I don’t know what you were doing in 1984. Twinkle in the milkman’s eye, maybe. I was preparing to be born and ultimately joining the world, thrilled with what I found. The year was bookended by Thriller in January and Band Aid at Christmas as all-conquering number ones; I was only concerned with nappies and breast milk. But not Dr Bill Lumsden. Not at all. Bill was already a second-year PhD student – microbial physiology and fermentation science at Edinburgh – but something seismic was around the corner. He was about to try Glenmorangie for the first time.
Skipping the detail, Bill fell hard, the way first love hits you, and began the relationship that established him as Glenmorangie’s Director of Distilling. Long story short, it set him on a journey that culminated with me in a dark basement in Victoria, sitting next to a 6-foot orange plastic giraffe wearing a black trilby, listening to Dr Bill reveal the secrets of Glenmorangie’s 9th Private Edition: Spios. The Private Edition series stacks up awards like Michael Jackson stacked up unlikely duets, and they’re just as varied and intriguing.
Spios is Gaelic for spice; number 9 is recognisably Glenmorangie – fruity and warming – but deep and turbulent. Young Bill suffered a late-90s obsession with rye whiskey, and the barrels that wrangle it. It was only natural that he secure some and chuck a secret stash of sweet, creamy Glenmorangie in it, baking a delightful cake that he’d pull out of the oven in the changed world of 2018. These are charred rye barrels, birthing a non-cask-filtered dram that emerges at a heady 46% and scorches the mouths of a basement of whisky writers, coddled by the accessible 40% of the Glenmorangie Original and the sweet punchiness of the Nectar d’Or.
Bill breaks down the process for us, in tandem with Brendan McCarron, head of maturing whisky stock at Glenmorangie and very much the Johnny Marr to Bill’s Morrissey, keeping the riffs punchy and the beats moving while Bill’s emotions come to the fore. A recurring gag they deploy about releasing the serpent is too base for this forum, but it lands well after an hour on the neat whisky. The overriding impression that comes through in this Private Edition – and in previous editions – is the craft and affection that Glenmorangie has for its whisky and its audience. This is a labour of love almost two decades in the making – how many other products can make the same claim? Dr Bill had a mad obsession, and he delivered it into casks and bottles, and now that we can taste it, it’s a dark and stormy but uplifting and terribly sessionable whisky. Dr Bill claims he has something even more ominous in a bunkered barrel for edition 10 – let’s reconvene in a year after 12 months on the Spios.
Glenmorangie Spìos will be available from www.Clos19.com and specialist whisky shops worldwide priced at £79 from 30th January.
Glenmorangie will be opening a Spios-inspired Speakeasy Bar from 19th – 24th March in Fitzrovia, London. Find out more at www.glenmorangie.com.