ABV: 50.7% Distillery: Glenrothes Bottler: The Waxhouse Whisky Company Region: SpeysideAge: 13
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?
Most distilleries like to claim a calling card profile - either derived from the facets of their make or moulded by the maturation of the casks that they have selected. But whilst enthusiasts will actively seek out new releases from their favoured distilleries, there is often a rigidity of thought in their expectations of whisky’s character. And a failure to meet these expectations can result in expressions being thought less of. Whilst the departure is sought out – its actual manifestation is somehow found wanting based on a presumed anticipation of how those whiskies are supposed to nose and taste.
Familiar, long-standing styles generate fans. But they can also close minds when things deviate too far from the expected.
Whisky, with its incredible breadth and depth will always tend towards comparison. Even on a basic level, a drinker will seek to compare dram ‘A’ to dram ‘B’ to discern which they like better. No need for any great analysis – just a pure personal preference. Human nature is inherently (and oft-times unfortunately) comparative and the deeper down the whisky rabbit hole you go, the more there is a tendency to draw from preconceptions to form long-standing opinions on the house styles of distilleries.
And this often extends beyond actual real-life experience. Spend any time in the digital whiskyverse and even without tasting it, you’re likely to have already absorbed an opinion on Jura.
It’s all too easy to get caught up into a perceived ‘purity’ of distillery character – an imagined framework which suggests that Ardbeg needs to be X levels of peaty; that Glenfarclas must possess Y amount of sherry influence and that only Z level of Clynelish waxiness is acceptable. But in framing all of whisky’s experience based around these presuppositions, we’re closing ourselves off to the possibilities that exist to explore the versatility of distillery styles.
If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got.
Comparisons – whether off the cuff and out of a tumbler, or undertaken in a more systematic approach are both all well and good – but always expecting the expected will only lead to a belief that all whiskies from a particular distillery can only excel when they’re composed in a specific manner. Possessing a house style doesn’t prohibit producing a house special.
Today’s review bottle comes from The Waxhouse Whisky Company in the form of their sophomore release. 2019’s Ruadh Maor (peated Glenturret) proved to be a highly successful maiden voyage into the world of wider released whisky club bottlings – an impressive amalgam of filthy peat, clean spirit and just a touch of sherried sweetness. Waxhouse’s 2020 follow-up (delayed somewhat because of challenges of present-day life) heads over to Rothes but dials up the sherry influence considerably. To a level where I’ll suggest that in terms of house style, it feels to me to be highly in tune with the distillery’s own revamped output which is increasingly pushing its focus onto 1st fill sherry seasoned casks.
Release 002 was distilled in May 2006 and fully matured in a 1st fill oloroso cask before being bottled in February of this year. 170 bottles have been produced at an ABV of 50.7%. They’re still (only just I believe) available directly from Waxhouse for £85.
Nose: Prominent and fresh oloroso with chocolate orange and macerated cherries sitting alongside fruit cake, chopped walnuts and dusty cinnamon. Time in the glass reveals deeper notes – amaretto biscuits, gingerbread men, caramel sauce and earthy asides of dunnage matured oak. Water reveals orange juice (with bits), together with bread and butter pudding – earthiness is amped up, whilst sherry spicing is reined in.
Taste: Plenty of body on the arrival which delivered a flavour-packed combination of dulce de leche, burnt honeycomb, flamed orange peels and stem ginger. The mid-palate heads caskwards with peppy spices – chilli, building pepper and residue cinnamon. In the back – melted chocolate buttons, spent coffee grounds and wood lacquer. Reduction expressed stewed orchard fruits and golden syrup alongside increased dry oakiness.
Finish: Medium to long with souring orange, liquorice, a touch of heat and lingering drying wood.
Waxhouse’s Glenrothes delivers on its promise of cavernous sherried depths. Lovers of heavily sherried things will likely find much to enjoy here - the oloroso cask has imbued the Rothes spirit with a wide array of rich, fruit-forward notes and an abundance of sympathetic, aromatic spices. However vigorous casks are often the double-edged sword – everything is delivered in profusion. And here there is an uneasy (though expected) tension between the spirit and the wood, particularly in the finish, where 13 years of active maturation has brought with it some rather sticky tannins - and dilution only exacerbates these further.
Review sample provided by The Waxhouse Whisky Company
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