Taste Review #89 – Glenrothes 8 Old vs New.
Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown was built on seven stills.anon
When you are asked to think of where the powerhouse of the Speyside whisky industry, Dufftown is an obvious choice. There has been 9 distilleries founded in Dufftown. From the short lived Pittyvaich and Parkmore, through to Glenfiddich, Dufftown, Convalmore, Glendullan, Mortlach, Balvenie and Kininvie. What other village can be thought of as a centre of whisky production? While there is a pocket of distilleries to the south of Aberlour – Glenallachie, Benrinnes, Allt-a-Bhaine, Dailuaine and Dalmunach, but they aren’t in a village. You have to look further north to the Speyside village of Rothes, which once was home to 4 distilleries with one on the outskirts.
Rothes is a small village in Moray, some ten miles south of Elgin. It has a population of around 1400 people. It has 4 operational distilleries, three of which have the prefix ‘Glen’ – Glen Grant, Glen Spey and the distillery I will focus on today, Glenrothes. Of course, we can’t forget Speyburn on the north side of the village. There was another distillery, Caperdonich which closed in May 2002, and was demolished in 2011. The site was taken over by Forsyths, the company responsible for many a malt distillery still and equipment. Almost like a whisky circle of life.
The Glenrothes Distillery started operation in 1879 before the large boom that was to come around 15 years later. The initial investors, all of whom owned the Macallan distillery at the time. James Stewart had obtained the lease of Macallan and rebuilt the distillery in 1868, only selling it to Roderick Kemp in 1892. James Stewart eventually split from the group building Glenrothes, who continued with the plan to build the distillery.
In 1884 it changes its name to Glenrothes-Glenlivet, which was a cheeky way of riding on the coat tails of the original Glenlivet distillery, such was its renown. Rothes is nowhere near Glenlivet, but that didn’t stop them or others from this practice. By 1887 they merged with the owners of Bunnahabhain distillery to form Highland Distillers. This in turn became part of Edrington, the current owners of the distillery. However for 7 years the brand was owned by Berry Bros. (2010- 2017), and it is one of these vintages we will be trying today.
In fact, the distillery in the village with three ‘Glens’ has supplied us with three drams and a bit of drama. First up is an old style Glenrothes bottled by Gordon & Macphail. It is an 8 year old spirit at 70 Proof. This is 40% ABV. The requirement to have the strength in percent originated in 1980, but this bottle does not have the volume on it. I estimate this bottle to be from the 1970’s.
Whisky 2 is at the other end of the scale. It is an independent bottling from the Malt Whisky Co. also at 8 years old, distilled in 2007. This is the other end of the scale at 64.1%.
Lastly for a sense of balance, I’ve got a 1998 Glenrothes, bottled in 2012, so will be approximately 14 years old at 43%. I’m hoping that this will indicate if the newer whisky is any better, taking into account the maturation age difference.
While I am not directly comparing like for like, it is a good excuse to open an old bottle and a new bottle and thus experience a little whisky history.
Glenrothes 8 y.o est. 1970’s
Region – Speyside Age – 8y.o Strength – 70 proof (40%) Colour -Mahogany (1.6) Cask Type –not known Colouring – Yes Chill Filtered – not known. Nose – Solventy. Malt, Citrus, dried fruit, red apple peel, weetabix, chocolate Palate – Oily mouthfeel. Highly doubt this has been chill filtered. Malty, honey, slightly floral, hint of lemon. Spicy, nutmeg and a hint of cinnamon Finish – medium long. Spicy notes continue, honey and light sulphur towards the end. 2ml of water accentuated the spice and shortened the finish with slightly less sulphur.
Glenrothes 8 y.o 2007
Region -Speyside Age – 8 y.o Strength – 64.1% Colour – chestnut Oloroso (Cask Type – not known Colouring – No Chill Filtered – No Nose – Like a Sherry laden trifle. I’m no Sherry expert but that’s what it reminded me of. Chocolate, Coffee, Raisins, Butterscotch Angel Delight. Palate – Chocolate, cinnamon buns, raisins, a hint of tobacco, caramel. Very spirit forward, not a lot of wood influence at all. A bit of a bite from the spirit on the tongue. Water added a cereal note, like eating cornflakes dry from the packet. Finish – the chocolate butterscotch combo continues into a short and relatively disappointing finish. However adding water shortens the sweet portion and increases the spicy blast at the end. Chilli chocolate springs to mind. After falling asleep in my armchair and waking up with half a nip left, there was a more balanced and less fiery finish, with the flavours returning to coffee and chocolate.
Region – Speyside Age – vintage, approx 8 y.o Strength – 43% Colour – Tawny (1.4) Cask Type -not known Colouring – No. Chill Filtered – Not known Nose – Milky Tea, slightly sweet, butterscotch, vanilla, apricot. Palate – honey, fudge, the cinnamon, nutmeg, peppery spices dominate, slightly oily mouthfeel which turns dry. Water allowed a cereal note followed by caramel to show through Finish – medium. Spices carry over and fade into honey again with a hint of liquorice. A hint of plantain too. Sweetness increases and spices decreased when water added
It’s impossible to directly compare all these drams directly and I’m not going to try. However there can be a slight comparison between the 1998 vintage and the 1970’s bottle, despite the difference in age. With a massive difference in abv, there is no way I can use the 2007 sample as a comparison, other than a taste of a spirit from the same distillery.
Initially I didn’t expect much from the older dram. There was considerable contamination on the seal, some evaporation and a tell tale old bottle smell. Once poured into the glass, there was a sign of sediment. Now, this is likely to have been from the cap, so I went through the procedure I use if cork has accidentally gone into the spirit. I filter the spirit using a coffee filter paper, funnel and clean glass. I meant to put the glass into the wash but absent-mindedly put the 2007 dram into the dirty glass. Repeat of process and a clean glass required.
I’d read somewhere that Glenrothes can take an while to open up in the glass, so I gave the 8 year old 30 mins, there was a reduction in old bottle aroma, and I was genuinely surprised by how tasty it was. Nothing spectacular by any means, but it has a bit of bite.
The closest competitor in this line up was the 1998 / 14 year old. It however didn’t have the same bite, and while it had more complexity, I felt it a little bit insipid in comparison. However it’s a 10cl bottle and I have more opportunity to get to know this bottle.
The 8 year old from 2007 was fantastic. It had an instantly impressive nose, an equally impressive palate, although I felt the finish a little bit disappointing. However if this was available, I’d easily buy a bottle. In fact in a conversation with a fellow WhiskyTwitterite, I asked if it was better to have loved and lost or never loved at all, as if I’d never tasted this, I wouldn’t have the regret of not being able to buy more.
To be honest, despite old bottle effect, the older dram wins, as it was the one I felt more comfortable with, but if we allowed the 2007 to be considered, it would be the winner.
It’s a narrow win for the older bottle.
Yours in Spirits
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All Photos – Authors Own