The December Bottles, #1: Glenmorangie Signet

This year I decided to begin what will (I hope) become an annual tradition: opening a few extravagant bottles after Thanksgiving to enjoy. Throughout the year, various bottlings are discontinued, put on sale, or stumbled upon unexpectedly. As with most aficionados I have accumulated a pile of bottles “for a special occasion”. Instead of hoarding them, I’d like to make sure I have at least one spot on my calendar where I will definitely make a dent in them.

This year I have four bottles that I’ve opened. One was found at a great price, one I’d wanted for a while, one unexpected dusty find and one very new bottling. I’ll be revealing these over the next couple weeks with my thoughts on them.

First up is Glenmorangie Signet. I’ve been curious about this bottle for ages. It’s an incredibly classy presentation – a nice bottle that doesn’t resemble a still; nice type and design; a rich-looking fade from black on the bottle, and an unusual and borderline over-the-top metal ring treatment at the neck and stopper of the bottle. The stopper is probably the heaviest I’ve ever felt. It actually weighs nearly a quarter of a pound. I guess that’ll keep any angels from stealing beyond their share.

Nearly a quarter of a pound. That's a hefty stopper!

The Signet comes in a very oversized box, which contains the bottle – obviously – and a small flip book. The flip book is a curious addition; I can honestly say I’ve never seen a whisky package that includes one. Opposite the flip animation is a bit of marketing copy that is completely over the top. If you took it at face value, you’d probably believe that Signet is somewhere between germ theory and the wheel in terms of importance to humanity. The box lid itself inverts and becomes a presentation-style base for the whisky bottle. If it’s as amazing as the book would indicate, this is the least that can be done for such an important whisky.

Upon reading the Signet booklet, Dr. Louis Pasteur realized his life's work was less important than he'd thought.

All this is great: a very nice presentation. But what about the contents of this handsome package?

Glenmorangie Signet, as the story goes, is made using a large proportion of older whisky, as well as some younger whisky made with chocolate malted barley. The beer drinkers know what this means: the barley is roasted until it is deep in color. No actual chocolate was used in the production of this whisky, unless a distillery employee happened to be eating a bar of chocolate. (Remember, single malt Scotch whisky is always water and barley. Any more than that and their trade group gets a bit persnickety)

Thumbs up to Glenmorangie for finding a new way to innovate within the fairly restrictive parameters for single malts. Most other innovations have been largely in the direction of finishing in unusual barrels – which seems to be part of a marketing arms race versus a substantial improvement in aroma, taste or mouthfeel. Some experiments are a success but the vast majority are a push – and some an outright disaster. I’d be very curious to see what else could come of experimenting with malts as there’s a lot of room to experiment here.

Pouring the Signet into the glass and nosing, there’s an initial surprise. Despite its 46% ABV stated on the label, it’s got a surprisingly lively nose. There’s definitely a little heat on it. There’s a sweetness with some cherry notes, as well as some definite notes of sherry in there as well. Plums and dry fruit come in quickly after, with a bit of leather and some fig. The leather also has an old study character to it. The malty aspects of the nose do slightly hint in the direction of a stout; clearly the result of the chocolate malt. There’s also something that tastes like a mix of dark chocolate and espresso. It’s a multilayered nose but it works together. It screams “December” to me.

The palate doesn’t disappoint: It’s warm and rich, with heat and sherry. There’s a slightly bitter presence of oak. The mouthfeel is thick and rich with dried fruit. The chocolate malt comes through again, giving it a sweet, slightly bready characteristic with dark chocolate and espresso as well. The palate doesn’t surprise after the nose. The finish is drying with dark dried fruit. The wood is pretty apparent in the finish but it’s not a bitter presence. At the very end, some malty sweetness peeks out.

This whisky is a big, rich, full and easygoing whiskey. If I were to draw a parallel to anything on the market, my first instinct would be Macallan 18. I’d probably be willing to drink this as a replacement for Macallan 18 at any given time. It’s got a lot of the same notes and a similar character. Unfortunately, Signet retails for about $50 more than Macallan 18, so why bother if that’s the sole characteristic?

Overall it’s enjoyable in a not-very-challenging way (high marks for a holiday whisky or potentially something to serve to people who aren’t hardcore spirits dorks. It’s tasty but not particularly nuanced. I’d be curious to see what happens if more chocolate malt was in the mix – it might not work. Overall, it’s good but it needs something to punch it up.

Reflecting on this one in terms of a value for the money standpoint – one I admit I don’t do often – I can’t help but think that this would be dramatically cheaper if the packaging was a more common sleeve or tin and the presentation base and flip book were done away with. If this were price-competitive with Macallan 18, as mentioned above, I would seriously consider it as a substitute. As it is, it seems a bit overpriced for what it is. it’s a unique experiment and I certainly hope Glenmorangie tries more. However, given the packaging of Signet (and the over-the-top presentation of Pride), it seems that Glenmorangie’s most interesting experiments will be unfortunately sequestered to the glass case with a high price tag. In all fairness to Glenmorangie, I have heard the Pride is great (from a friend who tried some at a tasting) – but at $2500+ a bottle, I’ll never know.

At a glance

Glenmorangie Signet 46% ABV
An initial surprise with some stronger-than-expected alcohol notes. A sweetness on the nose with some cherry notes, some sherry characteristics, plums, dried fruit, a light leather-and-old-study note and some fig. There’s a malty presence that is a bit like a stout, no doubt owing to the use of chocolate malt. There’s a slight espresso-meets-chocolate note. After a bit there’s a more direct barley note. 
Warm and rich on the palate, with a very slight bitter oak to it, sherry notes present, surprising heat again. Thick in the mouth, dried fruit again. Slight bread, slight sweet notes of malt. Dark chocolate, a bit of espresso.
Drying and with dark, dried fruit. Wood pretty apparent but not bitter. A bit of malt sweetness peeking out at the end. 
Comment:  This is a big, full, easygoing whiskey. This would be one that I’d use as a “worthy replacement for Macallan 18″ but it’s about $50 more, so what’s the point? Enjoyable but not challenging, tasty but not particularly nuanced. I’d be curious to see what happens if there was a bit more chocolate malt in the mix. It’s good but needs something to punch it up.

12 thoughts on “The December Bottles, #1: Glenmorangie Signet”

  1. Great review!  I’m fond of this one, though I rated it a B as well.  It’s easy to drink and I’m generally not a big GlenMo fan.  And I think that cork is weapons grade.  I missed the flip book though.  Either I didn’t get one or, more likely, I just tossed it without glancing at it. 

    1. It’s definitely an easy drinker. While I like it for what it is, it’s nothing exceptional… I think with all the presentation flourishes I wanted it to be more than it was. 

      The stopper – I weighed it this morning (and included the photo) – it’s nearly a quarter pound! I think I’d expected that the large metal ring was just chromed plastic. Sure, it would have been cheesy but I don’t know that I would have expected my whisky to need a substantial amount of ore protecting the neck. Goes to show what I know. 

      The booklet – maybe it was a late addition to, er, justify the cost. It’s hyperbolic in the extreme – laughably so. I’ve included a photo on this post of one of the pages… It was pretty hard to miss as I recall it kind of flopping out when I pulled the bottle. If I’ve somehow won a Glenmorangie Golden Ticket, I may have to put that up on eBay post-haste. Unless I can redeem it for a  bottle of Pride (yeah, right). 

      1. All the Glenmorangie provided product descriptions are over the top.  Look up the copy that KL Wines has for Glenmorangie 10, Lasanta, Nectar D’Or, and the others.  I find it crass, insulting, and a big turnoff.  (The funky sulphur  in the bottle of Lasanta I bought last year did not help any).  Too bad, since it seems that their distillers are old school, dedicated people.

        1. I had to check what you were mentioning because I don’t think I’d ever read the Glenmorangie notes on K&L. They’re ridiculous, but it’s restrained relative to the booklet. What I’ve got photographed is one page of many discussing the whisky and it truly operates on another level of ridiculousness. Fortunately they don’t promise the drinker eternal life and an inexhaustible bank account – but it wouldn’t be surprising to me in the least if they had that in early drafts and just cut it for space reasons. 

          The Lasanta description does have one really choice, laughable line: “Like the most delicious dessert menu imaginable, Lasanta taunts the senses with chocolate covered raisins, honeycomb and smooth caramel toffee.” 
          I don’t think I want a whisky “taunting my senses” when it’s already working to dull them slightly. 

          All this makes me wish I could see what they’ve drafted for Pride because I’m sure they had to lay it on pretty thick. If Signet was such an amazing achievement in their assessment, and the Lasanta, D’or, etc merit florid descriptions, Pride is surely over the top. 

          You’re right though – it is a shame they don’t feel that the whisky can do more of the talking. 

          1. Deconstructing Glenmorrangique: Let’s give this dead horse another kick.

            These ad copies were probably written by some guys at the LVMH headquarters in Paris.  Same office that does perfumes and LV bags.  They probably never tasted the whiskey, and had to sex up somebody’s tasting notes.  

            Is it a coincidence that LVMH also owns Dior (or vice-versa)?  Watch this J’adore ad:

            …and now imagine the same female say this, avec le French accent:

            “Tempted by the aromas wafting through the door of a French patisserie, you step inside to discover a tangy tarte au citron with its crisp pastry case and smooth lemony cream topping.”
            “The smooth, melting creaminess of lemon tart leaves the mouth full of citrus tang that gives way to crème caramel and zesty lime”


          2. Now, for contrast, Imagine those same notes being read by Dave Broom, Richard Paterson or, oh, Ralfy. 

            Wait! No! Can I just have Charlize read me all tasting notes in the future? Forget what I said about those other guys, it was just a thought exercise!

            I think you’re onto something here. 

            It’s certainly one way to move the category away from tweed jackets and sometimes odd facial hair. 

            I can selectively ignore it all and continue to just focus on the drink (as long as the producers do as well).

  2. This is just pure speculation on my part, but as for price, I don’t think you’re paying for packaging so much as “research.”  They probably didn’t want to dedicate too many barrels to chocolate malt that is basically an experiment.  So, if they made it reasonably priced they would probably run out in no time at all!  So I guess that the extravagant packaging is just to make you feel better about paying the high price that was necessitated by supply and demand.  I don’t know if that’s supposed to make you feel any better or not, just thinking out loud ;-)

    1. I’m of two minds, Ryan. I think there’s certainly an element of that, but I don’t recall seeing any mention of Signet being a limited production run – which would suggest that for the time being there is a small but consistent production of of the chocolate malt. The cynic in me would argue that this was a way to jazz up some older stocks that were a bit tired – but I actually think it’s too well integrated for that to be the case. 

      I do think the packaging contributes a pretty penny to the price – probably not $50 but a good chunk of change nonetheless. I think of what this would cost to execute for a record release (where I’m a little more familiar with the COGS) and it wouldn’t be cheap. I think my contention on the value piece was more that the presentation could be streamlined a bit without sacrificing quality and the value for the dollar would be a little closer. Transporting the huge boxes and ridiculously heavy metal neck can’t be cheap. 

      All good thoughts. As with all of these things, I’d imagine the truth lies somewhere in the middle. 

  3. Rachel barrie came up with the concept and created this drink. It wasnt going to happen as the overall yield is lower with this extra roasted malt. It took Rachel years to develop and is one of her best Whiskies. Rachel has left glenmorangie to do Bowmore so watch out for some cool Whiskies coming from Bowmore.

    1. Thanks for the additional info! Interesting to know that the roasting affects the yield. I guess that makes it more of a spice than a main course in any sort of whisky. 

      I was aware of her move to Morrison Bowmore. Perhaps we’ll see some interesting stuff with Auchentoshan as well… 

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