Business of the month: Glenmorangie House
The award winning Glenmorangie Distillery was founded in 1843. Inspired by its tranquil surroundings on the banks of the Dornoch Firth, a wonderfully complex and smooth single malt was created.
The distillery visitor centre offers a variety of public tour experiences, exploring each step of the whisky making process. Just twenty minutes away, set among the rolling barley fields of Easter Ross, you will find the distillery’s beloved Highland hideaway, Glenmorangie House. It’s a magnificent reflection of everything that Glenmorangie, (which means ‘valley of tranquillity’ in Scots Gaelic) stands for – a retreat to peace and calm, and a place for cherished moments.
We caught up with John Wilson, head chef of Glenmorangie House!
1. Hi John. First of all, can you please tell us a little bit about your background and your position at Glenmorangie House?
I was born in Glasgow but brought up in Fort William. My first job in hospitality was as a waiter at the Ben Nevis Hotel. The
role of chef soon beckoned and I moved up through the ranks, working for Orocco Pier in South Queensferry and the BBC in Glasgow before becoming head chef at the Lime Tree back in Fort William. I joined Glenmorangie in 2012, and took up the position of head chef in 2016.
Today, I work with the very best local ingredients and producers to create menus that often, either include or complement our full range of whiskies. I also spend time researching the optimal whisky and food pairing so that we can educate people on how they can enjoy our expressions with a variety of food.
2. Why should guests choose to stay at Glenmorangie House during their NC500 Adventure?
Perfectly placed on the Tarbat Peninsula, only 10 minutes from the A9, Glenmorangie House is the ideal respite for those looking to experience Highland hospitality. I think our property is the perfect size – small enough (nine bedrooms) to create a warm, personal level of service but with enough space that you can find your own quiet corner to settle in to and relax.
There is a huge amount of history to the house, which dates back to the 17th century. Alongside the beautiful setting, the house has a wonderful feeling of tranquillity, allowing guests to really ‘switch off’ and unwind. We are not so off the beaten track however, and a wide variety of activities and days out across Easter Ross are available nearby. You can fill up your days with castles and golf courses, boat trips and, of course, a world famous distillery!
3. Can you tell us about the dining experience?
The evening is when the house really comes alive. We offer a dinner party style service, where guests come together for pre-dinner cocktails and canapés in our Morning Room before heading through to our Dining Room to enjoy a bespoke four course menu. At this time of year, we are often serving some tender venison and other seasonal game from local Highland estates. The menus are designed to offer guests the chance to try something new or unusual, and create discussion with their fellow diners. We have found that most guests love the experience, and have seen some great new friendships established around our dining table.
4. Now, can you tell us more about the speciality culinary experiences that you offer?
We currently offer two exciting and unique ways for guests to explore Glenmorangie expressions alongside fantastic local ingredients.
Our sensory experience offers guests the ability to detect the aromas in our whiskies, with a visit to the kitchen to pair three of our core expressions with a scallop ceviche. Each seafood marinade has a slightly different taste profile, and is a great way to introduce the subtleties of using whisky in preparing food.
We also have a great cheese and whisky pairing session, featuring Highland Fine Cheese made right here in Tain. The flavour and textures work extremely well with our whiskies, and this tasting offers a fun way of discovering the Glenmorangie range.
5. And, how do you make the most of the local produce in the area? And what makes the local produce so special?
I feel a responsibility to carry on the tradition of only using the finest local ingredients, and tend to follow the mantra of less is more.
We select main ingredients that are fresh, full of flavour and can be presented as the star of the show, any sauces or accompaniments we create are designed to enhance rather than disguise! The produce we use is so special, because of the passion of the local producers and suppliers we work with.
6. With the winter months getting busier, what makes visiting Glenmorangie special in the winter?
For me, it is the world of contrasting experiences that are on offer here. From the kitchen, where some fresh local game such as partridge is paired with the sweetness of a pear from our walled garden on a festive menu; a crisp bracing walk to the Hilton of Cadboll stone before warming up in front of a roaring fire with a dram; the peaceful calm of the Morning Room just before it gives way to the hubbub of chatter during cocktails.
7. Do you have any special Christmas tips for those cooking up a festive feast?
Planning and preparing food in advance always make the big day so much easier. Try to have a think about what you can make and do during the days and weeks leading up to Christmas to save yourself time and space in the kitchen on the day. Also, allowing the turkey (if that’s what you’re having) plenty of time to rest after cooking it is definitely worthwhile.
8. What is your signature dish?
Our Glenmorangie Signet single malt was the inspiration for my “Signeture” dessert. It features a rich chocolate delice accompanied by a malted barley ice cream and a fruit and nut crumble.
Signet is something very special within the whisky world as it is made using our unique roasted ‘chocolate’ barley malt.
The layers of the chocolate in the délice represent the layering of the aromas in whisky – each bringing something different. The crumble, for those that have ever enjoyed a distillery tour, is there for added texture and to represent grist – the malted barley which is ground ready to be mixed with water to start the whisky making process.
As chefs, we talk a lot about the importance of provenance and so, staying true to that, I used the barley, grown in the fields visible from my kitchen window, to create a malted barley ice cream for the dish!
9. For visitors wishing to set up base with you, do you have any recommendations for sights and activities in the surrounding area?
Other than the Glenmorangie Distillery tour, I would recommend playing golf, or having a lesson at one of the local golf clubs – there are some real hidden gems!
On the Tarbat peninsula, you have the trio of Pictish stones at Nigg, Shandwick and, closest to the House, the Hilton of Cadboll stone.
10. What is the biggest benefit to the business that you have witnessed since the launch of the NC500?
We have definitely seen a steady increase in visitor numbers. The key benefit is hearing people talking about our area, the very north east coast of Scotland, above Inverness, as a destination. It’s fantastic!
11. And finally, we promise! How much of the beautiful NC500 have you explored – and do you have a favourite spot?
I’ve never actually done the full loop, but have visited most parts of the journey at different times. Outside the immediate area, and the coastline which stretches alongside Glenmorangie House, I would have to opt for Durness. I have great memories of various family holidays there.