason for this. Back in 1843 the original distillery was built around second-hand London Gin stills; and their exceptional height has been a feature of every still used here since. This is especially significant, since it ensures that only the lightest and purest vapours can ascend and condense into spirit.
Glenmorangie's distilling methods add to this natural selection, for they retain less than a third of the second distillate for maturation. The rest is returned to the still for further refinement. You can find out more about Making Malt Whisky from our section showing the stages in the process.
Crafting the singular taste of Glenmorangie is entrusted to the care of just sixteen people: the Sixteen Men of Tain who also feature prominently in the distillery's promotional material. This number presumably excludes those employed in the visitor centre. As is the case in many Scottish distilleries these days, the visitor centre seems to offer as much employment as the distillery itself. How wonderful that a traditional industry that brings so much enjoyment to so many can enhance its contribution to the local economy in this way.
The key ingredient in any malt whisky is the water that goes into it. In Glenmorangie's case this comes from the Tarlogie Springs, which rise about a mile above the distillery. These waters once fell as rain on the Hill of Tain, then filtered down through lime and sandstone rocks, gathering minerals on the way, before rising again at Tarlogie.
It can take up to a hundred years for the falling rain to emerge as spring water. So precious is this source of water that Glenmorangie has acquired the entire catchment area of the spring, or some 650 acres.
Glenmorangie has led the way in the industry in a number of respects. First it took a lead in promoting its own cask strength bottlings (most scotch is diluted from its cask strength of around 60% alcohol by volume to nearer 40% before it is bottled).
It has also worked with a variety of different wood finishes. Much of the character of single malt scotch is acquired through years spent in second hand wooden casks, and it matters greatly whether these were previously used to store bourbon, sherry, port, or madeira etc. Glenmorangie is available in a wide range of "finishes" that illustrate very clearly just what a difference the wood can make to the scotch in your glass.