Lately I’ve been enjoying wild ales.
For those not in the know, a wild ale is a beer that has used yeast or bacteria in addition to Saccharomyces cerevisiae for fermentation. It’s recently caught on in the US, with Lambics using the method for centuries now.
So, when I was invited to try Glenmorangie’s newest release, which used their own strain of wild yeast, I was pretty excited. Being at a tasting led by Dr. Bill Lumsden… well, that’s just icing on the sweet bread (but more on that later).
Dr. Lumsden, over his career, has been tinkering with different variables in scotch-making. Successful experiments ended up as part of the Private Edition range, which have all highlight something unique (such as last year’s Spios aged in rye barrels). The newest, Allta, in my opinion, may be one of the most daring steps into experimentation.
So, what’s it all about?
Allta (Gaelic for wild) is the 10th release of the Private Edition series, and the first Glenmorangie whisky to be created with their own strain of yeast. The single malt has been aged in mainly second-fill bourbon barrels to impart little flavor and let wild yeast be the star of the show.
It’s only fitting that Glenmorangie would be the distillery to do this. Dr. Bill Lumsden is, after all, a PhD in Microbial Physiology and Fermentation Science. Interestingly enough, the first iteration of this experiment was said to be born from a malfunction in the distillery washback boilers, which lead them to run an open fermentation resulting in lambic-tasting malt.
This time around, the yeast used for Allta wasn’t just randomly allowed to enter an open washback, but was discovered living on and cultivated from Glenmorangie’s own Cadboll barley (the malt used in Glenmorangie Signet). The strain was given the name saccharomyces diaemath or “God is good” in Gaelic, in subtle reference to how ancient Egyptians would have worshiped a deity for giving them the gift of fermentation (which at that time, would have been seen as a spontaneous miracle).
So why is this the most daring release so far?
For one, the yeast is less tried and true. Also, like other wild yeast strains, saccharomyces diaemath is terribly inefficient when it comes to alcohol yield, and therefore not a profitable option. After a long commitment to aging, you’re left hoping that the yeast made enough of a difference while still tasting good.
So, how did it do? Here are the tasting notes compiled from both me and Bryan:
Allta – 51.2%
Nose: Sweet bread, spicy, heather, earthy, nutty, honey.
Palate: Creamy, earthy, savory, yeasty bread. Slightly vegetal notes with vanilla and some spice. It’s less sweet than Glenmorangie’s original.
Finish: Long, spicy, earth, nutty, with a light sweetness. The sweet bread notes carry through.
Rather than the funky lambic notes I was expecting, Allta had very pronounced bready notes. Like a sweet bread covered in icing sugar.
A lot of experimentation in the scotch world is around the use of mashbills, barrels, blending, and unique finishes. Allta highlighted a variable in scotch production that we don’t typically think about, and I’m hoping that the use of wild yeast becomes a trend among distilleries.
This experimentation creates an entirely new dimension to a distillery’s character.