When it comes to refined single malt Scotch whiskey, we would expect distilleries to release phrases that are 20 or even 30 years old. A 50 year old whiskey, however - well, it's something that makes us stop and realize.
Last month, The Glenrothes made waves by unveiling its oldest single malt whiskey: a 50-year-old expression that was distilled in November 1968, followed by aging in American oak barrels of sherry and bourbon until bottling in September 2019. This was hardly a daily topic for the Speyside Distiller: so far the oldest single malt from the Glenrothes was only 25 years old. Plus, this limited-release whiskey is presented in individually numbered crystal decanters, each housed in a stunning black lacquered presentation box.
However, not everyone will be able to get their hands on this remarkable version, as only 50 bottles have been made available worldwide. Lucky buyers will become one of 50 people around the world to join `` Fifty '', an ultra-exclusive virtual club whose members will be invited to visit the Glenrothes estate for a unique opportunity to meet the distillery team and to stay at the property's spiritual home, Rothes House. Members will also receive an engraved membership card that matches their bottle number and give them access to an exclusive web portal where they can register their membership, view product version previews and more.
Whiskey aficionados, take note: only one of these precious bottles comes up for auction this month during Bonhams' Fine and rare wine and whiskey sale on Friday 20 November. The decanter in question, number 38 of 50, is estimated at 230,000 to 300,000 Hong Kong dollars (£ 23,000 to 30,000). All proceeds will be donated to a charity based in the Asia-Pacific region.
So what can buyers expect from this incredibly rare whiskey? “After half a century of maturing in sherry bourbon oak barrels, our 50 year old single malt offers a unique blend of aromas of a complexity that only a whiskey of this age can deliver,” said Laura Rampling, Master Whiskey Maker at The Glenrothes. “It's dark and fragrant, offering sweet and spicy flavors with a refined finish and a sweet persistence of woody spices. On the nose, drinkers can expect notes of jasmine and cedar.
“As our oldest version ever produced, this 50-year-old is a tribute to the loyalty and craftsmanship of our distillery team, many of whom have over 40 years of service,” said Kerr Arthur, director of The Glenrothes brand. "They really understand the art of making The Glenrothes way whiskey, and now 50 people will have the privilege of being part of this landmark event."
Ahead of the auction date, we sat down with Rampling and Arthur to learn more about this exciting release, the historic legacy of The Glenrothes and how innovation will play a role in the future production of Scotch single malt whiskey. .
What makes The Glenrothes special?
Kerr Arthur: Our entire whiskey-making process relies on our four corners: water, distillation, oak and maturation. We start with our particularly fresh water which comes from our distillery estate in Speyside. Our newborn spirit is nurtured in our large copper stills much longer than most whiskeys, creating a lighter, more fruity and more delicately scented spirit.
Maturation in sherry seasoned oak barrels plays a big part in creating an excellent whiskey, especially for The Glenrothes, because unlike many others our whiskeys always have a 100% natural color and this cannot be be achieved only by investing in high quality barrels. It is this unique blend of science and alchemy that helps transform our newborn minds into world-class malt. Our whiskey maker examines each cask individually and hand selects those ready to be bottled.
What does this 50 year old phrase reveal about the Glenrothes whiskey-making style?
Laura Rampling: We don't see this whiskey as a 'revelation' but rather an embodiment of the round and rich house style of the Glenrothes at a high level.
When was the decision made to release the 50-year-old and how was this decision made?
Laura Rampling: There are a number of ways that the decision to create custom collectable bottles can be made. Sometimes we have an idea for a new whiskey and I will look for the barrels from which we can create a whiskey according to that idea. Other times, by reviewing existing whiskey stocks, we find some fantastic special casks that can be used and create something around that.
Along with creating whiskey on a daily basis, we regularly nose and taste broth to determine if we might have special or remarkable barrels. We learn to expect the unexpected. It was in 2018 that we decided to launch a 50 year old, after identifying barrels of this age that had exceptional characteristics.
Should we expect to see similar limited edition versions of The Glenrothes in the future?
Kerr Arthur: We are constantly reviewing our inventory and planning future releases. There will certainly be more great whiskeys to come. Based on the reaction to our 50th birthday so far, we would be very unpopular if we didn't release other editions!
The 50 owners of The Glenrothes, 50, will be invited to the distillery. What are the special experiences they can expect there?
Kerr Arthur: Those who buy the 50-year-old will have the opportunity to see behind the scenes at Glenrothes. It's a rare and exclusive experience in itself, as the secluded estate - which includes the distillery, cooperage, private farms, and Rothes House - is normally closed to visitors. I'm sure there will also be the opportunity to taste a really special whiskey.
Why is this the first time that The Glenrothes has published a 50-year-old edition?
Laura Rampling: We wanted to do something that celebrated the loyalty and craftsmanship of our distillery team at Rothes and this 50 year old is a celebration of their skill, passion and commitment. It's also about being in the right place at the right time - a combination of having the right whiskey at the right age and having customers willing to buy it.
How does the packaging, membership card and invitation to The Glenrothes relate to how The Glenrothes wishes to interact with customers?
Kerr Arthur: The 50 year old packaging was designed to provide a special experience that reflects the importance of opening the doors of the distillery to a select group of first-time buyers. We really value the relationships with the people who buy our whiskeys - it's part of our community culture.
Inviting buyers of our 50 year old to our home is a thank you to them and a symbol of the Glenrothes community they will be a part of. Our Spirit of Rothes community is where we can speak more intimately to buyers and we want to continue to grow this community with members all over the world.
How does the 50-year-old add to the Glenrothes' whiskey-making heritage?
Kerr Arthur: This is our first and will therefore remain in our history as such. It also gives us the confidence to create similar aged versions for the future that will be part of our 50 year old legacy.
Laura Rampling: Our heritage is rooted in the tradition, competence and expertise of our team and our 50-year-old pays tribute to them. This is an extremely exciting chapter and as a Master Whiskey Maker I look forward to building on The Glenrothes' legacy, honoring its history while helping to create great new whiskeys for our customers.
What future for The Glenrothes? How are you going to embrace tradition versus innovation?
Kerr Arthur: We have always sought to move forward as a distillery and embrace the new if we believe it will add value to the whiskeys we create. We will continue to do this but we will never stray from what we think we define ourselves: natural water sources, unusually slow distillation in large stills, high quality oak barrels seasoned with sherry, 100% whiskeys. naturally colorful and the know-how of our local community. .
Laura Rampling: The four corners of our whiskey-making process will not change and we will continue to celebrate this tradition. We do things a little differently, and such a craftsmanship spirit will always demand attention.
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