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, a 18yo, a 21yo, 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 Islay Distillery Co. (owners of Bunnahabhain)
to form the Highland Distillers Company Ltd. entity.
The capacity of Glenrothes was expanded in 1898 when they
doubled the number of stills from two to four. They added another
pair of stills in 1963, another pair in 1980 and yet another pair in 1989,
bringing the total to ten stills at the Glenrothes distillery.
The expansion of the number of stills was fairly steady.
This 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 huge 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 companies with their
brands Glenfiddich & Balvenie. In 1999 William Grant & Sons partnered up with the
Edrington Group to buy Highland Distillers Ltd. - 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 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 more modern racked warehouses. Another feature of the
distillery is the nearby 'Rothes House' - a sight for sore eyes as well.
CORRECTION - 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 Glenrothes distillery is located in the ‘Rothes’ area of Speyside, with
Caperdonich, Glen Grant, Glen Spey, Imperial and Macallan as its closest
neighbours, The distillery draws its water from the ‘Lady’s Well’ nearby.
The Rothes area can be found around the town by the same name in
Morayshire. The river Spey runs through the area and most distilleries
there are located on its banks or nearby.
1) The Cutty Sark logo is displayed prominently in the distillery
because the Glenrothes malt whisky is an important ingredient of the
blend. The Cutty Sark visitor centre (which includes a comfortable
tasting room) is also 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.
2) 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 near) 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,
4) 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 founded at the same time as Glenrothes.)
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!
5) When Berry Brothers acquired the Glenrothes brand, they gave Edrington the Cutty Sark brand in return.
"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."
3) 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.
6) 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.
2003 - 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.
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.
2014 - The Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve is released.
It is supposedly the very first Glenrothes bottling completely matured
in first fill sherry casks.
2017 - Edrington buys back the Glenrothes brand from Berry Bros.
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.
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 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 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.
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?
My own tasting notes for some expressions of Glenrothes malt whisky are collected on this distillery profile.
Those were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Glenrothes I've tried over the years, but the notes should
convey how I felt about those whiskies. However, these tasting notes only reflect my purely personal opinion.
Your tastes might be different from mine - so it would be prudent to check out some other opinions as well.
Serge Valentin’s Whiskyfun website offers tasting notes on thousands of whisky bottlings, including Glenrothes.
The Malt Maniacs Monitor provides opinions of several other aficionados on over 15,000 different whiskies.
But perhaps you'd like to read a little bit more about whisky in general or single malt Scotch whisky in particular?
In that case, you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky - 10 chapters filled with (almost)
everything you need to know in order to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky. Or, if you’d like
to dig a little deeper, the Whisky Lexicon offers more detailed information on a bunch of whisky-related topics.