An experimental arm for Glenmorangie?

An experimental arm for Glenmorangie?

There’s more to the Tain distillery's expansion than first meets the eye

News | 06 Sep 2019 | Issue 162 | By Christopher Coates

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During a visit this week to The Glenmorangie Distillery in Tain, Whisky Magazine has observed that the ongoing expansion work at the site includes at least one shell-and-tube condenser which appears to be made from stainless steel. This addition suggests that the expansion is not solely envisioned to increase capacity, but may also be a new experimental wing.

The suspected stainless-steel condenser can now be seen in-situ beside those of the standard copper variety, while the two new stills appear to retain the size and famous giraffe-like shape of those currently used in the main production area. The planning documents further illustrate the dual-condenser set-up for the spirit still and also reveal that the tower section will boast a laboratory and terrace offering stunning views over the Dornoch Firth.

One can speculate that this multi-million-pound expansion, which was commissioned to celebrate Glenmorangie's 175th anniversary, will allow for production of exciting new variations of the distillery's traditional light and fruity house style.

The planning documents also show that the development includes a ‘Mashing / Washbacks Area’ that will allow for a significant increase of the distillery’s capacity, which currently sits at 6 million lpa per annum.

When announcing the expansion in 2018, Marc Hoellinger, at that time the President and CEO of The Glenmorangie Company, said:

"It is a testament to the success of Glenmorangie, and to the increasing appreciation of our whisky creators’ vision and expertise, that we are able to plan with confidence for the future. We have decided to invest in a new still house to support the Distillery’s growth and ensure that many more discerning single malt whisky drinkers can discover the delights of Glenmorangie."

When approached for comment, a representative from The Glenmorangie Company confirmed that the above statement ‘remains our position on the project’ for now.

Stainless steel condensers are not entirely unheard of in Scotch whisky production, with both Ailsa Bay and Roseisle distilleries boasting a similar system. It is an established fact that such condensers yield a more sulphury spirit that is more akin to those produced at sites using worm tubs, offering truly exciting possibilities for future Glenmorangie expressions characterised by heavier, more meaty spirits.

The impact of copper versus stainless-steel condensers on sulphur compounds, especially Dimethyl trisulfide (DMTS), in new spirit was explored in the paper The Impact of Copper in Different Parts of Malt Whisky Pot Stills on New Make Spirit Composition and Aroma (B. Harrison et al, Journal of the Institute of Brewing, 117(1), pp.106–112, 2011). This research confirmed that the presence of copper in pot stills is ‘important for the control of sulphury and meaty aromas in new make spirit, and DMTS levels showed a good correlation with these aromas.’

The research further discovered opposing trends in the wash and spirit stills, with a copper wash still pot being the ‘least effective’ at reducing DMTS, while a copper wash condenser was ‘most effective’ at reducing sulphur.

The paper went on to conclude that, to a lesser degree, copper spirit still condensers also play a role in controlling sulphury and meaty aromas, but that ‘the mechanism for this effect is, as yet, unclear’. These conclusions further back up the view that stainless-steel spirit condensers cause a measurable, but not overwhelming, increase in the concentrations of DMTS in the final spirit. Importantly, however, it was noted that though DMTS makes a significant contribution to sulphury and meaty aromas, there are other unknown compounds which also make an important contribution to sensory perception of these notes.

With the Glenmorangie team tight-lipped on the exact nature of their new wing, one must look to other distilleries to gain insight into why the Tain site may be installing this new equipment.

James Macrae, Whisky Ambassador for Ailsa Bay, explains that a shell-and-tube condenser made from stainless steel was originally fitted in tandem to one made from copper on the Ayrshire site's spirit still number four, similar to the setup that can now be seen being built at Glenmorangie. This configuration allowed Ailsa Bay's malt master Brian Kinsman to experiment with production of multiple styles in a similar way to practices seen in Japan.

"As we scaled up production with Ailsa Bay and this second heavier style of spirit was needed in greater quantities we ended up actually removing the copper shell-and-tube from still number four, having all spirit from that still condensing in a stainless shell and tube," James explains.

As for why a distillery might choose a shell-and-tube condenser made from stainless steel over a worm tub, he says that the answer is simple:

"Worm tub condensers are of course fantastic, especially from a traditional point of view, and the variety of spirit produced from distilleries that still use them is incredible. However, control over their results can be harder to manage compared to the shell-and-tube. Also, the logistical challenges when repairing or replacing parts of a worm tub can be fascinating, especially from a whisky lovers’ point of view, but troublesome from an engineering angle."

While the full nature of the plant being installed at Glenmorangie is yet to be revealed, Dr Bill Lumsden, director of distilling, whisky creation and whisky stocks at Glenmorangie, is already famous for his innovative use of exotic cask types and, most recently, wild yeast. It is thus fair to say that he is more than likely to put the new spirit styles that such a set-up can offer to good use, to the benefit of whisky lovers for decades to come.
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