1) The labels of the OB's from the 1990's and early 2000's have printed signatures for the 'checked' and 'approved' dates on the label. This gives the impression that these are small batches, but in fact all the 'vintage' releases are massive 'vattings' of many different casks. And the dates themselves don't always make a lot of sense either. My 1987/2000 vintage was checked by one J. L. Stevens on 23/5/'87. That makes sense; I assume that was on (or around) the distillation date. But the fact that it was approved by someone who's name I can't read (R. H. Fenwick?) on 3-9-98 while the whisky was bottled in 2000 makes no sense at all. The fact that all the (printed) 'approved' dates on the labels are identical suggests that the date applies to either all the casks in the vatting or the vatting itself. OK - let's think about that a little, shall we? If the vatting itself was 'approved' on September 3, 1998 and it was bottled in 2000, where did they keep the vatted whisky for over a year? You'd need one very big container, that's for sure. I guess the big players like Edrington must have some huge blending vessels available but I imagine they don't want to use those for long-term storage. On the other hand, if all the casks in the vatting were individually approved on a single day in 1998 and then the casks were left alone to mature for more than a year longer, wouldn't the wood of the casks have worked its magic in the time between approval and bottling, altering the whisky in all kinds of unpredictable ways? And then, what's the use of approving them? All this was a mystery to me until Ronnie Cox responded to questions from Ho-cheng and Martine about the matter. Mystery solved, it seems!
"Dear Johannes, I received this from one of the Malt Maniacs and perhaps you'd like to share this reply with the others.
The Glenrothes Vintages are a collection of casks chosen to represent a style, mood or personality of The Glenrothes. Each Vintage will be different and vary in accordance with time spent in the cask and the type of casks selected. It is certainly true that some Vintages have sold several thousand cases (sold over a few years) but others can be measured in hundreds of cases. A Malt like The Glenrothes which sells less than 20,000 cases of combined vintages p.a. is tiny compared to the top volume malts. Vintages of The Glenrothes represent no more than 2% of the distilleries' annual production capacity. To put it into perspective Glenrothes can produce 870,000 equivalent cases of spirit @ 43% per annum.
To your doubts: The "Checked" date merely indicates the year when the New Make Spirit was approved, by the laboratory or distillery, for maturation in the casks selected for this Vintage. The "Approved" year is when is was originally approved by the Malt Master and ourselves in London, for bottling.
If there is a difference on the label between the "Approved" year and year of bottling, it means that whilst the whiskies were from the same original vatting, they were bottled after the approval date. The process is as follows: once vatted and reduced to 45% the vatted Vintage is returned to cask where it remains until it is needed. This "marriage" will occur over several months (normally about 6) before the first bottling is made. A second bottling of this same Vintage (and original stock) is sometimes made in a subsequent year. The casks used for the marrying process are what we call "inactive" casks - having served their useful and active life. They contribute nothing to the flavour at this stage but simply act as a vehicle to store the Vintage and to allow the marrying process to take place following the disturbance of water reduction.
I hope that this answers Ho-cheng Yao's question as well. I should perhaps add, for clarification, that when the marrying takes place in "oak casks of a capacity not exceeding 700 litres", it is legally ageing. This isn't relevant to The Glenrothes as we don't talk about age (as age tells us little about the maturity and flavour) but, of course, we make sure that the correct year of bottling is on the label for those who want to know."
2) Berry Brothers in London are licensed to release all the official bottlings of Glenrothes malt whisky.
In 2010 they also became the owners of the Glenrothes brand - although the distillery still belongs to Edrington.
3) The new owners of Glenrothes (as well as Glenturret, Glenglassaugh, Highland Park and Macallan are an investment vehicle known as 'The 1887 Company Ltd.'. It's controlled by the Edrington Group (70%) and Wm Grant & Sons (30%) - who also own Balvenie & Glenfiddich. (Both distilleries were founded at the same time as Glenrothes.)
4) When Berry Brothers acquired the Glenrothes brand, they gave Edrington the Cutty Sark brand in return.
5) Glenrothes is one of almost two dozen malt whisky distilleries that were founded over a century ago during the 'whisky boom'
of the late 19th century and which have managed to survive until this day. The other survivors include Aberfeldy, Ardmore, Aultmore, Balvenie, Benriach, Benromach, Bruichladdich, Bunnahabhain, Dalwhinnie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfiddich, Glentauchers, Knockandu, Knockdhu, Longmorn, Tamdhu and Tomatin.
Glenrothes 1990/2012 (50,7%, Maltbarn, ex-Sherry cask, 151 Bts.)
Nose: Ooaah! Fantastic sherry profile. Complex fruits, leather, wood, spices, tea leaves, more wood...
Taste: Hey, many of the traits that I found in the nose, but none of the sweetness. Very distinguished.
Liquorice. Aniseed. Tannins. Proudly shows its age on the palate. Forceful; just enough punch left to impress.
Score: 88 points - but it's a good thing they bottled this particular cask of malt when they did.
After sampling a few thousand single malts I'm pretty sure this one would have lost it soon.
Glenrothes 21yo 1989/2010 (54.2%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Sherry Butt C#7471, 252 Bts.)
Nose: Sweet and polished start. Sherried with the faintest hint of sulphur. Pronounced improvement with time.
Taste: Medium sweet with a fruity undercurrent. The finish is fairly bitter with traces of pine and menthol.
Score: 87 points - initially,for me the finish was too pronounced and lingering for a score in the upper 80's.
However, after a few minutes and some water, some lovely meaty notes and organics emerged in the nose.
Glenrothes 39yo 1970/2009 (47.9%, Duncan Taylor Rare Auld for The Nectar, cask#10567, 127 Bts.)
Nose: Rhum filled chocolates. Mellows out and grows more complex during the first few minutes. Whiff of oil.
Subtle development over time. Raspberries? Hubba Bubba chewing gum? Strawberry ice cream?
Based on the nose alone I might have gone for a score in the upper 80's, but the palate doesn't quite match up.
Taste: Fruity, but the start is quite harsh. Passion fruits in the centre. Again, quite harsh in the dry, fruity finish.
There's a silver lining to every cloud though - it feels surprisingly powerful for a malt at less than 48% ABV.
Score: 83 points - it would have scored quite a bit higher if the palate hadn't bordered on 'perfumy'.
Glenrothes-Glenlivet 16yo 1990/2007 (57,3%, Cadenhead's Authentic Collection, Rum Butt, 588 Bts.)
Nose: Old, deep fruits. Lovely polished profile. Cinnamon? Coffee? Spices. Organics. Tobacco.
Some farmy notes. Becomes extremely complex over time. A really fantastic bottle from a rum cask.
Taste: Serious sherry. Wonderful hot & smooth centre. A powerful personality at almost 60% ABV.
Coffee bitterness in the finish, evolving into wood - lots of wood. I guess this could be a tad too woody for some.
Score: 90 points - but I should add that not all jurors of the MM Awards 2007 scored this whisky as high.
Glenrothes 1965/2006 (43%, G&M, MacPhails Collection)
Nose: Light; a little dusty and a little salty. Vaguely nutty? Not quite expressive enough for the upper 80's.
I started out at 82 but given enough time the development and lovely subtle fruits carried it to the upper 80's.
Organics. After a few months of breathing in the bottle it reveals a wonderful complexity. Excellent balance.
Taste: Again, very light at first, with more wood emerging in the centre. More prominent tannins in the finish.
Sweet, smooth and solid. The finish is long but not exactly satisfying. Faint touch of pine? Touch of bitterness.
Complex fruits emerging after a few minutes. Faintest touch of liquoriuce? Wood returns strong in the finish.
Score: 87 points - this one needs a lot of time. It only shows how unique it is after 15 minutes.
Glenrothes 36yo 1968/2005 (53.2%, Ducan Taylor, Cask #13486, 144 bottles)
Nose: Serious and very sherried. Developing fruits soften it up a bit. Furniture polish.
Once again the sherry is the most obvious trait in the bouquet. Whiffs of mint and Velpon glue.
Not much else going on with the nose, though. I love the profile but it could use some more depth.
Taste: A sweet and fruity whisky. A big burn. The sweetness slowly fades away in the dry finish.
Very fruity on the palate - ripe and fermenting fruits. Big, almost smoky burn in the centre.
Score: 86 points - Highly recommendable, although I can't pick out specific highlights in this Glenrothes.
Glenrothes 1986/2005 (46%, Helen Arthur, Plain Oak, 600 Bts.)
Nose: Plain oak indeed... Dry. Saw dust. Extremely restrained. No development over time. The faintest fruits.
Taste: Starts sweeter than the nose suggests before some herbal elements appear. Fresh pine wood.
Score: 71 points - not too bad for a hot summer night, but I'd have to classify it as 'below average'.
That's not too impressive if you consider this Glenrothes malt whisky is almost twenty years old.
Glenrothes 1972/2004 (43%, OB)
Nose: Polished but not very expressive. Glue and old coffee? Very restrained at first. Old cigarette smoke.
Hey, wait... during round two it seems completely different! Big and fruity. Polished. Very nice.
There's still a prickle in the nose, but now I enjoy it. This is actually a very enjoyable and refined single malt.
Taste: Watery start ast first. Tia Maria. Sherried with a touch of smoke. Some tannins. Metallic. Doesn't sit well.
Just like the nose it improved a lot during the 2nd & 3d round. Sweet, big and fruity on the palate. malty finish.
Score: 84 points - after a long debate with myself I decided on a final score of 84 points - a solid single malt.
Glenrothes 1992/2004 (43%, OB)
Nose: Hey, very fragrant with oriental spices. Cow stable. Quite interesting.
Again I find something like clay. Dead crabs on the beach? Is that a hint of oil?
Water melon. Nice, but it fizzles out too soon after a very promising start.
Taste: Sweet, solid and fruity. A hint of liquorice. Lemon? Nothing outspoken.
Woody, thin and a tad too 'winey' in the finish for me. Dries out very rapidly.
Score: 77 points - There's plenty of fun to be had but it's just too dry in the finish.
Hmmm, maybe a tad underwhelming for a 12yo Glenrothes?
Glenrothes 1987/2002 (43%, OB)
Nose: Mellow, malty and very sweet. Heather honey. Lovely! A bit like Balvenie 12?
Something fruity as well - but very subtle. This grows much more powerful with time.
Wonderfully balanced. Some intriguing organics in the back of the nose. Maggi! Tea?
Taste: Sweet, but fairly superficial in start and centre. More and more smoke over time.
Not unlike a peatless Bowmore. After a few minutes it seemed to grow more powerful.
There's a lot to love here, but it dries out - it grows very hot and dry over time.
Score: 84 points - but please note that it needs some time to reach its full potential.
Especially the empty glass is lovely - and quite unique. This Glenrothes left me utterly satisfied.
Glenrothes 8yo (40%, MacPhail's Collection, black label, Bottled 1990's)
Nose: Big, fruity and sherried. Wonderful sweetness. Very pleasant. Slightly alcoholic, not unlike rum.
Whiffs of spices and liquorice. Surprisingly powerful. It reminded me a bit of the Macallan 10yo.
Taste: Complete absence of sweetness at first. Very woody.
Seems younger in the taste than in the nose. This Glenrothes has a short, gritty finish.
Score: 79 points - the nose is notably more refined than the taste; needs a slightly higher proof?
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Glenrothes Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Glenrothes page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the hundreds of Glenrothes expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Glenrothes (Pronounced: glenROTHes)
57°31'36.8328 N, 3°12'36.3276 W
Glen Grant, Macallan, Caperdonich, Glen Spey
5 Wash stills, 5 Spirit stills
5,600,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
The 1887 Company Ltd. > Highland Distillers (since 1999)
Rothes, Morayshire AB38 7AA
Below, on Whiskyfun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
2005 - The Glenrothes 'Select Reserve'
is launched; the first official bottling without vintages in a long time.
A 30 years old official bottling of the Glenrothes single malt whisky is released as well.
2010 - Berry Brothers & Rudd become the new owners of the Glenrothes brand - although confusingly enough, the Glenrothes malt whisky distillery itself (buildings and equipment) remains in the hands of the Edrington Group.
The Glenrothes malt whisky
has always distinguished itself from the 'brands'
of most other distilleries by not having a regular 'range' of expressions like a
10 years old, a 12 years old, etcetera. Instead, they release different vintages
in different years, like a 1989 vintage in 2002 and a 1991 in 2005. That would
be an excellent policy if there would actually be big differences between them.
However, there usually are not - at least not to my relatively unrefined palate.
I actually think it's too bad - a few independent bottlings I've tried have proven
that they have some brilliant casks lying around at Glenrothes. I fear that a lot
of those beauties are currently 'drowned' into the mega-vattings that make up
each vintage of Glenrothes. The flip side of that coin is that I haven't found an
official bottling yet that scored below average - so Glenrothes is a 'sure bet'.
The first Glenrothes whisky was distilled in 1879
- although the distillery was officially founded
a year earlier. The founding fathers of Glenrothes were a colourful bunch that included James
Stuart (who had taken over the license of Macallan in 1868), John Cruickshank (a banker) and William Grant and Robert Dick (both from Caledonian Bank). The partnership soon dissolved
because of James Stuart's financial problems (he later sold the nearby Macallan distillery to
Roderick Kemp), but the others continued their whisky adventures as William Grant & Co.
Another William Grant would build the Glenfiddich distillery later, but that's another story.
William Grant & Company experienced a
growth spurt around the very same time
William Grant & Sons built Glenfiddich, but
like I said that's a different company. In
1887 William Grant & Co. merged with the
Islay Distillery Co. (who own Bunnahabhain)
to form Highland Distillers Company Ltd.
The capacity of Glenrothes was expanded
in 1898 when they doubled the number of
stills from two to four. They added another
pair in 1963, another pair in 1980 and yet
another pair in 1989, bringing the total to
ten stills at the Glenrothes distillery.
The fairly steady expansion of the number of stills could indicate that the
history of Glenrothes has been relatively uneventful, but the distillery has
actually enjoyed a fairly 'explosive' history - especially around the start of
the 20th century. In December 1897 there was a massive fire at the young
distillery. It caused quite a bit of damage, but it also gave them the perfect
excuse to add two more stills in 1898. The bitter pills of a big explosion in
1903 and another big fire in 1922 (this time in the warehouses) were not
sweetened like that, but they made up for that in more recent times.
Despite ten stills blazing away, Glenrothes is now a picture of tranquility...
Do you remember 'the other William Grant'
('& Sons') I mentioned earlier?
They were born around the same time as Glenrothes and had spent the
century wisely by growing into one of the whisky industry's leading compa-
nies with their brands Glenfiddich & Balvenie. In 1999 William Grant & Sons
partnered up with the Edrington Group to buy Highland Distillers Limited,
the parent company of Glenrothes. I believe it was a 50/50 partnership that
also gave them control of Bunnahabhain (since sold on), Glenglassaugh
(mothballed for a while), Glenturret, Highland Park, Macallan and Tamdhu.
At the time, that made William Grant & Sons and the Edrington Group the
#3 and #4 on the list of Scotland's top producers, between Pernod Ricard
at #2 with 12 distilleries and then Bacardi at #5 with five distilleries.
The picture at the right shows some of the certified malt maniacs during a 'fact finding mission'
in Speyside, Scotland in 2003. In the foreground you can find (from left to right) Craig Daniels, Krishna Nukala and Cutty Sark's Ronnie Cox who seem to have made themselves comfortable on a cask. In the background Serge Valentin, Davin de Kergommeaux, yours truly and Craig's wife Rosemary are simply in awe of their feline grace.
As for the Cutty Sark logo on the wall behind us; the Glenrothes malt whisky is an important ingredient of the blend and its visitor centre (which includes a comfortable tasting room) is located at Glenrothes. There are strong ties with blender and independent bottler Berry Brothers from London as well; they are the agents that market and sell the range of Glenrothes malt whiskies. Pretty successful too, it seems - perhaps partly due to the distinctive shape of the bottles.
The maturing malt whisky that's produced at Glenrothes is stored
in one of sixteen warehouses on the distillery grounds; twelve
of the traditional 'dunnage' type and four racked warehouses.
The nearby 'Rothes House' is a sight for sore eyes as well.
- Contrary to what I wrote earlier, Glenrothes
now also offers at least one 'regular' expression without vintages,
the 'Select Reserve'. If I'm not mistaken this was first released circa
2005. The 'Select Reserve' whisky from Glenrothes doesn't specify a
year of distillation or a year of bottling - and the label doesn't carry an
age statement either. Around the same time a 30 years old 'top of the
line' bottling was released as well. The maniacs that tried it were happy...
Is the distillery or