Halloween eh? I’d refraining from saying when I was a lad right about now, but how commercial has the 31st October become in recent times? Frankly, the whole thing has gone supernova as an opportunity to sell tasteless treats, bad jokes and outfits made from horrendous materials that only Mark would wear at any other time of the year.
Does it come as any surprise that a distillery, or brand, would look to take the opportunity of such an date, to produce a limited expression? I doubt you’re surprised and arguably why haven’t others done the same as Edrington? What says Halloween more than opening a potentially abomination of a whisky, full of ghastly flavours and with an unpleasant mouthfeel?
The new Glenrothes Soleo Collection launch didn’t go down very well here. Common trends of paying more for less, are not exclusive to Glenrothes or Edrington. We’ve seen several launches or re-launches this year with the exact same issues. Other ranges offered a glimmer of hope but my lasting memory of the core expressions for the Glenrothes was a suffocating mundane theme. Yeah, I don’t like the bottle shape, but then again, I can say the same thing about the Signatory cask strength or several American whiskies I’ve sat down with this year. Such a preference doesn’t matter whatsoever and the liquid is king, or key, and in the case of Rothes, it was sadly missing.
Were those scores wide of the mark? I think don’t think so and given 8 months have passed without a fake account, or pro-industry commentator putting across their point of view, underlines the fact. Glenrothes can and should do better. I’ve had plenty of good (if not exceptional) independent releases and the single casks from the bygone official vintages could be marvellous at times.
The easiest thing would be to lambast Edrington for taking advantage of a pagan festival to release something of ill repute from its inventory. Priced for a quick profit and pushed into an eager market, keen to purchase limited editions to sell on. Honestly, I did consider such points. But let’s consider another perspective. Edrington are here for profit and are driven relentlessly by this. Yet for fans of Glenrothes, this release allows them to experience something that might not have seen the light of day. Call it a botched experimentation, a master blenders folly, or whatever. Halloween under the cover of night, offers that opportunity to unlock the crypt and see what steps out.
The bottle itself sold out within a day, proving there is an appetite for such a thing. This 13-year-old was matured initially in ex-bourbon and ex-sherry casks with the twist coming from an unspecified duration in ex-peated casks.
This particular bottle was opened at a special Glasgow event (thanks Scott) with a host of other generous donations. Before spending an evening behind the bar, a few of us tried the Glenrothes Halloween release and weren’t impressed. I’m glad of this because sometimes you do wonder if you’re way off and out of synch with others. But the comments from my fellow bar workers that evening were well within the realms of my own impressions. In addition, after serving various whiskies throughout the evening, I don’t recall anyone actually having anything good to say about the Glenrothes.
We scored the Highland Park 12 bottom in the blind tasting challenge that evening. I’d wager that if this Halloween incarnation was within the line-up, the Vikings would have been victorious. However, that was not the time or place to really sit down with the Glenrothes. Regardless of what you think about me personally, my views or actions; I always give the whisky a fair opportunity. So armed with a 5cl sample, I returned home to a more controlled environment at a later date, to unearth some hope.
The details from Glenrothes are that this is ‘matured in both sherry and bourbon seasoned casks, finished in peated casks’ and is naturally coloured. The outturn of 5000 bottles was bottled at 46.6% strength and is now making its guest appearence at an auction near you.
Glenrothes Halloween Edition 2019 – review
Colour: dried reeds.
On the nose: a gentle earthiness mixes with porridge and dried oranges. These are the dominant aromas and what’s beneath takes more work to unearth. Apple slices, pine cones, vanilla custard with white pepper and apricot. Water reveals caramel, cardboard and milk chocolate.
In the mouth: a murky peat it must be said with black pepper and memories of licking a used blackboard. Stale white bread, a bitter dark chocolate on the finish and the sense that this experiment is off. Returning, more smoke and cask char and I felt water wasn’t hugely beneficial; just revealing vegetative peat.
New things and experimentation should always be encouraged in whisky, regardless of the outcome. For years we’ve had the rhetoric about – for instance – filling strength, or the classic regarding the wood and flavour. Now we’re seeing distilleries and distillers challenging such accepted beliefs. This Glenrothes isn’t as maverick by a long stretch, but it does answer the question what would happen if peat was brought into the equation.
While its far from a success, at least we have the answer now and therefore knowledge. The nose is passable, but the real decay sets in on the palate. My impression is that a gentler peat would have been preferable and beneficial. It feels too robust and is deployed with a clumsy, half-hearted, bludgeoning and contemptuous approach. This comes through in the whisky itself; loud and clear.
The cynic within believes that Edrington just briefly finished some maturing stock to enable this release. Knowing full well that many bottles would not be opened in today’s climate and would form the basis of future Halloween releases; of which I’m sure there will be many. Given the proximity of the distillery to the Rothes graveyard, one can only expect more creatures of the night in bottle form. Hopefully, we’ll receive a Lon Chaney effort in 2020.
This bottle was kindly opened at a bring your own event in Glasgow. A sample was taken to review for MALT. My thanks to @whiskyanddonuts for the sunkissed photograph.