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The Taste of Glenrothes

Jack Bettridge
Posted: February 27, 2009

Glenrothes whisky, with its vintage release programs, always has intriguing quaffs on the horizon, and right now a bumper crop of exciting expressions are available. Among them are the 1985 Vintage, which is a reissue of a vintage that first debuted in 1997, and the Select Reserve, which is the first nonvintage selection from the Speyside, Scotland, distillery.

The return of the Glenrothes 1985 Vintage represents the possibility of an unusual whisky-tasting exercise. The original vintage, released in 1997 as a 12-year-old, sold out by 1998. Using stock of '85 whisky obtained from the Edrington Group, a blender and bottler of Scotch whiskey, and Barry Bros. & Rudd, a London wine and spirits merchant and the creator of Cutty Sark, master distiller John Ramsay has now created an alternate version as a 20-year-old. If you are lucky enough to have some of the original 1985, you can taste-test them side by side to see what effect the extra eight years of aging had on the new version that was bottled in 2005 and made available in the United States late last year. (We drank all of ours years ago.)

The new version is a delight in deep amber. The nose is quite fruity, with charms of spice, flowers and hard candy. The fruit continues to the palate and gathers honey, cream and savory flavors. The finish, which some of us swear lasted an hour, is full of caramel, toast and cocoa.

Fewer than 50,000 bottles were made of the new release. Half of them will be sold in the United States at a recommended retail price of $120.

Glenrothes also steps into new territory with its Select Reserve, the first whisky with that distillery's label to marry product from different years. With the exception of the missing vintage year, the packaging is very similar to other Glenrothes expressions. It has the familiar spheroid shape, inspired by sample bottles used at the distillery, and a label with tasting notes from Ramsay.

Brand manager Robin Coupar has described the Select Reserve as "the essence of all that is Glenrothes in its early prime." And at $45 it is a more economically palatable way to get into the distillery's product. It comes at a lower proof (80) than most Glenrothes whiskies, which are typically bottled at 86 proof.

We found it the Reserve to have a slightly olive cast to its amber color. Its bouquet is marked by candy and heather. On the tongue come licorice and meaty fruits with hints of spice. The finish is short to medium length with pleasant little snaps of plum and orange.

Also available now are a 1991 Vintage and a rare 1975. The latter joins the collection of 1970s vintages that have been released over the years, including a 1972, '73 and '79. The distillery's policy of bottling select casks at optimum maturity explains why they haven't always been released in the order in which they were distilled. The 1975 version sells for $450.

The 1975 vintage is lighter in color than the 1985 Vintage and Select Reserve whiskies, despite its advanced age. The nose is a treat in itself with lots of vanilla, toffee and maple candy and a hint of leather. Those qualities all transfer to the palate with rich, sweet anise and some orange peel and Christmas pudding. Those flavors, plus some honey, finish long, and then close up with a sharp shot of Stilton cheese. Very elegant, while loaded with flavor.

The youngest of the recent vintage releases is the 1991, which is predated by the even younger 1992. It is also an interesting exercise if you happen to have the 1992, as the whiskies are markedly different despite the closeness in birth years. The 1991 has a much heartier, rounder flavor with butterscotch and vanilla. The nose is vegetal with a fudge note. The medium-length finish has that familiar cheese bite.

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