Ask anyone who's met "Dr Bill" Lumsden before (even Hendy who attended the Tùsail dinner in Sydney earlier this year) and they'll tell you he's one of the funniest, nicest, down-to-earth whisky blokes you could ever meet. Knowledgable as anything, witty, friendly and always quick with an interesting story.
Luckily, I had the opportunity to meet Dr Bill at a tasting lunch in Hong Kong this week, and I can confirm they're 100% right.
Dr Bill's business card reads "Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks", but he's more commonly known as the man behind the modern day successes of both Ardbeg and Glenmorangie, a pioneer of wood finishing, and a man who takes a highly scientific approach (putting his PHD to good use) when it comes to whisky production.
Dr Bill was very briefly in Hong Kong before embarking on a broader Asian tour, and took time to present to media and whisky fans at Hong Kong's Sevva, where he presented four Glenmorangie expression matched to five stunning courses.
The lunch was not to launch or promote any one specific Glenmorangie expression, but rather to celebrate them all, with a careful selection including Glenmorangie Original (10yo), Glenmorangie 18yo, Glenmorangie 25yo and Glenmorangie Signet. After a brief cocktail on Sevva's stunning terrace (a simple lemonade, Glenmorangie Original and ice, which was extremely welcome on a hot Hong Kong Summer's day) it was time to take our seats and hear from the good Doctor.
After first explaining the (many) giraffes placed around the room (a reflection of Glenmorangie's unique long-necked still design), Dr Bill opened with a few jokes, an insight into his drinking habits (preferring younger whiskies generally, and typically drinking Glenmorangie Original despite "being able to fill a bathtub with 25yo" if he wanted) and then introduced us to the first course and its whisky pairing - Glenmorangie "The Original" 10yo (40%).
|1st Course: Double Brie Cheese, Mozzarella, toasted walnuts, pear & beetroot salad with raspberry vinaigrette.|
The simple (but deliciously fresh) cheese and salad plate paired well with the 10yo Original, with the delicate floral notes of the latter pairing surprisingly well with the robust cheese and nutty flavours of the former.
Being seated right next to Bill (along with good mate Eddie of Barrel Concepts) gave us a great opportunity to chat - about Glenmorangie, Ardbeg, Ardbeg's recent space experiment, wood finishes, the popularity of Japanese whisky, ageing, barley varieties, rugby and golf. Oh, and about a little experiment Dr Bill is in the middle of, involving Ardbeg aged in Russian Oak. Although coy on the details (when asked for his thoughts on the impact Russian Oak has on the spirit, he said to ask again in 2 years), Dr Bill did suggest that the project (codenamed "Ardbeg KGB" within the distillery), could well be a future Ardbeg Day release. We've seen "Islalympics" (2012), Archaelogy (2013), Soccer World Cup (2014) and Space (2015) as themes, so can we expect to see a Russian-themed Ardbeg Day in the near future? Perhaps.
If so....you heard it here first!
Next up was the Glenmorangie 18 year old (43%), which sees ageing in ex-Bourbon casks first, with 1/3 of the whisky spending its final 3 years in Oloroso sherry casks. The "Chanel No.5" of whisky, as Dr Bill put it, with lemon, honeysuckle and (to our palate) some raisins and red grapes.
|2nd Course: Scottish smoked salmon, horseradish & pan-fried sea scallop and mango salsa|
|3rd Course: Ms B's Risotto: Asparagus, pumpkin, baby peas, porcini with saffron risotto & chopped arugula, scented with a hint of white truffle oil.|
Next was the "grandfather" Glenmorangie 25 year old (43%), of which Dr Bill only makes 500 cases per year, and describes as "very difficult". Initially made as a one-off in 2001 (for the Taiwanese market), demand in Asia grew to the point where it became a world-wide, core part of the lineup. Dr Bill admitted it can be "inconsistent", but previous awards, including Best 15+ year old Single Malt Scotch in recent years have cemented its place as an extremely good dram.
The whisky starts life in ex-Bourbon barrels, where it remains for ~20 years, before 25% is moved into sherry casks, and 25% into French red wine casks. You get the feeling that Dr Bill loves to play around with casks, finishes and ratios, and trust us, that's a good thing for whisky drinkers the world over!
|4th Course: Grilled lobster with bouillabaisse reduction|
The final dram of the day was the Glenmorangie Signet (46%). Signet, which we tasted way back in the year it was unveiled - 2008 (at the Scotch Whisky Experience in Edinburgh) is clearly a passion project for Dr Bill, who called it the "biggest challenge of his career", with origins going back to the 90s. Using barley roasted like coffee beans ('high roast chocolate malt'), Dr Bill said he worked on Signet in secret for years, with the only giveaway being that "the distillery smelled like a Starbucks". Aged for 12-13 years, Dr Bill felt it didn't reflect the Glenmorangie style enough, so he set about seeing what could be added to bring the vision to life.
"What could be added" ended up being Glenmorangie from:
- Designer casks (giving the creaminess)
- 10yo ex-Bourbon whisky further aged for 5 years in ex-sherry casks
- 10yo ex-Bourbon whisky further aged for 5 years in toasted virgin oak casks
- Some secret casks; and
- A dressing of 35-45 year old Glenmorangie.
|5th and final Course: Espresso ice cream & chocolate fudge cake|
A fantastic end to a brilliant lunch, having met one of Scotland's true whisky visionaries (who also just happens to be a really top bloke).
|Martin, "Dr Bill" Lumsden and Eddie|
TimeforWhisky.com would like to say a huge thanks to Dr Bill for his time, and to MHDHK for the invitation.