Thankfully the proprietor was about to completely rebuild the distillery without which we might not have the Glenmorangie we know today. The old buildings were originally a brewery built in 1738 at Morangie Farm. Distillery founder William Matheson applied for a distilling licence in 1843 and then converted the brewery of which Barnard noted “ever since has had to be renewed and repaired to keep it together” so the rebuilding exercise seemed overdue. That was in 1886 and the distillery was reopened and relicensed the following year as Glenmorangie Distillery Co (Udo, 2005).
|Old malt barns and kiln|
In the absence of a fuller report from Barnard we can run through the main developments that have occurred here since. I had been looking forward to my visit here for some time as I have enjoyed some great Glenmorangie tastings over the years, including that early experience when I first discovered Ardbeg, and I had heard many stories about its setting and its history. Now I had the chance to actually visit the ‘Glen of tranquillity’ that the name translates from Gaelic to. It was a good omen that the weather on that trip had returned to something more tranquil than I had experienced to the north.
I was welcomed at the visitor centre for a tour and Eva began with a bit more history, including the important year of 1918 when the distillery was bought by blenders MacDonald and Muir and a whisky broker. MacDonald and Muir later became sole owners and grew the business until it converted to a public company in 1996. The company purchased the almost silent Ardbeg distillery in 1997 and re-launched that brand.
In 2004 the company bought the Scotch Malt Whisky Society (SMWS) and later that year were themselves taken over by Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (LVMH) who have since reinvented the Glenmorangie brand and further extended the distillery, a 50% increase in capacity coming on-line in April 2009 after a few months of work. Those new works erected in 1886 after Barnard’s visit were just the first in a series of developments which include three significant expansions during the last forty years.
|Older stills pre 2009, wash stills on left|
|Architect's drawing of stills, courtesy of Glenmorangie|
(click to enlarge)
|Glenmorangie 'giraffe' house|
|Glenmorangie casks beside East Coast railway and Dornoch Firth|
|Extra maturation casks|
I was introduced to Chocolate Malt here for the first time, a dark toasted barley that Glenmorangie use as a component for their Signet whisky and which has a wonderful decadent aroma. The Signet is a bold expression of whisky that has been maturing for over 30 years, distilled when barley was still malted on site, and adding a different dimension to the range of whisky produced here. It takes its name from the emblem that is now used as Glenmorangie’s signet, more on which later.
|Glenmorangie Signet Whisky and signet emblem in background|
Tradition and history extend beyond the distillery and the landscape stones that have become thematic on this stage of the journey provide two separate markers in different locations and from different eras. Near the distillery lies the rather boisterous sounding Big Stone of Morangie, a granite boulder deposited after the passing of the glaciers some 12,000 or so years ago. Just as our distant ancestors had done elsewhere this stone has been used as a canvas to commemorate an event, in this case the passing of Sir Walter Scott in 1832.
|Big Stone of Morangie|
Sir Walter Scott had other associations with whisky, details for another time, but surprisingly I haven’t been able to find any relevant quotes or poems from him about whisky generally. Barnard doesn’t mention the Big Stone although his horse drawn journey to and from Tain would have passed right by it twice that day. He does include two verses from Robert Burns’ poem Scotch Drink in his report, although totally unconnected to the distillery and there is no evidence that RB ever travelled this far north.
|Cadboll Stone at Museum of Scotland,|
triskele in lower half
Glenmorangie House, the distillery owned accommodation that sits southeast of the distillery by the shore of the Moray Firth, is close to where a Pictish cross-slab called The Cadboll Stone once stood. The original stone, one of the most decorated Pictish monuments in Scotland, now stands in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh although without the original broken base section which is on display in a local hall following its discovery in an excavation in 2001. The rear of the stone was once decorated with a cross and other Christian emblems but they were removed in the late 17th century when the stone was reused as a grave slab.
A newly carved full size stone with a replica of the Pictish side, save for a millennium or so of weathering, was erected on the site in 2000 and an interpretation of the Christian side, based on the lower portion and on broken fragments found in the excavation, was added on the reverse in 2002. The Pictish side includes many of their historic and enigmatic emblems together with a scene of deer hunting and also a spiral pattern known as a ‘triskele’ – the inspiration for the new brand logo and signet of Glenmorangie.