The joy of Glenmorangie

What five decades do for a fine bottle of whisky

21 June 2014

8:00 AM

21 June 2014

8:00 AM

Glenmorangie is the most accessible of malt whiskies. It is a gentle, almost feminine creature, with hints of spring flowers, chardonnay, eine kleine nachtmusik, wholly different from the lowering malts of the Outer Isles. With them, there is no question of hints, let alone Mozart. A blast of peat and iodine arrives to the skirl of the pipes: a mighty dram worthy of the sea-girt rocks among which it was cradled.

Both have their place. I recently helped a friend polish off his last bottle of ’63 Glenmorangie. It had gained in depth, strength and subtlety. Should you possess any, our bottle was showing no scintilla of senescence. Its owner is a Scotsman who has grown rich in the colonies and was resolutely uninterested in his treasure’s value (no doubt eye-watering). He claimed that I had earned my share by reassuring him about the referendum campaign. Neither of us could believe that the nation which had invented whisky and provided the staff officers for the British Empire, while also winning glorious battle-honours during the Enlightenment, was about to take leave of its senses and vote to girn in a kail-yard.

As we drank, I had a madeleine moment. Back in the late Eighties, there was a brief entr’acte when the Green party seemed to be an important political force. They had a conference in Wolverhampton. I went to take a sneer and was not disappointed. There was a balcony of political reporters: every paper had sent a junior pol corr, tasked with straight coverage. Having listened to hours of tedium, they were on the cusp of mutiny. The Greens had one sole female who would have needed help from the make-up department before going on stage as a witch in Macbeth; the rest were beyond parody. I settled on my headline — Green Grow the Loonies Oh — and looked forward to dinner. As an antidote to green cant, I had arranged to entertain a Wolverhampton MP, Nick Budgen.

The late Nick Budgen was a wonderful and impossible fellow. He claimed to have hunted with every pack in England, usually mounted on horses called ‘Hamburger Reject’ or ‘Might Make Dog food’: animals that Flurry Knox would have despaired of coping. But as long as the nag could muster four legs, Nick scorned gates.

He was unlucky in his political timing. For around three quarters of his career, his party was in government. Nick was preternaturally a man for opposition. So he had to console himself with driving the whips crazy: eventually, he had the whip taken away. On one evening, he found a procedural objection to the Commons’ business. He complained to his whip, David Lightbown, an imposing figure who had been a military policeman and a notoriously brutal defender in association football. He was equally notorious for directness of manner. ‘I see your game, Budgen. You’re trying to make trouble, as usual. You can fuck off.’ Budgie then took his grievance to his shop steward, Marcus Fox, the chairman of the ’22 Committee. Marcus was very drunk and equally unsympathetic. ‘I see your game, Budgen. You’re trying to make trouble, as usual. You can fuck off.’

Nick told that story with relish. Few MPs would have been quite so amused when recounting repeated snubbings. Anyway, he and I moved on from a ’61 Lynch-Bages to a ’63 Glenmorangie. Both found favour.

Everything about Glenmorangie encourages favourable feelings, except the recent behaviour of its advertising department. They have produced a picture of a bottle, with two glasses — full of ice. Ice: the shame of it. There is also a slogan: ‘unnecessarily well-made’. That should be one of the stupidest, most pretentious statements in the history of advertising, unless the once-great house of Glenmorangie is now intent on betraying its product. In which case, ‘unnecessarily well-made’ is the literal and deplorable truth.

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