People pay a lot of attention to figures – bottle ages, PPM levels – surely the bigger the number, the better the liquid? The same is often true of ABV levels – I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve seen a review of a bottle with a footnote claiming that the release would have been superior with a higher level of alcoholic content. Possibly true – but in my mind, not always. The reasons why bottlers chose a particular ABV to bottle are not always as simple as you might think – there’s a raft of factors from the target market, considered profile of the liquid, spirit tax to pay, and resultant cask yield. ABVs are rarely, if ever, simply plucked from the sky.
Sometimes change can be a bitter pill to swallow – a beloved bottle discontinued, a change in cask compositions away from a particular profile or a patently ugly rebranding. Glenrothes’s 2018 brand overhaul from vintages to age statements is perhaps one of the more curious recent upheavals. Whilst new (old) owners Edrington likely wanted to bring Glenrothes’s market proposition in to line with their other two distilleries (Macallan and Highland Park), in doing so, they’ve removed the distillery’s point of difference. The new ‘Soleo Collection’ has kept the recognisable hand grenade shaped glassware, but has forsaken uniqueness for conformity.
In May of 2017, The Glenrothes was bought back by its previous owner Edrington. Berry Brothers & Rudd had owned the brand since 2010, when a deal was struck with Edrington which included the sale of the popular, high volume blend Cutty Sark. Fast forward to the end of 2017 and Edrington are already doing exactly what they intended – fast-tracking the distillery’s output into single malt production to raise its visibility and sales growth worldwide.
Brand identity is about much more than a well-recognised logo. It’s about how a company looks, sounds and behaves. It’s about ensuring a high level consumer clarity about what makes a company and its products different, trustworthy and appealing. In the case of the 2018 Glenrothes brand overhaul, owners Edrington have to my mind given themselves a new mountain to climb. Whilst the change from age statements to vintages aligns Glenrothes with Edrington’s two other distilleries, and makes stock easier to manager over the long term, at the same time, it presents a challenge to communicate to new and existing consumers what is actually unique about distillery’s whisky.
Speyside distillery Glenrothes produces a veritable cornucopia of bottlings under their ‘Reserve’ brand. Currently there’s a dozen bottlings listed on their website covering a wide range of ages, wood types, styles and price points. Several of these have been produced exclusive for travel retail. The distillery’s first foray into the sometimes anomalous travel retail world came in 2013 with the launch of the Manse Brae collection. A trio of bottlings formed the collection - Manse Reserve (NAS), Elders’ Reserve (18 year old) and Minister’s Reserve (21 year old). These were joined a few years later by Ancestor’s Reserve (25 year old).
Rothes is currently home to four distilleries – Glen Grant, Glen Spey, Speyburn and Glenrothes. Caperdonich was also located in the town, but was mothballed in 2002 and sadly demolished in 2010. Glenrothes was founded in 1878 and its amalgamation with Bunnahabhain on Islay brought ‘Highland Distillers’ into existence. Its production capacity increased in the 1960’s with the addition of an additional pair of stills (taking the total to six). In 2010, owners Berry Bros & Rudd sold their Cutty Sark blended whisky brand to Erdington in exchange for the ownership of Glenrothes. Early this year, Edrington bought the distillery back from Berry’s with new plans to increase the distilleries penetration in to the international markets for single malt.
I take reviewing quite seriously. Nine times out of ten (insofar that it’s possible), I use the same glass, in the same seat, with same pen at the same time of day. There are so many variables when it comes to tasting - I try to minimise the ones I can. The weather and my mood alas, are much harder to predict and control. As such, sometimes when I taste a whisky in a different (casual, non-reviewing) environment, I’m highly aware that my initial interaction can sometimes set unrealistic or distorted expectations for a review session taking place at a later date. It’s always all a matter of opinion, but I endeavour to ensure mine at least possesses a consistent context.
There’s a number of amusing distilleries in Rothes – at one point in time I was in the area with a group of whisky nerds intending to visit four of the town’s booze factories within the space of a single afternoon. But that fell through, and so we all ended up drinking in a park whilst throwing giant plastic hoops at Angus’s face whilst he sat wearing a giant rubber salmon head. True story.
Over to Glenrothes for a full-term 1st full sherry butt maturation. Interestingly this has maintained a very high ABV despite its 12 years of age.
This Glenrothes was matured for 20 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead and then re-racked into a 2nd fill hogshead that had been subjected to a heavy toast and medium char. Spicy & Sweet profile.
Decently aged Glenrothes with a double sherry treatment – first, 19 years in an ex-oloroso butt, then a finishing period in 2nd fill Pedro Ximenez.
This month’s black bottle comes courtesy of Glenrothes with an expression that has spent 21 years in an ex-bourbon hogshead before being re-racked into a Spanish oak PX hogshead for an addition three years of maturation. The ABV is notably still rather high here.
The familiarity of certain whiskies can be a reassurance. An ever-dependable dram of known quality and understood character. There are countless ‘house styles’ that after a period of drinking become recognisable to the drinker. And they can offer a sense of comforting consistency. But equally, as the saying goes – familiarity can breed contempt. At what point are your palate and your mind fatigued to a level that a divergence from these norms is actively sought? Or indeed are house styles a measure by which all expressions can, and should, be evaluated against?
The ‘middle’ offering of the Founder’s Collection gives us a whack of sherry in the form of a 12 year old Glenrothes which has spent its life in 1st fill butt #6147. 670 bottles have been produced - which is rather a lot (469L) from a single butt assuming a standard size of 500 litres. The ABV of this one has been kept higher – 57% and you can purchase a bottle directly from the Baron’s website for a cool £100.