Recently I was delighted to be invited up to The Glenrothes Distillery in Speyside to have a look around and enjoy a glass or two of their fine single malt whisky. Here’s how I got on.
Following a very early morning alarm call at 0400 I arrived at Aberdeen airport in good time and awaited the arrival of my hosts (Marcin Miller and Ronnie Cox) and fellow guests (Annabel Meikle, Christian Davis and Dave Worthington). We made our way through the heart of Dufftown and Speyside and arrived at our destination for the two days – Rothes House in Rothes. It is a gorgeous building with a rich history and Ronnie was delightful in sharing some of that with us, as well as showing us around the house.
Lunch was served; a wonderful homemade fish pie served with a exceptional Sauvignon Blanc from Dog Point (now I’m not usually a white wine drinker but I will be seeking this wine out – it’s available here from Berry Bro’s and Rudd) and a cheeseboard to follow – it was a great introduction to the hospitality that we would receive over the next couple of days.
Soon though, it was time to don our shoes and head out into the sunshine for the short woodland walk down to the distillery. We were in good hands and led around the site by the very affable Eric Jefferson.
Glenrothes distillery isn’t open to the public so it was a real treat to have complete access to the site for a couple of hours and to walk the length and breadth of the operation. We even stopped to see some of the old ‘defunct’ equipment that remains from the old distillery that is still onsite. This provided a really interesting comparison to the more modern machinery that was actually in operation.
There were a couple of particular hightlights to the tour. Firstly it was incredible to see the coopers in action – three of them at once. The effort and skill these guys possess certainly brings out the wow factor, especially when you see them spin the barrels to work on the other end. It is a real craft in action. Secondly, we were ushered into one of the dark and dank warehouse on site and after a brief introduction were able to try three different casks after drawing the whisky up ourselves. Two of the casks were sherried – and one, the 2006 was in a particularly active cask given the hue of the whisky. The final cask was from 1978 and was refined and dignified – a real dram to contemplate life over.
All too soon we were back into the sun to walk through the ‘distillery graveyard’ (which is also a Commonwealth war grave) for the walk back up to Rothes House. After a quick cuppa it was time to get down to business and Ronnie led us expertly through a great vertical of The Glenrothes.
Glenrothes New Make Spirit
Nose: Pineapple, pepper
Palate: Very hot, tropical, sugar and more fruit
Finish: A touch bitter
Glenrothes Alba Reserve [40%]
Nose: Vanilla, very floral – roses and jasmine, sugar, fresh gorse and bubblegum
Palate: Incredibly juicy and fruity, grass and summer meadows
Finish: Dry, bitter and long
Glenrothes Select Reserve [43%]
Contains whisky aged for between 8-15 years. Unusually for Glenrothes 50% of the whisky in this Reserve is from new sherry casks
Nose: Banana flambe, touch of black pepper and brown sugar, fruitcake mix smothered in orange marmalade
Palate: Sweet, sugar, touch of bitterness although this becomes more honeyed with water bring out more of the sugar
Finish: Long and drawn out
Glenrothes 2001 [Bottled 2013]
Nose: Fragrant, full of vanilla and cherry, strong lemon and other citrus notes
Palate: Fudge, a great mixture of butter and almond essence, Batten-burg cake
Finish: Short and sweet. Slight touch of bitterness
Glenrothes 1995 [Bottles 2012]
Nose: massive amount of vanilla, then a big dose honey followed by mellowed lemon and Demerara sugar
Palate: Plum jam, cherries, very fruity and a touch dry
Finish: Espresso -when you swirl the last dregs of espresso with the sugar in the bottom of the cup (with thanks to Annabel)
Glenrothes 1988 [Bottled 2011]
Nose: Fabulous. Full of deep sherry and red fruits, toffee
Palate: Red fruit, dark chocolate, cardamom, a touch cloying
Finish: Long and lifting
Our final task of the afternoon was to blend our own whisky. Six cask samples lay before us and we had to nose and taste before concocting our favourite combination to bottle. The whiskies were:
- Cask 3826 Refill  – Sweet, vanilla, bubblegum
- Cask 3827 Refill  – More bitter than Cask 3826
- Cask 19844 American Oak Second Fill  – Sweet, cherry and vanilla
- Cask 19701 American Oak Second Fill  – Harsher than Cask 19844 – not as rounded
- Cask 4500 Spanish Sherry  – Toffee, fudge, very overpowering
- Cask 5039 American Sherry  – Dry, fudge and toffee
I opted for a simple approach and opted for a 5/2 ratio of cask 3826 and cask 5039. Cask 5039 was to lift the base whisky and give it a subtle sherry edge; cask 4500 was too powerful to use in the blend (although delicious on its own!). After much measuring and pipette utilisation my creation was ready.
Glenrothes – Jon’s Blend
Nose: Lots of banana (too much?), vanilla and icing sugar and a good dose of lemon peel
Palate: Very hot – the front of the tongue dances with the spices, banana flambe, lemon twist. A very juicy dram
Finish: Long and a touch sour
After a quick visit to the Highlander Inn it was time for dinner. Again we were blessed with a magnificant three course meal, the highlights being homemade Beef Wellington and a simply divine sticky toffee pudding paired with The Glenrothes 1978.
The evening was far from over though. We headed outside to take our turns at the challenge of constructing a mini cask, attempting to use a venencia before we enjoyed a rather fine cigar with a drop of Berry’s Caribbean rum. Finally there was an opportunity to relax in front of the fire and simply savour the whisky that Ronnie brought out for us – The Glenrothes 25.
Glenrothes 25 [Bottled 2007]
Nose: Very dark and dusky with lots of chocolate. Closer examination allows the cirtus to be forced through. Tomato stems
Palate: Combination of cocoa and peppers. Becomes more citrus like before the flavours amalgamate into something close to Terry’s Chocolate Orange
Finish: Hot and spicey
Day Two was also a lot of fun, but I won’t spoil all of the surprises. I’ll just leave you with news that we scored 4 Quaich for breakfast – a very respectable score let down by the lack of floral decoration and inappropriate conversation. My breakfast negronis were a hit though – Boom!
A massive thank you to Ronnie and Marcin for the invite, company, hospitality and humour. It was a privilege to spend two days with you at the very heart of Rothes.