The schmoozy vibe of a private member’s club in London’s Soho is about as distinct from the cozy Scottish Highlands as you can get. But, on a balmy evening in early November, the team behind Glenmorangie whisky hosted an event at the Century Club that aimed to bridge that aesthetic, spiritual, sonic and atmospheric gap.
On the top floor of the building, just off of Piccadilly Circus, a moody woodland scene appeared, created with walls of edible plants. The occasion was the debut of a campaign shot by British pop art photographer Miles Aldridge and a tease of Glenmorangie’s latest bottling, A Tale of the Forest. It was also an opportunity to signal to cocktail enthusiasts that Glenmorangie sees itself as a distillery that’s on its own playful, more approachable path.
To really experience this evolution, however, you need to get out of Soho, fly to Inverness in Scotland and make the hour-long drive up to the Easter Ross Peninsula where Glenmorangie has been creating its single malts since 1843. There, a few kilometres from the distillery’s headquarters near Tain, is Glenmorangie House.
The inn’s recent renovation by maximalist London firm Russell Sage Studio, aims to capture the brand’s new direction in its reception rooms and accommodations through vivid colours, hardy textiles and unexpected details (for example, the four-metre-tall statue of a giraffe that watches over the front door). The 28-hectare estate surrounded by barley fields provides a stylish home base for exploring Scotland’s rugged northeast and a comfy bed to come home to after a day of hikes and tastings.
“The scenery in Scotland is quite varied and fabulous wherever you go, but once you go up there, there’s all these beautiful natural resources,” says Dr. Bill Lumsden, who has been Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation for the past 27 years. “The distilleries were all established there because barley grew in the fertile land and there was a plentiful source of water. If you go north, you’re spoilt for choice of all these different distilleries. But you want to go north and east to Glenmorangie. That’s where it’s at. Of course, I would say that.”
Lumsden’s domain is a campus of sandstone, pagoda roof-topped production buildings and handsome warehouses overlooking Dornoch Firth. It sits at a lower elevation than Glenmorangie’s nearby water source, Tarlogie Springs, which allows gravity to bring in the freshwater needed for distillation. That process happens in five-metre-tall copper pot stills with long necks that are the inspiration for the brand’s love of giraffes.
In the distillery gift shop, you’ll find examples of the six core expressions it bottles and limited-edition releases including the Lighthouse, a 12-year-old single malt aged in bourbon and sherry casks that’s only available on site.
The Lighthouse is an example of Glenmorangie’s evolution as a distiller and not just because its packaging eschews the classic look of most whisky bottles in favour of a label wrapped with a rainbow of stripes. The expression was released to mark the opening of the Lighthouse, a 20-metre-tall glass tower looking out toward the North Sea that could be a Bond villain’s lair and is equally as secretive. It operates as a distiller’s science lab and contains two experimental stills that are being used to push the limits of whisky making.
That openness to being innovative in an industry that’s reverential about its history is the biggest takeaway of experiencing Glenmorangie at its source. “The drinks industry should be about fun and pleasure and enjoyment. The Scotch whisky industry, and particularly single malt Scotch, was so not about that,” Lumsden says. “I want people to love it and find it delicious.”
On the Glenmorangie House estate, that mix of the past and the future comes together even more clearly. The manor is grand but comfortable and decorated in an exuberant style that pays homage to elements of whisky making. In the morning room, a gilded ceiling and floral wallpaper reference fields of barley. The dining room includes an eight-metre-long table inset with panels of hammered copper that hint at those towering stills (curiously for a Canadian visitor, it also displays a historic photo of founder William Matheson captured in Woodstock, Ont.). Each of the six guest rooms (there are also three cottages across a courtyard filled with lawn games), draw their colour schemes from Glenmorangie’s whiskies. The Sunset room’s palette, pulled from the colours, flavours and textures of the distillery’s Lasanta expression, fades from red to tangerine to violet.
On the property, the hotel can organize archery lessons or foraging for cocktail ingredients but the best way to experience the landscape is a hike down to the water and the reconstruction of the Hilton of Cadboll stone. The replica monument of a stone that is now displayed in the Museum of Scotland in Edinburgh (with a Pictish motif that features prominently on Glenmorangie’s labels) sits in a clearing near the village of Hilton. The walk there allows you to stretch your legs, fill your lungs with fresh sea air and cross paths with the locals.
“One of the things I love about going north is, I think you travel in distance and time,” says Caspar MacRae, Glenmorangie’s marketing and business development director. “I find the sense of community, which is pretty anachronistic in modern day life – the way people know each other, the way people support each other, the way they think about each other – is something I find really refreshing. The scenery is beautiful but the hospitality and the people are probably even more compelling.
Running daily June through August and Monday through Friday the rest of the year, hour-long tours of the distillery include two tastings of Glenmorangie’s core bottles.
Distillery tour, £20 per person through glenmorangie.com.
Aside from its richly decorated bedrooms and cottages, this boutique hotel offers dining experiences spotlighting local ingredients, mixology classes and falconry displays.
Double rooms from £290/night including breakfast through glenmorangie.com/glenmorangie-house.
This seaside village is home to local dining favourites including the Oystercatcher (the-oystercatcher.co.uk) and the summer seafood pop up Surf and Turf (@surfandturfhq on Instagram).
Near the distillery, this studio welcomes guests to browse pieces glazed in traditional tartans and more abstract florals.
Tarbat Ness Lighthouse
At the northern point of the fault that divides the Scottish Highlands in two sits its third tallest lighthouse.
This ruin overlooks Loch Ness and is an easy detour when travelling near Inverness. Grab lunch nearby at the Clansman Hotel.
Style Advisor travelled to Scotland as a guest of Glenmorangie. The company did not review or approve this article prior to publication.
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