In the Scotch whisky world, The Glenrothes (correct pronunciation: glen-ROTH-ess) is unusual to the point of being unique. It doesn’t offer age statements on its products, but rather vintage dates them from the point of distillation. You can figure out the age by reading the fine print — the typical Glenrothes vintage-dated whisky is 10 to 12 years old — but even that can be misleading. Why? Because Glenrothes is moved from the primary cask to a “neutral” holding cask before it is bottled, and it can sit in this holding cask for up to four additional years before going into glass.
Then there’s the glass, too. Glenrothes bottles are wholly unique, like little hand grenades. The squat bottles are actually inspired by whiskymakers’ sample vials.
Opened in 1879 and based in Speyside, the distillery has honed its house style to focus on four elements: Vanilla, citrus, spice, and fruit. It’s the fruit where Glenrothes has a lot of leeway: It can be dried and raisin-like, or tropical and banana-infused. This ensures, as I saw during a recent sampling of three Glenrothes whiskys, courtesy of brand ambassador Ross Hendry, that the “house style” has a lot of wiggle room. Comments follow.
The Glenrothes 1994 – Going out of circulation before the end of the year, this 86-proof whisky is light and citrusy, with warm sugar notes that mix well with a lemon/grapefruit character. Great balance here. Not too sweet. A- / $75
The Glenrothes 1998 – Remarkably different than the 1994. Wood notes are huge on the nose, but quieter on the palate. Vanilla is bigger, but that citrus character stands by as well. A lot hotter than the 1994, this “Carmen Miranda” whisky (Glenrothes’ term) features tropical fruit — that banana character is especially notable — and a racy, spicy finish. Really night and day vs. the 1994. 86 proof. B+ / $55
The Glenrothes “John Ramsay” Legacy Edition – Glenrothes malt master John Ramsay retired in 2009 after 43 years at the distillery, and this is his swan song. A blend of whiskys distilled between 1973 and 1987, it’s got more vanilla than any other Glenrothes I’ve tried, along with chocolate galore. Citrus and more banana are hinted at, especially in the finish, and you’ll even find some herbal character in there, too. Complex and enlightening. 93.4 proof. Just 1,400 bottles made. A / $1,000
Check out Glenrothes and dozens of other whiskeys at WhiskyFest San Francisco tonight! Hope to see you there. Say hello if you see me!