A NEW distillery that sits on the shores of the Dornoch Firth will enable Glenmorangie single malt Scotch whisky to experiment with new flavours, finishes and products as it targets ambitious growth.
The Lighthouse “innovation” distillery near Tain in the Highlands represents a multi-million-pound expansion of the world-renowned Glenmorangie brand which pioneered the art of wood finishing, creating a new category of single malt.
The brainchild of Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation Dr Bill Lumsden, the Lighthouse is home to copper stills featuring a “host of modifications, making all kinds of innovation possible”. These modifications will enable them to alter Glenmorangie’s spirit character and, for example, create a heavier spirit more akin to that associated with Ardbeg, Glenmorangie’s sister distillery on Islay.
Thomas Moradpour, president and chief executive of The Glenmorangie Company, which has been part of luxury consumer goods group LVMH since 2004, said that global demand for Glenmorangie is growing “significantly”, noting: “The first of its kind, our Lighthouse experimental distillery is the keystone of our plans to stay at the forefront of taste innovation.
“By giving our talented creation team free rein, we will welcome even more consumers worldwide to enjoy delicious whiskies.”
He said that while the pandemic had presented challenges, notably the closure of airports and the loss of travel retail trade along with lengthy shutdowns of hospitality outlets, the business had continued to grow in the off trade with online sales also ramping up as consumers’ shopping habits changed. “We found that in most parts of the world, people still wanted to purchase quality malts so we adapted our channels and marketing strategies accordingly,” noted Mr Moradpour.
“While our priority was and continues to be the safety of our people, we continued to invest in the business, refurbished sites and also upgraded our Glenmorangie House hotel near the distillery ahead of the welcoming tourists again,” Mr Moradpour added. “We take a long-term view and the Lighthouse will enable us to shape how whisky will look in 10 years and also in 50 years.”
Often dubbed the “Willy Wonka of whisky”, Dr Lumsden’s imagination and willingness to push traditional boundaries has led to the creation of malts such as Glenmorangie’s Cadboll Estate series and Glenmorangie Signet, a whisky that incorporates chocolate malt. He said: “I came up with the idea of an experimental distillery so we could try new things. I presented the idea to Tom’s predecessor and he agreed to provide a certain amount of money.
“What we have at the Lighthouse is unique in Scotland and I would be very surprised if there’s anything like it in distilling anywhere in the world.”
Designed by Barthélémy Griño Architects, the Lighthouse has been “conceived as a whisky-maker’s playground, where flavour takes precedence over yield”. From a sensory lab at the top of the building, Dr Lumsden and his team will “seek to redefine all aspects of whisky-making, creating game-changing, spirit-led single malts with appeal for whisky lovers old and new around the world”.
Like a real lighthouse, the building’s towering 20-metre-high glass stillhouse can be seen for miles around. The design of the Lighthouse, which received a £1 million R&D grant from Scottish Enterprise, is very different from the traditional stone buildings of the main distillery, established over 175 years ago. It is partly powered by biogas, created in Glenmorangie’s own anaerobic digestion plant from the by-products of distillation.
While new product will be some years away, the launch will be marked with the release of Glenmorangie The Lighthouse, a limited-edition malt from Glenmorangie’s existing stocks.
Neil Francis, interim managing director, international development at Scottish Enterprise, said: “The Scotch whisky industry is one of our country’s proudest success stories and most famous exports, which is why Scottish Enterprise was pleased to support Glenmorangie in delivering this unique, dedicated innovation facility.
“In such a competitive industry, the ability to bring exciting new products to global markets quicker than ever will undoubtedly boost the company’s success, benefiting both the local community and the wider Scottish economy.”