For the last several years, there’s been no story in the scotch whisky industry more prominent and persistent than the continued rise of non-age-statement (NAS) malts from major distilleries. Once something of a taboo—a corner of the industry that reputable companies wouldn’t want to touch, due to a perception of cheapness or ill repute associated with bottom-shelf scotch—it’s now become a growth area for many distilleries, which have capitalized by marketing NAS malts as “high quality, for a lower cost.” Suffice to say, the category is no longer defined by bargain basement brands, but increasingly by flagship brands from sought-after distilleries.
A handful of techniques have emerged, helping the NAS malt brands to find their footing. One of the most prominent is the use of newly charred or “virgin” oak barrels for aging, or a portion of aging in a blend—another technique that was long taboo in traditional scotch whisky production, but helps to impart more flavor and color in a spirit in a shorter period of time. Other producers have included small amounts of whisky finished in other wine barrels in their NAS malts, such as sherry or port-finished whisky, in order to give these brands more heft and flavor comparable to malts with 10 or 12-year age statements. Ultimately, these brands have helped some distilleries continue to compete in markets such as the U.S., where tariffs have made scotch whisky expensive to an uncompetitive degree in recent years.
Glenmorangie is a beloved and widespread malt maker, one of the best selling in the world, which has to date not really been associated with NAS malts. Their flagship malt, The Original, is a 10-year-old classic, affordable Highland malt against which many others are judged. The company’s ethos will evolve, however, with their U.S. introduction this month of “X By Glenmorangie,” a new core, NAS offering that the distillery is choosing to specifically market as “made for mixing,” which is a novel approach. Calling out the “sweeter” and “softer” approach of this malt, the company seems to be making a rare choice to broaden malt whisky’s appeal in a less dignified (read: snobby) way, saying that X by Glenmorangie can be enjoyed with everything from tonic or soda to cola, ginger ale, iced tea or sparkling apple juice. That’s a far cry from the luxuriant imagery typically associated with single malt scotch whisky marketing, and it comes with an appealing MSRP: $34.
As for what X by Glenmorangie actually is within the bottle, this appears to be a blend of typical Glenmorangie malt whisky aged in used bourbon barrels, and a portion finished in newly charred barrels for that extra boost of color and flavor. It’s 40% ABV (80 proof), as you would expect. Like other Glenmorangie creations, it was conceived and created by Dr. Bill Lumsden, Glenmorangie’s Director of Whisky Creation. The distillery describes it as an “eextravaganza of flavour, from swirls of orange sherbet to bursts of creme brûlée drizzled with chocolate fudge,” which certainly implies a desserty vibe.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting and see how this stacks up against Glenmorangie’s own classic flagship malt.
On the nose, X by Glenmorangie offers up a sweet but muted array of notes, waffling between more confectionary vibes and some of the same fruitiness you get in other Glenmorangie malts. I get light clover honey, along with a toastier, bread crusty note, and no shortage of candied orange peel. It suggests lightly toasty honeycomb and slight marmalade, but the nose isn’t particularly assertive. It smells a bit blandly accessible, to be frank.
On the palate, there’s somewhat more going on here, with some pleasant honeycomb/toffee richness, which segues into nice fruit notes of apricot and more candied orange. There’s vanilla, though I don’t get anything in the neighborhood of “chocolate fudge,” although it does close with a pleasantly roasty note on the back end that may be a product of those newly charred barrels. Residual sweetness is mild to moderate—not quite as sweet, perhaps, as I was expecting it might be from the marketing. Oddly, I find the ethanol to be more apparent than one would expect for the low proof, as the lack of age has perhaps not tempered it, but it leads to a dram that drinks less effortlessly than the distillery may have wanted. Or you might say that this simply isn’t intended to ever be consumed neat, and is intended solely for mixing.
Regardless, from a purely value proposition, I can’t argue with X by Glenmorangie very much at just $34—there are other NAS malts around that same price point, but this one occupies a decent niche by going in a sweeter and richer direction. What I will say, however, is that I feel like the occasions for buying a bottle of X by Glenmorangie would likely be few and far between for me, because the classic Glenmorangie The Original, with its 10-year age statement, higher proof (43% ABV) and much greater complexity of flavors, can frequently be had for merely $10 more. I get what they’re going for with X by Glenmorangie, but at the end of the day, I think that’s another $10 that is very well spent.
Region: Scotland, Highlands
Style: Single malt scotch whisky
ABV: 40% (80 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $34 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.