Glenrothes

The Glenrothes Alba, 2001 and Select Reserve Box Set

Reviewed by: Ted

glenrothes-trio-2

Keen followers of Whisky Waffle (hello to our mothers and the other three of you) may remember that a while ago I reviewed a tasting pack from Speyside distillers Glenrothes. Well, to quote Prof. Farnsdale, “Good news people!”… there’s another pack!

Just to remind us all what makes Glenrothes interesting in the packed Scottish distilling scene, they like to release their expressions as vintages rather than age statements. While this means that you won’t be able to enjoy a, say, 12yo again and again, the upshot is that you are able to experience the unique nature of one particular year’s output (until it’s all sold out that is).

The pack I’m sampling today is pretty much identical physically to the previous one – nice box with buff lid and a shiny copper-coloured base containing three very handy mini-glencairns and three 100ml bottles of the good stuff.

Pack #1 featured the ’95 and the ’98 vintages plus the Select Reserve, the latter also featuring in this set. The two new drams that feature in pack #2 are the Alba Reserve and the 2001 vintage.

The Select Reserve is Glenrothes’ ‘house’ whisky, a vatted malt crafted to typify the Glenrothes flavour profile. The Alba reserve is another vatted release; while Glenrothes usually uses an mixture of Spanish and American oak, the Alba uses 100% American oak-matured spirit (the moniker deriving from the oak’s Latin name ‘Quercus alba’). The 2001 vintage was produced in 2001… I’m not quite sure what else you were expecting?

glenrothes-whisky-waffle

And it was produced here: Glenrothes Distillery

On the nose the Select is fat and oozy, with a generous helping of dark chocolate, dried apricots, cinnamon, ginger and of course, raisins. In complete contrast the Alba is light and airy, with a fairly insubstantial waft of honey, coconut and pear. Finally, the 2001 is smooth and nutty, with an undertone of spice and aged oak planking.

On the palate the Select is rounded and nutty, with a cheeky citrus burst at the finish that lingers across the tongue. Again providing a contrast, the Alba is sharp and pithy, racing to the back of the mouth and leaving a slightly sour, metallic aftertaste. Unlike the actual Reserves, the 2001 is rather reserved, casually imparting a balanced mix of wood, nuts and dried fruit. The softness of the 2001 can likely be attributed to its 14yo age, having been bottled in 2015.

Tasting packs like this are a great way to try a range of drams from a particular distillery before you actually commit to one. Case in point: I would happily keep a bottle of the Select Reserve around as a casual dram and would derive pleasure from seeing the 2001 vintage nestled amongst my collection, but I can’t say I’m a huge fan of the Alba reserve. I suppose it does provide an interesting insight into how the addition of European oak can balance out a whisky though.

Hmm.. I think this requires a more thorough investigation. Can anyone point me in the direction of tasting pack #3?

Select Reserve ★★★

Alba Reserve ★★

2001 vintage ★★★

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Speyburn 10 Year Old

Reviewed by: Nick

Speyburn 10 year Old

It’s the very end of harvest season here in Tasmania. Fresh produce abounds, from potatoes to pears, onions to oranges, and asparagus to apples: our family-friend farmers’ pickings filling my kitchen with an alluring bouquet. The fresh fruit combines to remind me strongly of the scent of a dram I have recently acquired: the Speyburn 10 Year Old.

“Delicious” I hear you cry “a whisky with all amazing the flavours of harvest time! It must be good.” And it is. But it also isn’t. This is a whisky full of contradictions.

The contradictions start with the distillery itself. Translating literally as “River Spey”, Speyburn identifies as a highland whisky despite being found within a mile of such Speyside giants such as Glen Grant and The Glenrothes. It has received many modern awards, though it’s greatest accomplishment still seems to be being built in the year of Queen Victoria’s Diamond Jubilee. It also, commendably, bucks the NAS trend by releasing a 10 Year Old, a 25 Year Old… and nothing in between.

The harvest fruits are prevalent on the nose. Overripe red apples, peaches and lemons dominate proceedings in a way entirely unsubtle. It’s enjoyable but certainly citrus-heavy. The palate is sweet and malty, like children’s breakfast cereal. There is more lemon here, causing the whisky to veer dangerously towards dish-cleaner territory, though is stopped short by a bitter cooking apple note on the finish.

There are undeniably many enjoyable flavours in the Speyburn 10 Year Old. It’s well worth a try and certainly wonderful value – just don’t expect subtlety to be among its virtues. Rather than a sweet bite of an apple, it is more like the entire orchard has been emptied into your kitchen.

★★

Blue Hanger 9th Release

Reviewed by: Nick and Ted

Blue Hanger 9th ReleaseAs a general rule we Whisky Waffle boys tend to be single malt snobs rather than blend bogans. As easy drinking as a blended Chivas 21yo is, we’d just as soon get to grips with a lively Balvenie 12yo single malt. However, one drop that we were lucky enough to try recently suggests that we just may not be drinking the right blends.

Berry Bros and Rudd, better known for their vintaged Glenrothes range, put out a yearly blended malt release called the Blue Hanger. The bottling is named after Lord William Hanger, who was famous for his habitual striking blue attire (just like the blue Power Ranger. Here’s to you Billy!). The original release was a blend of specially selected casks from the Glenlivet and Glengrant distilleries. Eventually stocks ran out (hence the emergence of the Founders Reserve…) and now in this, the 9th edition, Berry Bros and Rudd have combined (like Megazord) 17yo Clynelish and 18yo Glen Elgin with both 23yo and peated 7yo Bunnahabhain.

With such a pedigree it is no wonder the Blue Hanger claims to be the ‘collectors blended malt’. But is it worth adding to your own collection? Short answer: yes!

But of course, this is Whisky Waffle, and so we will also supply you with a long answer too. The nose is light and fruity, and we were able to find strawberry jam, dried apples, quince paste, cured meats and Chardonnay wine. It’s essentially happy hour in a bottle.

The taste is light but flavoursome. Under-ripe cherries, sherry and cola (NB: just a tasting note. No actual cola was brought anywhere near this baby. We’re not monsters you know) combine to sweetly dance across the tongue, followed by a gentle waft of cigar smoke. The finish is long, with the peat smoke slightly more prominent, and hints of pepper, burnt wood and gooey toffee apple.

If you served this to us blind (as in blindfolded, not blind drunk), we would be unlikely to pick it as a blend. The high quality aged single malt elements that make up the Blue Hanger work together with delicacy and harmony to make a very enjoyable dram; the smoky, salty Bunnahabhain giving depth to the high notes of the Clynelish and Glen Elgin. If you tend to think that blends are beneath you, then like us, you’ve probably just been drinking the wrong ones.

★★★★

Waffling at Whisky Live

Posted by: Nick and Ted

Whisky Live 1

That’s right, we got Whisky Waffle shirts!

“If you love whisky, it’s the place to be”, said Colin, whisky enthusiast and fellow drunkard. It was 4pm. We’d been imbibing the amber nectar for three hours. To be honest, conversations about the merits of whisky were not exactly hard to come by at this end of the afternoon. We, the Whisky Waffle boys, knew that we had come to the right place. And where was that you may ask? It could only be Whisky Live 2015, Melbourne edition.

As semi-amateur whisky journalists (just go with it, ok!) we were keen to make it to Australia’s premier whisky event, despite Jetstar’s best efforts to delay us. Oh, and Public Transport Victoria didn’t help us much, either. As a consequence, it was remarkable that we wandered into the St Kilda Town Hall a mere 10 minutes late.

We were greeted with green shoulder bags, complimentary Glencairns and more whiskies than you could poke a valinch at (it’s a whisky thing, look it up). Our first port of call was to familiar faces: we kicked off our whisky journey sampling some new make spirit with Dean Jackson (and soon-to-be-solo distiller Robbie) from Redlands Estate and sampled some glorious Lark Classic Cask with Tas Whisky Tours’ Brett Steel. Good to hang out with the boys from back home.

Whisky Live 2

Nick, admiring Brett’s beard

We then hopped across the pond to visit Greg Petry, whose strong North American accent clearly revealed that his product was made by the NZ Whisky Company. Go figure. Incredibly, his youngest single malt was a mere 23 years old. After lamenting that we could not combine the initial flavour of the Doublewood with the finish of the 27 year old, we jetted off once more, this time landing in Japan. Here we learned how to pronounce Hakushu (Huck-shoo), and impressed a man in comedic Japanese sushi bar attire that we actually were interested in trying the Suntory Kakubin neat rather than in its traditional highball form (soda water, lemon, ice).

Using the stars, we returned to the New World to discover… cocktails? That’s right, the Lads from Starward were making Old Fashioneds, although it was their single malt we had come to try. Despite their wine cask being aimed at ‘real’ whisky drinkers, we both agreed that we still preferred the apera cask. Shows what we know (we’re semi-amateurs remember!). We then had a ‘Rich’ conversation with our friend from William Grant and Sons about the Balvenie. Ted was pleased about knocking back some 21 Year Old Port Wood without lowering the level of his own bottle! Fred, Independent Beverage Consultant at large, talked us through the range of Glenfiddichs and produced, to gasps of awe, a bottle of 26 Year Old from behind the bar. Yes please, we said. Our new friends Adam and Adam spied the gold lettering from the other side of the room and were more than happy to join us for a nip!

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26 year old whisky is best enjoyed in the company of Adams

Never being ones to turn down a free feed, we relined our stomachs to see us through the rest of the afternoon. Our next destination: India, and the distillery of Paul John. We mentioned our India-based whisky writing colleague, the Whisky Lady, to master distiller Michael John D’Souza – India’s a tiny country, not many people – they’re bound to know her, right? (Yeah right). “You mean Carissa?” he replied. The whisky world is a small place indeed.

Whisky Live 4

The newest converts to the Paul John phenomenon.

The whisky itself was a revelation. In fact, it was brilliant! Particularly the aptly named Brilliance, which tasted like nothing else that day. The peated varieties also tickled our fancy, which unfortunately could not be said of the Dry Fly wheat whisky, makers of the infamous Washington Wheat. Admittedly we spent as much time waffling as tasting at this end of the afternoon, the lubricant effect of the whisky loosening our tongues somewhat.

The moment of truth arrived. It was time to try the Glenlivet Founders Reserve, the replacement for our beloved Glenlivet 12 Year Old. And it tasted… well… decent. Maybe there’s hope yet. The rest of the range impressed us, too, in particular the Naddura Oloroso (plus: “they have dried banana here!” enthused Ted). We moved down the line to the mysterious Finlaggen, the dependable Bowmore and the classy Auchentoshan (where Nick drunkenly confessed his undying love for the distillery… repeatedly: “when I went there…” “…my FAVOURITE 12 year old…” “…did I mention I’ve been there?” etc etc).

Ted then whisked him away to attend a master class with master tweed wearer Dan Hutchins-Read to talk about the merits of a whisky that has definitely impressed us recently: the Glenrothes. As there were only four attendees to the session, we had ample time to wax lyrical and Ted may have fallen into the same trap as Nick (“I’ve written a lot of nice things about Glenrothes…” “…I love how you’re all about the vintages…” “…did I mention I’ve written a lot of nice things about you?” etc etc).

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Fashionable as our WW shirts were, we couldn’t match Dan for style!

After Nick had calmed Ted down, we staggered off on a mission to find the dram we’d been waiting all day for: the Laphroaig 15 Year Old. To our dismay, we were informed by Australia’s number one whisky fanatic, Dan Woolley, that they had long since run dry. But after seeing our sad little faces, he took pity and muttered that if we were to come back straight after the session finished he might be able to find a little something for us. We consoled ourselves by pairing a glass of Laphroaig 10 year Old with some oysters and a meeting with legendary bourbon distiller and maker of Russell’s Reserve: Eddie Russell. We may have been a little enthusiastic at this end of the day, but Eddie was a true southern gent and took us in his stride.

4.30 ticked over. The bottles began to vanish from the stalls. We wandered around dodging the polite requests of the security guards to leave. We had a mission to complete: and boy was the 15 Year Old worth it.

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Laphroaig’s man of steel, Dan Woolley

As we stumbled out of the St Kilda Town Hall amongst hordes of whisky fanatics, en route to the closest pub, we mused about our day. We had come to Whisky Live expecting to find many great whiskies and we had not been disappointed (46 times over, in fact!). But to be honest, the real joy of the day was to celebrate whisky with a bunch of fellow wafflers. That in itself was worth the price of admission.

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Whisky Live. Good times.

The Glenrothes 1995, 1998 and Select Reserve Box Set

Reviewed by: Ted

Glenrothes trio

Vintage. It’s not really a word that you associate with whisky. For the overwhelming majority of drams the process is to lay down some spirit in a barrel, let it age for a pre-determined number of years and then bottle it as, say, a 12yo or an 18yo. The whole concept of releasing the product of one particular year, a vintage, is smack bang within the realms of the wine makers, hence generally seeing wines labelled with the year they were made.

However, there is one whisky maker that has very firmly gripped the concept of vintaging by the proverbial horns and run like mad with it. The Glenrothes distillery, founded in 1878 and located in the Speyside whisky region (and not in the Scottish Lowlands town of the same name), has carved out a niche for itself by taking this unusual approach to aging whisky. Perhaps we should not be too surprised by this as The Glenrothes is owned by Berry Bros. & Rudd, one of the oldest and most respected wine merchants in London.

While only around 2% of its stock actually goes towards the making of vintages, with the majority of production helping to create blends such as Cutty Sark and Famous Grouse, The Glenrothes distillers make no bones about the fact that the single malt range represents the apex of their art. One of the inherent problems with releasing product from a single year is that it can lead to inconsistency, as one release in all likelihood will taste different to the next. Not necessarily a negative, just that it’s not like purchasing a 12yo and then buying another later on and knowing that what you get will be exactly the same regardless of the year of production.

The Glenrothes counters this idea by claiming that whisky is in reality just like wine and should be allowed to mature at its own rate, with bottling only occurring when the spirit has reached, in The Glenrothes own words, its ‘peak of perfection’ rather than at a pre-selected age. As you might imagine, The Glenrothes crew take a very active approach to checking their casks, determining the readiness of a vintage by looking for a unified ‘personality’ across a range of casks from that year.

Speaking of casks, The Glenrothes has a very strong wood policy and the deepest of respect for their barrels. They say that the effect of the wood on their spirit is far more important that the length of time it spends aging, and that the careful selection of cask sizes and timber types is vital for achieving perfection. The Glenrothes use a mixture of first and second fill bourbon and sherry woods, and carefully marry them together to create the unique flavour profile for a vintage.

For this review we will be sampling not just one, but three releases from The Glenrothes! Their marketing team has very helpfully created a box set containing 100ml bottles of three of their more accessible drams: the 1995 and 1998 vintages, and their Select Reserve, a vatting of casks from different years created to be the holotype of The Glenrothes flavour profile. But wait, there’s more! The box set also contains three mini Glencairns monogrammed with The Glenrothes logo, a handy set of info booklets and cards describing the range, and of course the box itself, elegantly crafted from sturdy buff and copper coloured cardboard.

Glenrothes SR

All three expressions are quite light and spicy on the nose, which is probably in part thanks to the very tall stills and long distillation times used by The Glenrothes. The Select Reserve is quite broad and fat, with notes of fudge, old leather (from a classic car say), orange and almonds. In comparison the 1998 (bot. 2014) has caramelised pear, boiled caramel sweets and, rather oddly, perhaps a touch of engine grease (that’s not a bad thing. It’s a nostalgic smell that reminds you of your father working on a car when you were young). Finally, the 1995 (bot. 2013) is filled with hot, spicy and slightly sour grain mash, clover honey and curiously, a bit of melon.

Glenrothes 95

The very first touch of the Select Reserve on the lips is creamy, and then it bursts in a big ball of heat and spice inside the mouth, probably helped by the 43% used for all three of the drams. There is a hit of marzipan on the follow-through, while the finish is tangy and lingers gently on the tongue. In contrast the 1998 is smooth and creamy, and slides evenly across the tongue. The finish is fairly short and has a slight floral air to it. Again, the 1995 is sour and fruity, with green apples, pears and plums, finishing up with a nice fresh herbal zing at the end.

Glenrothes 98

The ‘ready when it’s done’ approach works out well for The Glenrothes. Each of its vintages is skilfully crafted and captures some special quirk that entered the distillation for that year. The clever and considered use of barrelling no doubt also helps to imbue each expression with its own character. Drinking a dram of The Glenrothes is a bitter-sweet thing; a happy encounter, but all the time you know that one day the vintage will run out, and never again will you meet that particular personality. So go, find that experience and capture it in your memory before it is too late.

1995 ★★★

1998 ★★★

Select Reserve ★★★