Glenmorangie Signet was one of the most talked about releases from last year. Innovation isn't new to this very popular Scottish distillery. They were one of the first to popularize cask finishes, moving a whisky from one barrel to another for its last months or years to impart different flavors. Their regular line still includes port, sherry and Sauternes finished whiskies.
The Signet was an entirely different type of experiment that went to the core of whisky production: the barley. You don't hear much about barley in the Scotch world. Being the core ingredient of the Scotch Whisky, you would think that people would argue about its quality, roast and breed, but no, discussions of barley are largely absent from Scotch aficionado banter.
Signet changed that by focusing the whiskey world's attention on barley. Signet diverged from common practice by uses chocolate barley as the base of its Signet. Despite the sound of it, chocolate barley is not a new sweet snack from Trader Joe's. It's a darker roast of barley than is used in malt whisky; it is used in beer, specifically porters and stouts. The Signet malt used chocolate barley for 15 to 20% of its 100% barley mash; the rest was presumably the traditional roast. What effect will this dark roasted barley have on the finished product? We shall taste and find out.
Glenmorangie Signet, 46% alcohol ($200). The whisky has no age statement.
The nose is sweet and honeyed with some banana. It reminds me of Canadian Whisky or even Cognac more than malt. The flavor is sweet; the first sip reminds me again of a super-rich Canadian or maybe an American malt like Stranahan's. Then there is grain, and yes, some chocolate or mocha type flavors. There is a thick, rich mouthfeel that gives this whisky a certain weight. Then, at the end of the palate and continuing with the finish, there is malt, the pure, sweet malt that is the trademark of Glenmorangie.
This is a really extraordinary whisky, both in the fact that it is pleasing to the palate, but also in that it is something totally new in the world of Scotch, both in concept and flavor. Check it out!