Select Reserve: single malt Scotch, Speyside, 40%, $47
Sherry Cask Reserve: single malt Scotch, Speyside, 40%, $60
I often go into liquor stores with no intention of buying anything. Sometimes I just want to see what’s new, what’s available (or not available), where prices are going, which items have new packaging, etc. It’s a quick, at-a-glance way of keeping my finger on the pulse of the industry. It was during such a shelf scanning session that something notable caught my eye.
There was a new Glenrothes bottling, and it definitely looked like an official distillery bottling, but the Berry Bros. & Rudd moniker was clearly displayed on the packaging. The company is a London based wine and spirits merchant which puts out a line of independently bottled single malts, so it seemed odd to me that their name would show up on a bottle from the distillery’s lineup.
In the ensuing months I heard a few good things about this new Glenrothes Sherry Cask Reserve, so I decided to pick up a bottle. I’ve also had a bottle of their Select Reserve lingering in my collection for some time, so I’m going to take the opportunity to compare the two and spend some time getting to the bottom of the Berry Bros. mystery. My last post covered the history of the distillery and explored the differences between their Vintage bottlings and their Reserve bottlings, so I won’t repeat that information here.
First a quick note on what differentiates these two non-age stated, multi-vintage bottlings. It really comes down to cask type primarily. The new Sherry Cask Reserve is aged exclusively in first-fill Sherry casks, which are predominantly made from Spanish oak.
The Select Reserve was the first in the Glenrothes Reserve series, introduced in 2005. The distillery has always been a little cagey about its composition; they state that it is a vatting of casks distilled in different years and represents the “house style” in its early prime. A little further digging reveals that “different types of wood” are used. Well, Glenrothes really only uses three types of wood; Spanish oak Sherry casks, American oak Sherry casks and American oak bourbon barrels. I’m assuming that the majority of this vatting is aged in ex-Bourbon barrels. That assumption is based on the fact that Sherry casks are significantly more expensive and that Select Reserve has essentially the same price as the Alba Reserve, which is aged exclusively in former Bourbon barrels.
As for Berry Bros. & Rudd, the company was founded in 1698 and their involvement with the Glenrothes distillery stretches all the way back to 1923. That was the year when Berry Bros. & Rudd first introduced their Cutty Sark brand of blended Scotch, and Glenrothes single malt was a key component of it.
There’s a very complicated history of mergers, acquisitions, holding companies and subsidiaries associated with Glenrothes. I’m going to simplify it very much here. In 1887 the owners of Bunnahabhain and Glenrothes merged, forming Highland Distilleries. Edrington was established as a related holding company in 1961 and had taken complete control of Highland Distilleries by 1999. Several other single malt distilleries have been associated with Highland/Edrington over the years. The company’s relationship with Berry Bros. & Rudd was strengthened in 1936 when they took over the blending and bottling of Cutty Sark.
In 1982 the Director of Berry Bros. & Rudd first pitched the idea of his company selling and marketing a distillery bottling of Glenrothes. That finally happened with the introduction of a 12 year old in 1987. They have acted as the agent for Glenrothes single malts ever since, and it was Berry Bros. & Rudd who had the idea to switch the single malts from Glenrothes over to Vintage bottlings in 1995. Then in 2010 Edrington bought the Cutty Sark brand and Berry Bros & Rudd took over the Glenrothes brand. Edrington still owns the distillery and the whisky produced there, but long term supply contracts were part of the deal.
The nose shows raw grain and barley malt with perfumed floral notes. Delicate fruit and a subtle meaty quality also come through. The aromas are complex but seem slightly immature.
On the palate there’s a bit of heat up front. It builds and vies for dominance with spearmint, gentle vanilla and assorted fruit notes.
The finish is spice-driven and lingering, but with the perfumed notes still lurking in the shadows.
Sherry Cask Reserve:
The nose brings together aromas of ginger bread, malted barley and a mix of stewed and baked berry fruits. Floral aromas exist only as delicate background notes.
On the palate, young, sweet Oloroso Sherry fruit notes come to the fore and dance with ginger and mint.
The spice notes build on the finish as the other elements fade gracefully.
The Sherry cask maturation adds a nice balance to the house style. It does come across a bit thin at points though, leaving me to wonder how this would present itself without chill filtering and at a higher proof.
Seeing the rather odd arrangement between the two companies, with the Glenrothes brand and distillery under separate ownership, I thought it would be a good opportunity to put together a list of who owns each of Scotland’s single malt distilleries.
I’m going for a comprehensive list of active distilleries here. When a distillery is mothballed, it’s put into a state of suspended animation that it can be brought out of rather quickly. There are also some that run on a limited basis, maybe one month a year. This makes it hard to say for certain which is active. Several distilleries (nine, I think) are either very new or still under construction. I’m ignoring the ones that don’t yet have legal whisky (aged at least 3 years). There are also some distilleries that share infrastructure (mash tun, wash backs, etc). If it has a separate name and its own set of stills, I’m counting it as a unique distillery. To the best of my knowledge all on this list of 99 are currently distilling and were distilling prior to 2013.
I’m going to list the direct owner and its parent company or individual owner if applicable, as well as the home country of the ultimate owner. Single malt names in use that differ from the distillery name will also be listed.
Lochnagar (bottled as Royal Lochnagar)
Chivas Brothers / Pernod Ricard (France)
Beam Suntory / Suntory Holdings (Japan)
John Dewar & Sons / Bacardi (Bermuda)
Brackla (bottled as Royal Brackla)
Macduff (sometimes bottled as Glen Deveron)
Inver House Distillers / Thai Beverage (Thailand)
Knockdhu (bottled as An Cnoc)
Pulteney (bottled as Old Pulteney)
Whyte & Mackay / Emperador / Alliance Global Group (Philippines)
Isle of Jura
William Grant & Sons (Scotland)
Burn Stewart / Distell (South Africa)
Tobermory (heavily paeted variant bottled as Ledaig)
Angus Dundee Distillers (Scotland)
The Glenmorangie Company Ltd / Louis Vuitton Moet Hennessy (France)
Ian Macleod Distillers (Scotland)
J&A Mitchell & Company (Scotland)
Glengyle (bottled as Kilkerran)
Springbank (unpeated and heavily peated variants bottled as Hazelburn and Longrow)
Loch Lomand Group (Scotland)
Kilchoman Distillery Co / Anthony Wills (Scotland)
David Prior (Australia)
Francis and Ian Cuthbert (Scotland)
Gordon & MacPhail (Scotland)
The Glenallachie Consortium / Billy Walker (Scotland)
Isle of Arran Distillers (Scotland)
J&G Grant (Scotland)
La Martiniquaise (France)
Mark Tayburn (Scotland)
Picard Vins & Spiritueux (France)
Remy Cointreau (France)
Bruichladdich (heavily peated variants bottled as Port Charlotte and Octomore)
Signatory Vintage Scotch Whisky Co / Andrew Symington (Scotland)
Edradour (heavily peated variant bottled as Ballechin)
Speyside Distillery Co / Harvey’s of Edinburgh (Scotland)
Speyside (also bottled as Drumguish)
Takara, Shuzo & Okura (Japan)