The Glenrothes distillery has always been prized by blenders for their requirements. Often a surprisingly complex and tasty whisky, its fruity qualities are often overlooked in favour of the bludgeon of a sherry cask. In recent times the distillery has favoured this type of cask or a wine exponent when it comes to official and independent releases.
The sherry monsters of this world often stem from Glenrothes or at least a sizeable component from the massed ranks. I’ve found it too easy to dismiss whiskies from this distillery as not being to my own preferences; more wood-driven and uncouth. The awful official bottle shape as well doesn’t help my own preconceptions. Then the confusion around ownership and direction. History shows us that a distillery needs leadership and a settled ownership. Chopping and changing encourages disunity and confusion, new directions and possible fads. To onlookers, this haphazard nature comes across in the whisky itself and now that Glenrothes has returned to the Edrington fold in 2017, it’ll be interesting to see how it is deployed going forward. With both Highland Park and Macallan chasing the bling markets, trophy collectors and Norse history buffs, Glenturret was deemed surplus to requirements and put out to pasture. What awaits Glenrothes?
When reviewing these things for MALT we follow what’s on the label and occasionally Cadenhead’s will bottle a familiar name alongside the Glenlivet suffix. The use of this is an interesting historical legacy and is slowly becoming an oddity and a rarity. Eventually, you’d presume it’ll be consigned to the whisky history books like so many other things. When Alfred Barnard visited the distillery during his epic tour of Scottish producers, he referred to the whisky as the Glen Rothes Glenlivet and being a Pure Highland Malt. When intended for the blended market, the end result was bottled as a blended Glenlivet.
Such was the appeal and popularity of whisky from George Smith’s Glenlivet that it attracted the attention of rival distillers. George was never one to shy from confrontation or a fight and fiercely defended his distillery and the name. Going so far as to trademark Glenlivet in 1870 as an attempt to force an industry change and retain transparency for consumers. The Smith’s unleashed their lawyers – whom it must be said had a field day – and racked up an almighty legal bill. In the end, their actions changed very little in the marketplace. If anything you could debate whether it accelerated the use of the suffix amongst irate rivals.
Eventually, both sides decided to resolve the matter and reach a much-needed compromise perhaps to the horror of their lawyers. For consumers and producers going forward, there would only be one whisky called The Glenlivet and that is still the case today. However, the use of a hyphenated name was not banned or even infringes on the trademark itself. The tradition has endured for the very reason that many distilleries were established with this additional name and why should they change their history? Hence why you may still see -Glenlivet attached to a distillery or an independent release.
I mentioned earlier preconceptions around the Glenrothes and my lack of fondness in general for bottles from this distillery. This is slowly changing with releases such as the rather enchanting Abbey Whisky Glenrothes 2006 10th Anniversary release, or even the classic sherry influence in the Cadenhead’s Glenrothes-Glenlivet 1996 for Club members. Part of the appeal with this release is the prospect of a different type of cask that lets us see a different side of Glenrothes. No heavy sherry or wine influence, instead a bit more subtle ex-bourbon style and fruit will come through.
This was exclusively bottled for the Nectar of Belgium. Distilled in 1996 before being bottled in 2017 at 21 years of age, resulting in an outturn of 330 bottles at 51% strength. Mostly destined for Belgium unsurprisingly, you may find the odd bottle in a Cadenhead’s shop, online or via the secondary market if you wish to track it down.
Cadenhead’s Glenrothes-Glenlivet 1996 – review
Colour: An early sunrise
On the nose: A very sugary arrival, white sugar cubes assisted by apple peel, pear drops and a vanilla vibe from the cask. There’s a sense of density beneath this a compact and weighty feel some milk chocolate flakes, camphor and honeycomb. Gentle characteristics of vanilla sponge, tea leaves, syrup, lemon peel all drift leisurely by. A sense of dryness from talcum powder, a new pencil case and a slight spent candle waxiness; interesting. Water reveals more spices with a timid cinnamon, Crayola crayons and cardboard nature.
In the mouth: A real burst of fruit, a citrus zing that catches you off guard. A very good cask here and a lovely arrival with barley sweets, pear and cask char. A slight dirtiness as well before the cask takes control midway giving us old cork and Madeira cake before a feinty flourish with varnish. A light caramel and white pepper on the finish. Adding water just simmers down everything a notch. Making things still pleasurable and a little more waxy and fruity.
I expect I could put this into a tasting blind and folk would think it was a Clynelish. The word Glenrothes would never even feature on their lips but it is a bit of a wake-up call. Underlining the fact that we should try the casks you don’t expect from a certain distillery. The ex-bourbon HighlandPark, Benrinnes, Mortlach etc. These Belgians have an excellent football team, make good beer and clearly can pick a cask.
My thanks to Cadenhead’s Edinburgh for the sample of this whisky.