Introducing the Glenrothes Soleo Collection
Author: Alexis Self
Perhaps it is to be expected from any 140-year-old company, but The Glenrothes has had its ups and downs. The distillery has survived bankruptcy, war, Prohibition, fire and even a haunting without compromising on its initial raison d’etre: to offer a lighter, fruitier Speyside single malt. And, after years of playing second fiddle to its sister brand Macallan, its new Soleo Collection feels likely to earn the distillery a place among the world’s premium single malts.
The Glenrothes was founded in either 1878 or ’79 (depending on whether you count the first drop of whisky or the first stone as conception) when James Stuart, the owner of Macallan, was approached by a group of blenders. They wanted to make a lighter, fruitier blend of whisky as an alternative to Macallan’s oilier, creamier style. Since then and the switch to single malt, The Glenrothes has won a small but dedicated following with its vintage and reserve bottlings – which allowed whisky makers to express the liquid’s evolution during maturation rather than year on year.
The Soleo Collection features five bottlings: a 10, 12, 18 and 25-year-old and the Whisky Maker’s Cut, a higher-strength single malt made using only first-fill Sherry casks. Part of the thinking behind the collection was to streamline the distillery’s range; as Stuart Cassells, former lead piper for the Red Hot Chilli Pipers and The Glenrothes Head of Marketing, explains “it was difficult for consumers to navigate the brand. Many did not understand what vintage meant in terms of whisky – or the fact that you could have a 2001 that was 12 years old and one that was 16 years old; and they were different products with different prices.”
But what the new collection is really about is Sherry casks. Sherry casks have been integral to The Glenrothes house style for years, imparting its distinctive reddish hue and hint of sweet spice, but this is the first time the distillery has chosen to use them exclusively. This decision comes at no small financial cost, but Gordon Motion, the distillery’s Master Whisky Maker, believes it’s more than worth the extra investment: “As a judge for the International Spirits Challenge, I taste whiskies from all over the world. I believe a good deal of their quality comes down to casks – that’s why we’re spending millions of pounds a year buying proper Sherry ones.”
The collection is an homage to the Andalusian sun. Its name refers to the traditional sun-drying process used to make Pedro Ximénez – whereby the grapes are left outside to dry. Casks seasoned with Sherry, however, don’t make the spirit taste of Sherry; as Rob Whitehead, our resident spirits maven, explains, “sometimes some of the fruitiness, spiciness and nuttiness of Sherry remains, but what these casks actually do is to give the whisky more structure, more roundness.”
For Rob, “the 12-year-old is a wonderful introduction to the Glenrothes style.” While “the 18 is a cracker: a really nice expression of a Sherry Speyside style in a world where that’s getting rarer and rarer.” All five are sure to please whisky drinkers of many different persuasions. They still possess the lighter, fruitier nature beloved by the distillery’s fans but with a more marked spice and vanilla character; the flavours becoming noticeably richer and deeper as you move up the range – imbued with that extra Spanish heat. The hope now is that the Soleo Collection will earn The Glenrothes its rightful place in the sun.