Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Glenmorange Astar - a cask strength expression of the great distillery- aged solely in oak

Glenmorangie's Bill Lumsden is famous for introducing secondary wood finishing to the Scotch whiskey marketplace. With Astar, however, the focus is purely on first fill American ex-bourbon oak casks and the base whiskey distillate - there are no other sources of flavor going on. But like a great artist who can express much with a single line, Lumsden coaxes an incredible complexity of delightful flavors from these two ingredients. Glenmorangie's two base products, the 10 and the 18 are aged only in American ex-bourbon white oak casks too, so it's tempting to say that Astar is just a cask strength version of these - but that is incorrect. Astar is aged in custom made casks specifically crafted from white oaks grown on North facing slopes, then toasted in a special way Lumsden specified and then aged for 4 years with bourbon in the traditional manner. Lumsden says the North slope oak grows slower and has a larger pore structure in the wood - allowing for more interaction with the spirit. I don't know if that's true - but having tasted the whole Glenmorangie line I can attest that he's a genius, so I don't quibble. Astar doesn't list an age, which means it is either young or they are blending different casks of different ages to ensure consistency and to achieve a particular flavor profile that combines newer and older wood notes; I don't know which and don't really care. The proof is in the glass.
In the glass Astar is a "straw into gold" brilliant yellow. The aroma is brilliant with sweetly acidic fruit notes (lychee, citrus, apricot) and peppery spirit. There's creaminess and spice too. Creme broulee? Time in the glass opens and richens this bouquet which becomes almost floral. At first sip the taste explodes with honeyed sweetness, honeysuckle, and lemony notes. By midpalate vanilla comes to dominate. The finish is incredibly long and complex with the grain and floral vanilla taking on a more perfumed jasmine aspect and wood resins and a faint whisper of smoke.

Light, agile, incredibly iterated: brilliant. World class. One of my absolute favorites.



  1. I'm only two years into my exploration of whiskey but this is by far my favorite scotch. Selfishly, I hope you're able to keep up the pace you've set: 41 posts per month is quite the accomplishment!

    1. Hey JSJ! Thanks for being the 2nd person to post a comment on my fledgling blog! Yes, Astar is one my favorite Scotches too. Unlike Islay malts, where exterior flavor sources such as peat smoke, salt air, and dissolved organic compounds in the water play a big role in the flavor, or the Sherry bombs and other secondary wood finishes play a big flavor role, Astar is becoming a rare example in making a flavor bomb out of only the very soul of the whiskey: the malt and the oak alone. It's a very special creation.

      I almost feel as if Lumsden is redeeming himself as a master distiller for having ignited the secondary cask aging revolution by showing that he is the absolute master of just the naked oak. It's a tour de force of elegant simplicity.

      Full disclosure, I had been writing these posts down for months before creating the blog. Many were originally written as reviews for Amazon (I'm an Amazon top 500 reviewer (previously top 100 but I've become lazy)). Amazon is a lousy place for liquor reviews in the USA, however as they don't sell liquor and the listings come and go all the time. Anyway - that's how I posted almost 30 reviews on the first day.

      Keeping up such a pace in real life would affect the palate (and leave you passed out under the table)!

  2. According to Michael Jackson's Complete Guide to Single Malt Scotch (great resource by the way), the Astar barrels are actually filled with Jack Daniel's for four years. As far as I can tell only in the US is there a legal distinction between bourbon and Tennessee whiskey. So it's perfectly fine for the Scotch distillers to say ex-bourbon cask when in fact they are also using barrels that previously contained Tennessee whiskey.

    1. Thanks for that, Eric! I've amended the review to fix the erroneous mention of "Kentucky". I was bringing my incorrect bias that "bourbon" means "Kentucky" (it doesn't). Any corn whiskey a mashbill of 51%+ corn, barreled at less than 62.6% abv into first fill charred oak casks and aged at least 2 years is legally "bourbon" - no matter where it is made in the USA. As the gov. of Texas once said in a debate: "oops".

      And thanks for the useful data. I'll try to see if knowing it was Jack in those special barrels informs the palate any while sipping Astar.