Glenmorangie is said to mean The Glen of Tranquility. What is beyond debate is the contribution the distillery makes to the enjoyment of discerning whisky enthusiasts worldwide. The distillery can be found a little over a mile north-west of Tain, just off the A9, close to where it crosses the Dornoch Firth on its way north from Inverness to Thurso. The local production of spirits goes back at least as far as the early 1700s when a still was recorded at the nearby Morangie Farm. The distillery you see today 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. The pots are much smaller in girth than is usual and they have a secondary boil pot, or small bulge, at the base of the neck on both the wash and spirit stills. What the stills lack in girth they make up for in height. They are the tallest stills in Scotland at 26 feet 3 inches (8.00m) tall, with the necks making up 16 feet 10 inches (5.1m) of that total height.
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 said to ensure that only the lightest and purest vapours can ascend and condense into spirit. (Continues below image...)
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.
For many years, crafting the singular taste of Glenmorangie was entrusted to the care of just sixteen people: the Sixteen Men of Tain who also featured prominently in the distillery's promotional material. An expansion in 2008 saw this number increase to 24. 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.
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.