The packaging for The Glenrothes is simply beautiful.
From the minimalist shape of the bottle, to the hand-written label (reminiscent of a sample bottle), to the simple, yet functional "frame" presentation case – when you see The Glenrothes, you know you are in for something special.
A little background
The founders of the distillery in 1878 included James Stuart who was at that time the owner of the Macallan-Glenlivet distillery; Unfortunately the company went bankrupt in the midst of construction, but was rescued and completed with a £600.00 loan from the United Presbyterian Church at neighboring Knockando.
The distillery was acquired by Highland Distillers in 1887, and changed hands again in 1999 when the Highland Distillers group was purchased by the Edrington Group for £601 million.
About the expressions
Launched as a Vintage Single Malt in 1994, following five years as a 12 year old, this single malt is currently available only in several vintage editions*:
- 1992 [$65]
- 1987 [$85]
- 1984 [$100]
- 1972 [$220]
Other vintages that have run out, but which you may be able to find, are 1989, 1979, and 1973, as well as a limited supply of Single Cask Special Editions from 1966 & 1967. In all, only five single casks have ever been released: 2-1966, 2-1967 and 1-1980.
Three more single casks of 1979 will be released in 2006 to celebrate the centenary of the founding of the distillery.
Ronnie Cox, Director for the Glenrothes, says that there’s no such thing as explaining the selection of a vintage edition "in a nut-shell." He is absolutely correct – the only way to understand The Glenrothes vintage concept is to try The Glenrothes vintages. But later on, I talk with Ronnie, and he does a great job of explaining the Glenrothes vintage approach.
In the Blend
A good portion of the Glenrothes production is used for blends — only about 2% of total production makes it into that distinctive bottle. Traditionally, Glenrothes was only available as part of a blend – the Glenrothes is the principal malt in Cutty Sark as well as The Famous Grouse and also makes it into a number of non-Edrington blends.
Adventures in Distribution in Scotch-land
Here’s a little insight into the complexity of the Scotch whisky industry and the various partnerships:
In 1997, Edrington and Berry Brothers & Rudd created ‘Cutty Sark International’ (CSI), a 50:50 combined venture: Edrington doing the distilling and bottling and Berry Bros the brand owner of Cutty Sark. No cross-shareholding – just an excellent partnership between these two fiercely independent private companies who compete in a world of multi-nationals.
CSI is responsible for the marketing of the Cutty Sark range as well as the development and marketing of the Glenrothes Vintage single malt, while Edrington remains responsible for the production.
The Glenrothes brand name is owned by Edrington, marketed world-wide by CSI and imported into the US by Skyy Spirits and NOT RemyUSA (which distributes three of the four primary Edrington products: Highland Park, The Famous Grouse, and The Macallan, as well as JMR Easy Drinking Whisky. Edrington also owns Glenturret and Tamdhu).
The connections are complicated, but it’s all part of why I find this industry so fascinating.
Tell me more
The Glenrothes is a working distillery that is not open to the public, meaning no gift shops or tours (except for (ahem) special individuals) – they focus on production.
You just don’t hear a lot about the Distillery or the product, except among people who know some damn fine Scotch when they taste it. I wondered why this is, so I sat down with the Director for the Glenrothes, Ronnie Cox, and Alexis Pagis, Brand Manager:
KE – Why did you move to vintage bottlings?
RC- In 1993, we were looking for a unique approach and our 300 year association with the fine wine business set us thinking. Why should flavour consistency in Scotch Whisky be rule No 1? Doesn’t each Wine Vintage have a different personality? By its very nature, matured malt whisky is always inconsistent because oak wood has a maverick nature. Wouldn’t it be fun to make a virtue out of this fact? As some of our friends like the big, rich style and others the lighter, refreshing flavour, the idea was born. All would share the same heritage in the form of its character but each with a differing personality. Complicated, perhaps, but interesting and fun. So we changed from the solid, safe, good and consistent Glenrothes 12 years old to the "best of the best" concept, unashamedly luxurious.
It is important to explain the Vintage concept – Each expression represents the personality from one particular year’s distillation but demonstrating the true character of The Glenrothes distillery – the four flavour cornerstones of The Glenrothes being fruits, citrus, spices, vanillas with the four characteristics of depth, creamy texture, delivery (of aroma promise) and balance.
Each Vintage would be different from all others using the two dimensions of cask types and age. Whiskies would be chosen only when deemed to be exceptional and good enough to represent the distillery. Each Vintage would be, of course, finite. Most, and particularly the older ones, are low volume and as a consequence, very rare.
KE – How would you describe the flavors of The Glenrothes?
RC – The four flavour pillars of The Glenrothes are: black fruits, citrus, spices and vanilla. These, added to the five general characteristics of depth, creamy texture, delivery (of aroma promise), balance and elegance will give the general idea. But each of The Glenrothes expressions will be very different and designed to be. It’s this interesting difference that seems to attract "those in the know". Let’s explore and show you why!
KE – What was the idea behind the packaging?
RC- We went to the distillery itself for inspiration. The old pint sample bottles and labels in our Sample Room Library provided the answer. The "frame" box was created out of materials present at the distillery and a concerted effort to "show" the bottle. Minimalist, understated and perhaps a touch of the rebel.
KE – Was there a specific decision to keep the distillery closed (not open to the public)?
RC -Yes. We love to invite visitors who have a special interest, enjoy the expressions and who take the trouble to contact us. Like the product itself we want to keep distillery visits "special" and personal. For those who want to see a distillery producing whisky there are plenty nearby open to the general public.
KE – What is the next vintage to be released?
RC – A victim of our own success the Vintages laid down will not last nearly as long as originally intended. We do have 1991 and 1985 Vintages being launched right now, and these should take us through 2006 with others maturing for release thereafter.
KE – What makes The Glenrothes different?
RC – For many years Glenrothes was the blender’s delight, not just for our own and Edrington blends, but at the heart of many competitor blends — giving them primarily flavour, but body and structure as well. If you ask the blenders, Glenrothes is always one of their top favourites. It was a natural for Single Malt bottling.
There are a couple of big differences.
The first is that we have turned the concept of age on its head. Everyone knows that age alone is insufficient to produce excellence, yet it is still used as a yardstick. No, to make excellent whisky we require not only top Spirit but an extraordinary wood understanding. It is knowing when the whisky is in its prime. Wood maketh Whisky. We always promote flavour over age. You don’t see bold age statements on The Glenrothes but you will, if you need to know the age, see the year of distillation and underneath the year of bottling. You do the math.
The second is that we have but one consistent expression: Select Reserve – all the others are Vintages, like Premier Cru Wines or Krug Champagne. Each Vintage represents a chosen personality from one particular year whilst sharing the same distillery character. The fun of this is made all the more interesting when you look at the fact that the industry has been able to analyse only 60% of the maturation process. The other 40% remains a mystery. Unlock, through research, some of this 40% and apply it to future Vintages and you have our raison d’etre and difference of the Vintages versus the consistent recipes of other brands with their 12, 15 and 18 year old offerings.
KE – You mentioned Select Reserve…
AP – Because of the growing popularity of the Glenrothes, the vintages run out quicker than ever before and that is unfair for Single Malt and Glenrothes enthusiasts. So we wanted to create an expression that would typify the Glenrothes flavors (citrus, vanilla, spice) but one that would be available on an on-going basis.
Select Reserve, crafted by John Ramsay, is a vatting of casks from different years, all reserved for this expression. The emphasis is on quality and consistency. This year, the youngest malt whisky was filled in 98 but the remainder is older. The make-up and age profile will vary depending on what casks are available at the right quality to produce the complexity and balance so characteristic of the Glenrothes.
Select Reserve is the essence of all that is The Glenrothes in its early prime. It’s an exceptional whisky of freshness and vibrancy. The tasting notes on the label, written by John Ramsay are: Ripe fruits, citrus, vanilla, hints of spice… It is really really good.
RC – This concept has been two years in the making. Lots and lots of trial and error before we came up with this vatting. Some including, many distillers, were skeptical of a non-Vintage and whether you could mix maturity with younger characteristics. But again we looked at the top-end of the wine sector, Krug. They are best known for their outstanding Vintages but equally proud of their more accessible non-Vintage expression. When we developed Select Reserve we were looking at flavour, not age, and this expression captures the very essence of the distillery. A vatting of casks – many of which are in their early Prime. That’s what we wanted and what we believed that others wanted too. It’s our first-ever and very recent entry into the non-Vintage arena. It is hugely exciting and already very rewarding.
KE – When will Special Reserve be available in the US?
AP – Special Reserve will be appearing in 15 US markets (major metropolitan areas) starting in the first quarter of 2006.
* These are average retail prices. Binny’s Beverage Depot has, by far, the best prices on the Glenrothes. Check ‘em out.
Oh, and Happy ChrismaKwanzukah.