Sunday 1 March 2015

Whisky Discovery #1151

Glenmorangie Tùsail NAS 46%abv
Highland Single Malt
circa £75.00 70cl
Every year since 2010, Glenmorangie have released a new expression from their Private Edition collection, and Glenmorangie Tùsail is the 2015 release, following on in the footsteps of Sonnalta, Finealta, Artein, Ealanta and last years Companta.

Whilst previous releases have focussed on the casks used in the maturation (Sonnalta - Pedro Ximenez , Finealta - ex-sherry and American oak, Artein - Sassicaia, Ealanta - virgin oak, Companta - red wine) Tùsail is all about the grain drawing on the unique taste of Maris Otter barley, a rare quality grain that was almost lost to the world. But there was more to this story than just the grain selected. Glenmornagie's floor maltings were closed in 1980 but Dr. Bill Lumsden has traditionally floor malted the barley for this release.

Maris Otter Barley
Maris Otter was originally bred in 1960s England, near Cambridge, at a site on Maris Lane, the street after which the barley was named. Maris Otter’s flavour was initially sought after by the craft-brewing industry. But the variety’s popularity began to wane in the 1970s as tastes in beer changed and farmers switched to barley with higher yields. By the late 1980s, uncertified seed and cross-pollination had put Maris Otter at risk of extinction. This greatly alarmed some in the brewing industry, who still depended on its unique flavour to produce their cask-conditioned ales. Reacting to these concerns, two English seed merchants formed a partnership to rejuvenate the variety, and in 1992, began a programme to build the stocks back to an acceptable standard. 

With Kat's interest in craft beer, she decided she would do some research and found that the revival of the Maris Otter grain is predominately down to a barley merchant Robin Appel of Robin Appel Ltd. His entrepreneurial spirit could see a demand Many breweries valued this barley over other varieties because it gave superior flavours, and breweries were prepared to pay a higher price for the crop. In the '90s the majority of barley that was grown was spring harvested barley, so growing winter harvesting barley like Maris Otter showed to be bucking the trend at the time. Robin’s vision was obviously very convincing as everything has paid off. Today Maris Otter is going strong with many beers produced with the barley winning awards year after year. 

Kat contacted Robin Appel and to her surprise and delight, he replied to her email! Below is his reply giving us a brief history of barley:

‘Dear Kat,

Thank-you for getting in touch. Of course I can go on talking about Maris Otter forever, but the Media Pack which you have accessed on our website captures the main points.

I have been involved in saving and promoting the variety since 1990, and in 2001 purchased Warminster Maltings in Wiltshire, Britain’s oldest working maltings, to ensure Maris Otter could still be malted traditionally, by hand, on floors. With the maltings came the ‘preface’ to the Maris Otter story: E.S.Beaven, proprietor of the maltings at the beginning of the 20th century, was also a self taught plant breeder, who bred the first genetically true variety of barley in the world, in 1905. He crossed a Swedish variety called Plumage, with an Irish variety called Archer, and for the very first time produced a variety of barley, nay cereals, that was “uniform, distinct and stable”. Beaven named it Plumage Archer, and it was a massive breakthrough, and confined the ‘landrace’ cereal varieties, that had presided forever, to history.

The Plant Breeding Institute at Cambridge (Dr GDH Bell) picked up on Beaven’s work, and crossed Plumage Archer with Kenia to produce Proctor in 1953, and then crossed Proctor with Pioneer to produce Maris Otter in 1965.

So you see I have managed to round up the heritage of modern barley varieties – we have one grower still growing Plumage Archer – and in the wake of Maris Otter’s success, we are now expanding Plumage Archer production for the Whiskey market. Should we be trying to revive Proctor? I do not think so, because Maris Otter is really a Mk 2 Proctor. I can say this with confidence, because I joined the barley trade in 1963 when Proctor ruled. There were two strains – Spring Proctor and Winter Proctor, and the latter was regarded by the brewing industry as the ‘creme de la creme’. Maris Otter is, in my book, a more robust version of Winter Proctor!

So there is a few more snippets of information for you. Regards,

Robin Appel.’

So What Did We Think?

Kat Says: The nose begins with a delicate floral note which develops into a vibrant freshness, aromas becoming creamier, vanilla notes starts to come through together with a strong toasted cereal notes. With some time in the glass toasted cereal notes resembles that of seasoned oak on a hot day and the smell of oatcakes. Some dusty hot ash aroma can also be detected. 

Tasting I first noticed the dryness; this quickly goes being replaced with a hint of clear runny honey and plenty of lemon zest. The sweetness is diluted so not very sweet and it is nicely balanced by the lemon zest note. After this plenty of spices come through – for me its mace and fresh ginger. Then I got a bitter sweet note – molasses maybe, but quickly goes away making way for lashings of juicy fruit flavours to come through (more white fruits than red fruits), mainly white grapes and sultanas for me. A spicy dry finish that’s short lived with lingering bitter sweetness. 

Verdict: Compared with my memory of last year’s Private Edition release Companta, Tùsail is polar opposite. My memories of Companta were dark, rich, and full of dark fruit flavours, whereas Tùsail is very much light, fresh, and spicy.

Dave Says: The colour emulates golden fields of ripened barley on a glorious sunny day, and on pouring barley water flavours were my initial thoughts. once settled these give way to notes of sweet summer fruits; peaches and apricots. It certainly comes across as very rich and creamy. There's notes of fresh lumber too, sawn softwood and later a hint of that Glenmorangie soft orange notes coming through, almost blossom like in fragrance.

That creamy orange juice note comes across to the fore on the palate as does the softwood lumber notes. Tasting floral and fragrant there's a gentle sweetness which is balanced by a spicy build up while vanilla flavours richen with toffee notes which in turn evolves into milk chocolate. The spices build finishing with a peppery 'zing' and fresh ginger. The empty glass the following morning yielding notes of chocolate digestive biscuits (other chocolate covered malty biscuits are available)

Verdict: Personally, I loved it! The barley story interested me immensely and the rich creamy, yet almost rustic flavours drew me in completely!
A wee dram of Glenmorangie Tùsail
We would like to thank Glenmorangie for providing us with tasting samples, and to Robin Appel for his passion and help with our research.

Sláinte! Kat and Dave

Some further reading on Maris Otter Barley

After I read through other whisky bloggers reviews of Tùsail, many commented that they are not sure if they could taste the impact Maris Otter had on the flavour and aroma profiles of the whisky. I was wondering the same thing, so wanted to find out if I can find a description of the flavour profiles of Maris Otter and use this as a benchmark to compare my tasting notes against. I knew I tasted beers made from Maris Otter before but couldn't remember what they tasted like or what brewery they were from, just that the name rang a bell and knew I came across it before on beer bottle labels. 

My research came up trumps, when I found that Robin Appel had commissioned the Brewing Research Institute to conduct two separate studies (2006 and 2007) to identify the flavour profiles of Maris Otter. It seems that within the craft brewing circles there was similar debates on whether the variety of barley used made any difference to flavour of the end product. The results of the two studies (which I've read included blind tastings of beers from the different malts) concluded that the flavour ranges were “very clean, crisp, with biscuit and grain notes”. Comparing this to my tasting note I came to the conclusion that the flavours of Maris Otter does seem to come through in the dram. 

The only other whisky that I can find that’s known to be made with Maris Otter is the ultra-premium Hicks & Healey Cornish whisky which was jointly produced by St Austell Brewery and Healey’s Cyder Farm in Cornwall. This whisky is certainly on my list to try if given the opportunity!

This year sees Maris Otter celebrate 50 years of being in production and there are many beer related events around the country to celebrate this anniversary. To find out more about the 50 year anniversary campaign check out the Maris Otter Facebook page and follow their Twitter account: @marisotter50.

Sláinte! Kat 

No comments: