A few weeks ago I was reading my brochure from Wine Route (one of Israel’s biggest chain of wine and liquor stores), and i noticed there was a big Glenrothes event going to take place. As it seemed the distillery representative Mike Harrison is was to visit , and host quite a tasting featuring 9 different expressions, some are rare and quite old. I was thrilled, and made sure i was able to attend this event (there are not many whisky events taking place in Israel, due to the market size).
Previously i have tasted the 1994 vintage and the ‘Select Reserve’ (NAS) , which were nice, but left me wanting more. I was sure this tasting of some older and more rare vintages was to be fun. Every whisky blogger needs a photographer, right? This is why I’ve also invited my friend (and guest blogger at whisky Israel) Shai , who is also a photographer , and avid whisky fan. Of course, all photographs used in this post are part of Shai’s great work and were taken with great care, so thanks Shai!
I arrived at the Tel Aviv branch of ‘Wine Route’ at 19:40, and had the pleasure of meeting Mr. Shaked , the Israeli importer of the Glenrothes, as well as Mike Harrison, a very nice English gentleman. We had a little informal chat, and took some pictures together, then we went down to the basement floor, where the tasting was about to begin. I found Shai, hard at work, taking pictures of the bottles, and aligning his lighting equipment, all in time for the beginning of the tasting. We had some time to shoot each of the bottles, which made Shai very happy.
Mike Harrison and myself
Mike Harrison began his short presentation telling us a bit about the Glenrothes, here is what i jotted down :
The Glenrothes distillery was founded at 1879 in the town of Rothes , Speyside (where whisky is distilled since the year of 1840) , by James Stuart who left his partners at the Macallan distillery which they acquired in 1868. During the second part of the 19th century the distillery went thorough tough times (as many others did), mainly because of the world wars and the prohibition period, and a big blow in 1922 when 800,000 litres of aging spirit were destroyed in a fire in one of the warehouses.
A turning point in the life of the Glenrothes came in 1989, when Berry Bros. & Rudd acquired it. BBR being wine merchants, brought over the notion of ‘Vintages’, rather than age statement, where each vintage carries its unique profile. Currently the Glenrothes bottles only a mere 2% of it’s distilled spirit as Single Malt (the best of the best) where the rest finds it way into blended whiskies such as Cutty Sark , Chivas Regal etc.
Vintages are bottled only in years where the whisky is found by the whisky maker to be of exceptional quality, and the quantity of whisky bottled per each vintage changes from year to year.
The Glenrothes use high copper stills, which are identical to the ones used since 1879. The Glenrothes draws it’s water from two springs : Ardcanny and Brachhill , which translates to “The spring of the lady”. Legend has it that the daughter of the 14th count of Roth was murdered near the spring while defending her lover. The land surrounding the springs is cultivated organically, hence the quality of the water stays intact.
The Glenrothes uses American and Spanish oak barrels, and both first fill and re-fill casks are used in order to preserve a harmony of tastes and to avoid extra effect of the sherry or tannins in the new oak. When a certain vintage is ‘ready’ to be bottled (according to the whisky maker), it is bottled, there is no specific amount of time which is predefined.
I must confess that my knowledge of the Glenrothes was not vast before the tasting, and i was really excited to get on with the tasting! As this was a tasting, we had limited time per expression, hence i will post my notes, in a less detailed manner as i usually do for tasting events.
So, We went downstairs to see a big table all set up and ready. we sat down and started the tasting, First up was the New make spirit.
* Brief note before all the tasting notes : I’ve included prices in both Pounds and in NIS. Prices in Israel are insanely high due to taxes, especially of the older vintages, but I’ve included it for reference.
The Glenrothes New Make Spirit, 67% ABV, Distilled 2010
It’s not yet whisky, not aged, but it is always interesting to sample the spirit just before it enters the casks for maturation, this way one can pick up the natural profile of the distilled spirit. and this one was quite nice.
On the nose it was very fruity, with apples and pears, hints of malt. much like an apple Schnapps. The Palate maintains this fruity malty profile, with a long and slightly finish, with some baked bread. A lovely way to open the tasting!
we Continued with the ‘Select Reserve’ NAS, this one is the entry level No-Age Glenrothes, and although i tasted it sometime ago in a wine shop, i have not kept my notes.
The Glenrothes Select Reserve , NAS, 43% ABV , £30 / 269 NIS
Classic nose of Vanilla, Spice and some lemon (citrus, zest?) all thanks to the American Oak casks used. On the Palate, there is some strong vanilla, orange peels, and some sweetness. it felt a little watery. The Finish is somewhat spicy, and
medium length. Not a bad dram, but nothing to write about home . A nice dram for summer time sipping, before a meal, or just to enjoy with some friends, but nothing spectacular.
The Glenrothes Alba Reserve, NAS , 40% ABV, £40 , Kosher / 329 NIS
Normally Glenrothes bottling contains both Bourbon casks and Sherry casks which are then vatted together. In order to produce a fully Kosher whisky, The Glenrothes teamed up with the London Beit-Din , to produce a kosher whisky that has no Sherry maturated spirit whatsoever. There are very strict rules religious Jews (not me) follow regarding wines, and as we all know, a sherry is made from grapes, and is considered a form of wine, hence the whisky can not come in contact with the casks which contained sherry.
More information on Kosher Whiskies can be found Here.
The Name “Quercus Alba” comes from the Latin and means “White oak” or American oak as we refer to it nowadays. also, Alba is the Gaelic name of Scotland…
One can see the colour difference from a quick glimpse. Rather light, with no sherry wood effects. Being aged only in oak casks, this whisky has a very distinct vanilla and coconut (yes, coconut) smell, with some oaky notes as well. The Palate features Coconut, Oak, Spicy and butter notes, and is rather bold . The Finish is of medium length, with buttery, oaky sweet notes.
Bottom line : This is a rather nice malt, i liked it better than the ‘Select Reserve’. The coconut notes are really strong here, and if you are into this kind of nose, you will like it. Some people thought this one was over-spiced with the coconut, and a bit too bold on the palate. A decent dram, and definitely something to check out if you keep kosher in your whiskies.
I also had the pleaasure of meeting Florette from the Beit Din who certified this whisky as kosher. A lovely lady, and we have some plans on featuring more kosher certified whiskies for those keeping Kosher. so stay tuned!.
The Glenrothes 1998 vintage ,43% ABV , £40 / 369 NIS
This is the first vintage made after the 1991,1994 vintages, and the first vintage created by the new Malt Master Gordon Motion who replaced the legendary John Ramsay (we’ll get to his last whisky later on).
According to M.Harrison, this vintage contains about 60% Sherry casks, and 40% Bourbon casks. The Nose shines with vanilla, some dried fruits, and some Caramel syrup, and some hints of citrus freshness. The palate displays a fairly nice combination of sherry notes , cinnamon and Vanilla, while the finish quite long with a lot of vanilla.
This is a very enjoyable young whisky (10 years old) , not overly complex, but well integrated. A nice option.
The Glenrothes 1994 vintage, 43% ABV , £45 / 489 NIS
This expression is much fresher than the 1998 vintage with more fruity notes. On the nose, some toffee and fruits (green apple, peach) , while the palate is more zingy in terms of lemon, orange peel . It is less spicier than the 1998 vintage, and the finish is light and and fruity.
This is again a nice summery dram, before dinner thing. But, i do prefer the 1998 version to it.
The Glenrothes 1991 vintage , 43% ABV, £50 / 489 NIS
This one is darker in colour than the 1994 and is less ‘fresh’. On the Nose you get Vanilla, some fruit and a very nice note of milk chocolate which is not present in the 1994. Moving on to the palate, It’s a mega sweet palate with cinnamon, vanilla and traces of coconut. With a bit of water the oak notes become more evident. The finish is long and very sweet, too sweet if i might add. This will be a good desert dram, to be drunk with some fruits or even very ripe cheese. even with Fois Gras. If you like sweeter malts, you are in luck!
Now we’re moving to older expressions, visiting the 80’s and 70’s, which is very interesting… Starting with the Glenrothes 1985 vintage.
The Glenrothes 1985 vintage , 43% ABV, £80 / 990 NIS
1985, i am 10 years of age. a kid, i know nothing about whisky, but somewhere in the heart of Speyside, something good is happening…. let’s see how good…
This expression was first bottled in 1997 , then bottled again after a few more years have passed. In 1997 the whisky was Aromatic and spicy, and the additional time since that bottling did refine it, and added complexity.
The Colour of this dram is golden, and the nose displays impressive notes of dried fruit (Sultanas) , fruit cake and some nuts. On the palate we continue with the dried fruit and sultanas, mixed with oak and nuts, and some fruits as well , big bodied, mouth coating and viscous. The finish is very long, sweet with a lot of milk chocolate and nuts going on and on… A very good dram, the best Glenrothes I’ve sampled until now. Yumm!
The Glenrothes 1978 vintage , 43% ABV, £390 / NIS 2990
It’s 1978 and i am only 3 years old. This vintage was bottled in 2008 (making it 30 years old) , and the quantities available are very small as the price suggests. i think this one of the more expensive drams I’ve tried… There are about 50% Spanish oak barrels (Ex-Sherry) in this whisky.
The Colour is of light copper. The nose is completely different than what we had before : Spicy, Plums, Dates, and may be even some carobs. very very aromatic. The palate is also thick and displays lovely oak, vanilla plums and milk chocolate notes. Very masculine compared to the lighter and younger vintages (1994,1998). Age does its work….
The finish is long sweet and oaky. An impressive dram, not an everyday dram certainly, price wise…
The Glenrothes 1975 vintage , 43% ABV, $429 / NIS 3390
i was born in 1975 in Petach-Tikva, Israel (a suburb of Tel-Aviv) while this lovely spirit was ‘Born’ in Rothes probably at the same time.I am always very excited to taste older whiskies made the same year. Nice to think that at the same time i was a screaming baby being born, somewhere in Scotland the barley made it’s way from grain to liquid to spirit. romantic, eh?
Only 3708 bottles of this golden nectar were ever made, as this is one of the smallest vintages ever bottled.
The colour is deep gold. On the nose first i am getting some sulphur and Balsamic, which go away after a few minutes in the glass. Very ripe vanilla notes with fruits nuts, fruit compote and also some lemon and orange zest. can you spell : C-O-M-P-L-E-X ??
Palate wise were speaking Vanilla again, toffee, dark chocolate , with hints of citrus (Grapefruit?) and some nutty notes as well. Rich, luscious and yummy. 1975 was a great year to be born in, right?!
As for finish, it’s again very long, oak is definitely there, with some sweetness, and woody spices.
If you can afford this one, (and i can’t! sadly, i can’t!) you should come to Israel and get one (mind you NIS 3390 is about the minimum wage in Israel, yes you heard right) , since it’s one of the last places where you can get this one. (even the BBR site doesn’t have one in stock!)
Ok , after tasting all those amazing drams come the pinnacle of the evening, the John Ramsay Limited edition.
John Ramsay has been in the whisky industry since 1966. He first worked as a chemist but quickly decided he wanted to enter the organoleptic field. He worked 27 years as a chemist and master blender. According to JR, when Glenrothes started developing the vintages concepts in 1993 he was excited about the 1979 vintage which was exactly 100 years after whisky production started in the Glenrothes.
JR served as Master Blender from the early 1990s. as J.R was to be retiring , he was asked to create a last blend which will bare his name. JR spotted a few casks from vintages 1973 through 1987 and those served as the building blocks for this unique blended malt. JR married the casks , and reduced their strength without chill filtering as to create a Glenrothes that will stand as his legacy to The Glenrothes.
Copper engraved label, each individually numbered. Presented in an oak box with bottle shaped window.
The pack includes a booklet signed by John Ramsay, while each bottle is etched with John Ramsay’s signature. 1,400 bottles released globally.
The Glenrothes John Ramsay Limited Edition , 46% ABV , £700 / NIS 4990
The nose of this lovely expression starts with vanilla and some oranges. On the palate lovely oak notes, intertwined with fruit and vanilla sweetness. Some hints of tropical fruit are also there. very nice. The finish is very long , with ripe flavours, fruit, and oak going on and on and on…
A lovely creation, from a great Master Blender.
This has been quite an experience for me, tasting all those amazing drams there is no way i would be able to get hold of, let alone afford to buy.
My two favourites were definitely the 1985 and the 1975 (i have a soft spot to anything made in 1975).
The entire line-up …
As mentioned before, Shai my friend and whisky Israel photographer, accompanied me to this event. here are some of his impressions… (all of those lovely photos were shot by Shai)
I had the pleasure to take part of the Glenrothes event as the Whisky Israel photographer, a role which I’m more than happy to take and for which I’m actually learning more about how to correctly photograph whisky bottles (not as simple as I thought).
To make sure I can take the pictures I want without interference or too much time pressure, I arrived at the “Wine Route” shop at Tel Aviv, where the event was held, some good 40 minutes earlier to its planned start.
After introductions with shop’s personnel, a nice bunch, I was taken down under to the floor below as I asked to start “my work” as soon as.
Exiting the wee elevator I found myself in the shop’s wine cellar/storage room/lecture hall – take your pick, where a big table was set all ready for a whisky tasting. On another table next to it, stood a long row of the 9 Glenrothes expressions we were about to taste later.
I quickly took out my Canon 50D, setup my umbrella soft box, and with Gal as my assistant, started to take pictures of each of the bottles. As we also wanted to grab a bite before the event started and also needed to take photographs of Mike (with Gal, with bottles etc.), we moved between bottles rather quickly, something I kind of regret.
Photo tip – if you want to photograph bottles DO NOT use an umbrella soft box. See here for good DIY light table and here for tips about v-cards, which can be used to illuminate the bottles from the sides, instead of expensive strip soft box, or here for DIY strip soft box which are little more work to make (going to try out the v-cards myself very soon).
After also taking a group shot of the bottles all together, something later Mike told me that is very rare to happen as normally you cannot find that line up standing on one table in a single room, I moved to take photo of Mike and Gal in the upper floor standing in front of the shop’s Glenrothes section (obviously), although some Cutty Sarks also crammed their way in. As I later learned this is not that bad as it seems Cutty Sark has The Glenrothes in it – jolly good.
Quick bite next door, and it was back to the camera down under. As the other guests were sitting down, I managed to take a nice portrait of Mike holding the Select Reserve, and exchanged few words with him about the correct pronunciation of the distillery name (had to settle the argument I had about this with Gal, and as I thought, it is Glen-roth-es, and not Glen-rot or Glen-roth, ahh I love it when I’m right petty petty me). We also managed to talk about a common friend Mark Gillespie of WhiskyCast.com with whom I spoke about this event few weeks earlier, as The Glenrothes are a known sponsor of his site, we both agreed that we need to meet Mark again in the near future.
During the tasting itself, my camera took a deserved rest in a box of some Cabernet Sauvignons I believe they were, and I was well into the whiskies. Leaving the tasting notes to Gal (though this time I did write my own), I can only tell you I enjoyed very much all of them and in particular the 1985. Mike gave a very nice presentation of all expressions, and also made sure to address any guest’s questions and comments, including yours truly who found himself sharing thoughts about the whiskies more and more not only with Gal but also with Mike and some of the other guests (I think that at some point I was a wee bit tipsy, but I’ll deny that).
After 5 expressions we had a break. I used that to chat with Mike and learned that this was his fourth tasting in two days, after he had given one already earlier that afternoon and two on the previous days. Also this was not his first time to Israel, but unfortunately this time it was all work and no tourism – we’ll need to fix that next time he comes I think. Mike is also a very modest guy, introducing himself as being a marketing person and not a whisky guru who only came to do his job, but gets treated like a VIP. Well your our VIP then Mike if you read this.
With 4 expressions to go, we all sat back at the table and lingered over these exquisite drams. As the event was finishing, I had to do one more portrait of Mike, this time holding the very expensive, and very good John Ramsey bottle in its wooden elegant box, with the shelves of sleeping wine bottles at the back.
I want to thank Mike for his cooperation and tolerance of my instructions (face left, smile, eyes up etc.…) and of course for his very eloquent presentation. I want to thank Mark for the contact details, Gal for sharing a nice evening with me, and being patient with me after at the Café-Café branch next door where I had to eat something in order to thin out the alcohol in blood; and of course the “Wine Route” for having such a nice and welcomed event. I had a great time, whisky and photography wise, both very important hobbies of mine, so why not mix them together?
Mike Harrison Holding the John Ramsay L.E
I would like to thank Kobi Shaked and Ronnie Cox of BBR, for their help and invitation to this remarkable event. I do hope there will be many others , The israeli market is growing, and these events are a great way to acquaint the public / press with many interesting malt brands.