Glenrothes is one of the largest Scotch whisky distilleries in the Speyside region of Scotland. It is located within the town of Rothes and has a capacity of approximately 5.5 million litres per year. The distillery was founded in 1878 by Stuart & Co and despite its size Glenrothes remains fairly unknown to the wider whisky consumer. The main reason for this could be that the current owners, Berry Brothers & Rudd in conjunction with the Edrington Group, use a majority of the whisky produced at Glenrothes in their flagship blends of Famous Grouse and Cutty Sark. However, they are continuing to grow the range of Glenrothes single malts and sales are increasing rapidly.
Matt was recently invited to Glenrothes distillery and took part in a tutored tasting of the Glenrothes range which was hosted by Ronnie Cox (pictured, below), the legendary Brands Heritage Director for Berry Brothers & Rudd. To read his review of the Glenrothes distillery visit - click here.
The tasting with Ronnie was a marathon one and very educational. It very quickly became informal, as he explained about the nuances of tasting whisky correctly and about Glenrothes. The main point covered the reasoning as to why Glenrothes single malts have years or 'vintages' named on the label, rather than the more traditional age statements (12 years old etc). This was due to Berry Brothers' wine background where vintages are commonly used and they wanted their whiskies to reflect this.
The idea was to create whiskies for different moods and the core range always has four such vintages present at any one point. The vintages create a point of difference with Glenrothes single malts from its competitors and allows them to release whisky when they feel it is in its prime, rather than having to wait for the whisky to reach one of the traditional age statements such as 15 or 18 years of age. Berry Brothers were the first whisky producers to do this and now others, such as Balblair, have followed suit. Other distilleries have also now released vintages but mostly in limited editions or single cask bottlings.
The tasting with Ronnie Cox was held in The Inner Sanctum, a specially designed tasting room in the heart of the distillery. All of the furniture has been hand designed and uses elements of the whisky making process as inspiration. The centrepiece is the large circular tasting table (pictured, left)that has a revolving centre upon which the various expressions of Glenrothes are placed. Matt's tasting notes are listed below and the chance to taste them side-by-side with Ronnie, was an excellent experience.
Glenrothes new make spirit
This is clear with a slight yellow hue and the nose is fresh and zesty (imagine lemons). On the palate, it remains fresh and zingy but with plenty of fresh green fruits (think of pears and apples), some vanilla and a hint of hot spicy chilli. The finish is short and sharp with cereal grains becoming evident. Very interesting to try, as it shows the starting point of all of the whiskies tasted below and how the spirit evolves.
The colour is golden yellow and the nose is very fresh, zesty (think of lemon) and elegant. On the palate, this whisky is soft and richer than the nose suggests with plenty of fresh vanilla, toffee, honey and lemon zest present. It is very, very easy drinking and pleasant with hints of cinnamon spice and further vanilla (imagine vanilla ice cream) coming through. The finish is again longer than expected and full of oak, honey and vanilla with a distinct lemon zest note adding an interesting tang right at the end. Would be great as an aperitif.
The colour is a dark golden amber and the nose is rich with aromas of dried fruits (think of raisins especially), caramel, honey, white chocolate and malty cereals. The initial palate is oaky and feels thick and syrupy in the mouth. The sweetness is reminiscent of butterscotch and an interesting fruity note comes through (imagine peaches), as does a distinct hint of spiced orange. The finish is warm with baking spices (nutmeg and cinnamon especially) and the orange and raisin notes.
This whisky is golden amber in colour and the nose is complex and full of expressive aromas - dried fruits (imagine raisins and sultanas), wood spices (think of cinnamon and nutmeg), honey, vanilla marzipan and toasted nuts (especially almonds). The overall feeling is reminiscent of rich Xmas cake. The palate is balanced and has great depth. A distinct molasses/treacle note is then joined by those from the nose - the dried fruits, spices, honey, vanilla, nuts. It becomes spicier with time, with cinnamon particularly prominent. The balance between sweet and spice is fantastic. The finish is long and warming with a hint of spiced oranges added in to the mix. An absolute cracker of a whisky and my favourite of the day!
This is a fascinating whisky that is golden brown in colour. The nose has a delicious mix of aromas - dried tropical fruits (think of mango and peach), raisins, toffee, cinnamon sticks, ginger and something floral (imagine jasmine). This feels thinner than expected on the palate but combines the aforementioned notes with some further spices (think of nutmeg and cloves), sandalwood, malty cereal grains and spiced orange peel. The finish is very soft and rounded and last for ages, with the wood spices adding pleasant dryness right at the end.
This whisky is no longer available but Ronnie recommended that we tried it anyway. He is a man of good taste! The colour is dark amber and the nose is punchy, with woody spices (think of cedarwood, cinnamon and mahogany), caramel, plenty of dried fruits (imagine raisins, sultanas and candied orange peel) and vanilla all prominent. On the palate, these are all present as is a refreshing fruity peach-like note. Orange oil and further cedarwood come through to create a complex balance. The finish is long and warming. It starts fruity before becoming drier.
Glenrothes Alba Reserve
The name comes from the Latin name for American oak, which is Quercus Alba. It is the only Glenrothes single malt that is matured 100% in American oak casks and is made up of different ages of whisky and therefore carries no vintage. Alba Reserve is currently only available in the USA and is one of the few certified Kosher whiskies available on the market. It has a light golden colour and a fresh, delicate nose. There are elegant notes of honey, vanilla, coconut, cereals and citrus zest present. These are repeated on the palate, which remains fresh and balanced. The finish is crisp, with the vanilla and coconut prominent and just a hint of cinnamon spice. This would be great as an aperitif whisky.
Glenrothes Robur Reserve
The name for this one come from the Latin for European oak - Quercus Robur. This whisky contains the highest percentage of European oak (ex-sherry) cask matured spirit of any Glenrothes single malt and is exclusive to the Duty Free/travel retail market. The colour is a reddish amber and the nose is packed with aromas of sultana, toffee and baking spices (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg). The palate is milder than the nose suggested but has a good level of richness with the notes from the nose repeated, but more muted. Add in some vanilla oakiness and dried orange peel. The finish is lovely with the toffee particularly prominent.
Glenrothes John Ramsay
This is an extra special whisky that is limited edition and currently selling for close to £1000 a bottle! It is released to celebrate the work of Glenrothes' legendary Malt Master John Ramsey, who retired after 18 years of service. The whisky is created from different ages of Glenrothes vintages ranging from 1973 to 1987, each one selected by Ramsey. The whisky is amber in colour and very subtle on the nose, although more notes are evident with time - vanilla, dried fruits (especially sultana), malty cereals, toffee and tropical mango and peach. The palate is rich, creamy and very malty, with additional warm spices coming through (think of cinnamon and nutmeg). The finish is well balanced with toffee, spices and cereals. A fantastic dram and it was a privilege to try it.
> Please note that all the whiskies are bottled at 43% ABV, with the exception of the Alba Reserve at 40% ABV and the John Ramsey at 46.7% ABV.