A sojourn to Glenmorangie reveals the glorious highland countryside, superb hospitality and—Oh yeah—some seriously good whisky.
Barley fields line the edge of the Glenmorangie House property.
Water, malted barley and yeast: That’s all that goes into true Scotch whisky. It’s a fact nearly etched in stone—the spirit has been produced in Scotland for more than 500 years—and the simplicity of the recipe reflects a way of life. It’s also the reason I’ve come all the way to the Highlands of Scotland—to soak up the culture surrounding that time-honored formula, glass by glass.
For the makers of Glenmorangie scotch, simplicity starts from the ground up. In fact, Glenmorangie in Scots Gaelic translates to “valley of tranquility.” Located in the town of Tain, The Glenmorangie Distillery Co. has been producing superb single malts since 1843. Only an hour’s drive from the Inverness Airport, the journey to the charming gray stone distillery complex winds through exceptionally green rolling hills and seemingly endless fields of sheep.
Tours are available to visitors upon request ($48-$120). Distillery Manager Andy MacDonald was kind enough to personally lead my group through the creation process step-by-step.
The true highlight of the property is the Still House. The distillery’s soaring copper stills—the loftiest in all of Scotland—are as tall as an adult giraffe. The sheer height helps to give the whiskies their signature citrus notes—“only the purest, fruitiest vapors make it to the top,” explains MacDonald—setting the products apart from their more peaty cousins.
The distillery is located at the mouth of the Dornoch Firth, which is an inlet of the North Sea.
He also notes that the uisge-beatha (pronounced ISHkeh-bah), meaning “water of life,” is the part of the distilled liquid that is collected for maturation. There won’t be a quiz later, but it’s a good chance for us to practice our pronunciation.
If the Still House is Glenmorangie’s cathedral, Tarlogie Springs must be the sanctuary. The springs are unique in the sense that they are owned by Glenmorangie—a rare asset. The water here is rich in minerals and strikingly clear. One’s impulse is to dip your hands in and drink deeply.
Instead, I saved my thirst for Glenmorangie House—just 20 minutes down the road—where there was tea, and a cabinet full of whisky, if we were so inclined (I was).
You’ll do best not to call the house a hotel; instead, it’s our home for the night (rooms from $253 per night, theglenmorangiehouse.com). It’s the fitting picture of what a Scottish manor house should be. There’s plenty of plaid, an attentive staff and a world-class culinary program. Head chef John Wilson and his team have developed rotating tasting menus with an emphasis on the luxury of locality. Think plenty of fresh Scottish salmon and venison.
If you’re lucky, like we were on our visit, Duncan MacGillivray might come round with his bagpipes to play a tune and perform Scottish poet Robert Burns’ famous Address to a Haggis. MacGillivray is a lifelong resident of Tain. For guests and employees alike, it’s clear that this place has a pull that keeps people close.
Expect plenty of tastings, and even rare pours, during your stay
At the end of the day, cozy up in front of a roaring fire in the Buffalo Room for an evening dram. Consider a pour of the Glenmorangie Private Edition Allta, released this past winter and aged with a strain of wild yeast taken from the distillery’s own barley. With notes of freshly baked bread and just a touch of mint, it’s best paired with good company. Plain and simple, what else could you possibly want?
Photography by: Glenmorangie