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.
I opened the Glenrothes 1978 last week as part of a club tasting I’d organised with a theme of 78’ vintages and 40 year olds. It sat amongst some historic and formidable competition. In this context – several drams into the evening, outside on a relatively warm (but at this point candlelit) night, tasted immediately after a 1966 12 year old Canadian Club Classic, and not rested nearly as much as it should be – the Rothes felt strangely unsatisfying. Quelle surprise.
I adore my club tasting evenings, but they’re no place for making detailed or even noteworthy observations. My whisky mind is always switched on, but I draw a very distinct mental line in the sand between drinking for thinking and drinking for pleasure. However, it’s hard to shake the initial thoughts about a whisky – so when I sat down to properly analyse the 78’ Glenrothes, I found that despite my best intentions, I was indeed approaching it with a predisposed opinion.
And that opinion was wrong.
The Glenrothes 1978 was the last of the 1970’s vintage bottlings to be released, following expressions from 1970 through to 1979. Only 1976 was omitted from this series at the time – subsequently being bottled in 2015 as four single casks expressions. The 1978 vintage came from a much larger number of barrels than these single cask – 5,600 bottles were released – so possibly anything up to 30 barrels. The spirit was distilled in November of 1978 (I was under three months old at the time) and then bottled in January of 2008 at 43%. The cask(s) are not indicated, but there’s certainly a high proportion of Rothes sherry in play here.
Nose: Pronounced sherry influence (jammy and heavily reduced red fruits and berries), but surprisingly energetic and fresh for nearly 30 years of maturation. Sweetness is immediately apparent with chocolate, wild honey and vanilla pods – they’re set against some typical sherry-led spicing – cinnamon, anise and ginger – quite prominent, concentrated and powerful. Spent coffee grounds and lacquered wood (a hint of age) are joined by intense nuttiness – walnut. In the background, some nuance – zesty lime peels, herbal tea and mint leaves. Resting brings out the inherent spiciness of the whisky even further – cloves and baking spices. These marry and lift the sweet, fresh sherry. The addition of water (a mere few drops) brings out aromas of baked cakes and biscuits – sponge fingers, coffee and walnut cake and digestives.
Taste: The arrival feels a touch underpowered at 43%, but it is still gooey and with plenty of texture – it seems to trickle and glide through the mouth rather than announcing itself with force. The flavours are well-rounded and sherry-focussed – creamy chocolate gateaux, rum-soaked raisins, figs and demerara sugar. They’re tempered by both light, tart citrus, and a building spice mix of pepper and cinnamon – starting with a tingle, but unravelling into an aromatic and peppy zing. Resting again offers benefits – ginger and cloves come to the fore alongside café latte and underlying earthiness. Reduced (be very careful here), stone fruits and gooseberries are introduced alongside further cake-like bouncy sponge.
Finish: Long and packed full of dusty aromatic spices, steeped tea and mint leaves.
Glenrothes 1978 is a quietly elegant and well-balanced sherry-forward whisky which favours spice as much as it does sweetness. There is little wood influence (and what there is, is well-integrated) and no perceptible tannic dryness. However, it’s very shy about its age – tasted blind you’d be hard pushed to peg this at nearly three decades old. There’s plenty of nuance here, but none of it really screams ‘old whisky’. And there’s the kicker – this whisky was expensive (around £250 back in 2008) and still is - northwards of £500 nowadays. Whilst you can (and I did) find it at auction for considerably less, none of these prices feel completely justified. Certainly high quality – and considerably better than my preliminary thoughts – but not quite into the upper echelons that the price tag would (and should) suggest.
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