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Monday, 19 August 2013

Holy Spirit? The Glenrothes Single Malt Scotch Whisky

There are certain single malts which just seem to have a presence about them and in the UK, one of those is The Glenrothes.

When I was first exploring single malts, this was a distillery which intrigued me for one reason and one reason alone: the packaging.

Let’s not underestimate the importance of packaging when it comes to any product, but particularly when it comes to single malt whisky.

A lot of focus and attention is placed on packaging these days, and quite rightly so. We live in an age where visuals and design are important. Over the last twenty years or so, here in the UK we have been introduced to cut-price Scandi-style by IKEA, who singlehandedly raised the bar with regard to the visual side of furnishing our homes, going some way to help us all to think about purchasing items that are not only useful, but beautiful too.

A 1980's Scotch bottle
In this time, packaging in the drinks industry has come a long way. From the utilitarian bottles found on 1980’s supermarket shelves (which now hold a retro-love-in vibe, but at the time were hardly pushing the envelope of creativity) to today’s offerings, housed in anything from a mock-Viking longship headstock to a leather suitcase, have raised the bar and helped to premiumise a product made simply from barley, water and yeast.

There is a common trend these days at the higher end of the whisky market, where the packaging will be more reflective of the price and, to be fair, if one is paying a high price for an expensive bottle you’d want all the added value you can get. It is only a tiny minority who will tweet or blog about an ultra-premium whisky and note that they “wish a couple of zeros could be knocked off the price if only they’d sold it in a plastic bottle instead of a giant wooden box”. The majority of us and, most importantly, the consumers who actually buy these products like, want and appreciate a level of packaging to match the liquid and the price tag.

However, at the lower end of the market, it is hard for a producer to justify any kind of lavish packaging. This does not mean standards have dropped with recent releases such as Jack Daniel’s White Rabbit and the consistently brilliant Nikka From The Barrel (with updated box design) showing what can be done at the bottom end, when style and design are thoroughly thought through.

And it was the packaging of The Glenrothes which really made me take notice, a few years ago. Where everyone else was either forgoing a box, or placing their product in a standard carton, the good people behind The Glenrothes created a square cardboard wrap around a beautifully dumpy (somewhat like myself) bottle, which was a total departure from any other Scotch whisky at the time.

Since then, the packaging has been restrained a little, with standard bottles now coming in a square, thick cardboard carton but the liquid remains on a consistent high.

Produced at the Glenrothes distillery in the village of Rothes, Speyside (and not be confused with Glenrothes, the town between Edinburgh and Perth where the Diageo-owned Cameronbridge grain distillery sits, churning out vodka, gins and whisky), the site produces around 5.5 million litres a year. The new owners of The Glenrothes single malt whisky is London-based wine and spirits merchant, Berry Brothers and Rudd (with the actually distillery remaining in the hands of the former brand owners, Edrington) who are slowly releasing vintage stocks, as well as a series of new ‘reserves’.

Let’s kick off with a vintage, to set the pace:

The Glenrothes – Vintage 2001 (bottled 2013) – 43% abv – 70cl - RRP £45

Nose: Crisp ginger snap biscuits, a little fresh butter, some woody spice, a little fresh orange zest and a lighter bourbon sweetness. 

Palate:  Slightly sweetened tannic breakfast tea, toasted marshmallows, maple syrup and more citrus orange. There’s a sprightliness about this, but it isn’t too twitchy - just the right amount of youthful playfulness, mixed with a sweeter oaky wisdom.

Finish:  Lingering notes of lemon juice, butterscotch and a hint of spice.

Overall: A classic ‘Rothes in the styling department.  If you enjoy Speyside whiskies on the lighter side, this will please you greatly.

Next up is a first for The Glenrothes, with a trio of whiskies to be released exclusively into the Global Travel Retail market, which is undisputedly a highly prized market in its own right – and one, which is clearly bulging at the seams with new whisky releases.  

The Manse Brae collection covers a range of ages and styles, with the no age statement entry point, Manse Reserve (named after the imposing house which sits above The Glenrothes distillery) coming in at £33 and delivering some youthful spirit tones, alongside wafts of fresh vanilla pods, a little dry sherry spiciness and some sweetened coffee earthiness on the back palate.  Its elder brother (funnily enough called the Elders’ Reserve)  weighs in at £80 and although still a no age statement, apparently has a minimum age of 18 years behind it – delivering richer, bonfire toffee notes, some espresso coffee bitterness, leading into a blast of charred Seville orange zest across the tongue.  

However, the pick of this jet set travelling party is the Minster’s Reserve, weighing in at £115, we’re told it the youngest whisky in the mix is 21 years old (at the time of writing) but it carries a No Age Statement on the label.

The Glenrothes – Minister’s Reserve – Global Travel Retail only – 43% abv – 70cl - RRP £115

Nose: Well aged with blackcurrant, toffee apple and Battenberg cake. Some walnut and menthol tones.

Palate: A big, meaty hit of BBQ pork and buffalo wings, followed with a slice of oak, some vanilla and milk chocolate. Golden syrup hit the front of the palate with tropical fruits leaving a juicy-fruit nature at the back. Lemon and lime.

Finish: zesty, yet aged. There is a good element of upside down cake and some light spice.

Overall: Not quite the Holy Spirit, but I’ll pray for some more (if the Angles’ will leave it behind).

Okay, you should never judge a  book by its cover and in the same way you should never judge a whisky by its box. Or its age. Or its price. But this is good stuff. Enjoy.