One of Scotland’s most lauded and oldest Scotch whisky producers has just opened a brand new facility that intends to blend industry standard production methods with experimental techniques and flavors.
Glenmorangie’s director of whisky creation Dr. Bill Lumsden, who has been with the brand for 27 years and counting, and his team have strived to push the boundaries of single malt for decades. The Scotch producer, founded in 1843, is taking that agenda to a whole new level with the opening of a brand new, state-of-the-art innovation distillery, named The Lighthouse, where Lumsden, known by his colleagues as “Dr. Bill,” will oversee even more new developments come to fruition.
“The idea of this is that i can do things that we simply cannot do in the main distillery and create new products and a whole new range of flavors,” Lumsden tells Fortune.
Named for its landmark approach to whisky, The Lighthouse’s stillhouse can be seen for miles at 20 meters (approximately 66 feet) tall. Perched on a lookout over the Dornoch Firth on the east coast of the Scottish Highlands, Glenmorangie’s Lighthouse was inspired by lighthouses dotted along Scotland’s dramatic coastline.
Offering flexibility with ingredients and processes, it is touted to be designed for flavor (even “deliciousness,” as Glenmorangie management says), rather than yield. The modern look incorporates nods to the brand heritage and its spirit for experimentation—there are even fragments of from used bourbon and sherry casks embedded into the building’s wall panels, covered behind a shiny glass exterior.
Designed by Paris-based Barthélémy Griño Architects, the Lighthouse innovation distillery consists of two buildings: a brewhouse and a stillhouse—both custom-designed by Glenmorangie’s creative team with a series of bespoke modifications. Constructed in the traditional style of the main distillery, the new brewhouse offers scope for more experiments with barley, water, and yeast—all core ingredients for whisky—during mashing and brewing. (“On the face of it, not a hugely exciting thing, but this has been designed to let us process a lot more than simply malted barley,” Lumsden notes.)
The addition of a standalone innovation facility means that the Lighthouse can operate entirely of its own accord, enabling experimental work to continue unhindered, while the main distillery remains dedicated to the brand’s core products, such as Glenmorangie’s signature single malt.
Thomas Moradpour, president and CEO of The Glenmorangie Company, stresses that whatever is produced from the new innovation lab will take years before it’s ready for sale. The primary goal is to get ideas down first with the hopes of producing something fantastic, whether that be close or far from today’s products.
“It’s also a new perspective, a new take on something that we know how to do, that we’ll do in a different way,” Moradpour says. “It’s both a symbol of our past and our future.”
Most notably—as they are described to be as tall as giraffes, thus the brand’s mascot—there are two new stills in the Lighthouse, built with modifications allowing them act as if they are shorter for a heavier spirit or even a lighter spirit, with many variations in between.
Lumsden says the new technology will enable the brand to produce a new array of different flavors. “There’s nothing off the table here, so any wacky idea should be easier to try out here,” he explains. “And I’ve got some ideas about all sorts of raw materials, not just cereals, but we’ll have to see how it goes.”
As a scientist by training, Lumsden says one of the main reasons he originally joined Glenmorangie was that he felt he could be better, able, and allowed to carry out experiments. Over the years, he’s carried out many experiments—many of which have, in fact, been bottled—and others, he jokes, have yet to see the light of day. But there were some experiments he wanted to try but couldn’t carry out in the main distillery, either because of the lack of right equipment or the main distillery was running out of extra supplies needed for the company’s core products.
“At the end of the day, what we produce will be Glenmorangie spirit, maybe just not as we know it today,” he says.
The position of the sensory lab also means that the team will be able to study raw spirit, rather than the mature spirit with which they would more usually work. This means distillers can assess experiments after every six-hour spirit run, providing more flexibility to alter recipes in ways which would never be possible in the main distillery.
And the Lighthouse will be partly powered by biogas (a mixture of gases produced from raw materials such as agricultural or food waste) created in Glenmorangie’s own anaerobic digestion plant, from the by-products of distillation.
Complete with a tasting room and terrace, the top floor will also provide visitors and employees with spectacular views of the neighboring beach and villages.
In development for the last five years, the Lighthouse is expected to be fully completed by the end of October. Currently, Glenmorangie is not open to visitors for tours due to COVID-related restrictions. However, during pre-pandemic times, the distillery welcomed upwards of 30,000 visitors annually.
“It’s anchored in a sense of place and a sense of perspective,” Moradpour says. “We’re in the middle of this beautiful environment, we’ve been here since 1843. We’re not going anywhere. We have to be here, we have to anchor here. We’re like a lighthouse, we’re anchored and looking farther on the horizon. We want this distillery to be a symbol of belonging in that environment.”
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