The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve

Not to be confused with The Glenrothes Select Reserve, or the 10 other (!) “Reserve” bottlings from the distillery, The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve is an oddball vatting of what appears to be the leftover casks from the last public vintage releases plus a bunch of younger barrels that have not (yet) seen release: 1989, 1992, 1997, 1998, 2000, 2001, 2004, 2005, 2006, and 2007. Of those years, the 1998 vintage makes up (according to marketing) 25% or more of the volume. Since this was released in 2015 and probably came from a one-time vatting (that’s conjecture), one could say this is made up of malts 8 to 26 years of age, with the 17-year making up a quarter of the bottle. Only the 1992, 1998, and 2001 have seen full-scale vintage releases, and I guess they must have sold all of the 1995, which is not represented here.

The vintages were aged in a variety of casks, so this bottling comes from a muddling of ex-bourbon (probably the majority), ex-sherry and refill casks. I was going to make a snarky comment about the irony of putting “Vintage” on the label of a No-Age Statement bottling with no vintage year on it, but I guess this technically counts. When it was released in 2015, it was listed in the $45 to $50 range, but it appears that recent closeouts have dropped the price as low as $33, at least in California. This puts it in the awkward position of being “more premium” than the Select Reserve, and yet costing less. Scotch prices dropping in this day and age? Not a great sign of a quality whisky…

Update 3/21/2022: I’ve revisited this review, along with its siblings in the Reserve Collection, all of which have now been discontinued!

Nose: Bready (yeasty), with sharp citrus peel notes and an overall sweet orangey vibe. (Unlike many Glenrothes, this instantly reminds me of The Dalmore, at least the younger ones). The intensity of the citrus notes and the nose tickle combine to almost convey a sense of floor cleaner. Almost.

Update: Discontinued in favor of the distillery’s new permanent lineup.

Palate: Medium bodied. Sweet, but very grain-forward. Hay, banana, blanched almonds (marzipan), and a more subdued citrus flavor; like crystallized orange peel. Slightly bitter, with a touch of charcoal but not much oak presence.

Finish: Short. Bready again, with a reprise of most of the flavors from the palate. Fades unmemorably.

With Water: A few drops of water release a torrent of lemon-lime. Zesty. (See what I did there?) The palate is vaguely sweeter, but also thinner and more watery (even with only a few drops).

Overall: This tastes younger than the description would have it: that 17 year-out malt is apparently not able to stand up to all of that new millennium whisky. Hallmarks of the house characteristics (nuttiness, brown sugar, citrus and tropical fruits) are present, but one-dimensional and faint. The citrus, as appealing as it is, over-balances the rest of the experience, and the finish is forgettable. At a closeout price of $33, though, it’s not a bad value for your dollar and is far better than The Glenrothes Select Reserve, Glenlivet 12 and Glenfiddich 12, but doesn’t reach nearly the same bang-for-your-buck as Laphroaig 10 (apples and oranges, I know), The Balvenie DoubleWood, or even Highland Park 12. This one is certainly not winning any arguments for the NAS crowd. I would not pay full retail for it, but I might drop $33 on another bottle for casual sipping.

ScotchNoob™ Mark:

About The Distillery

Owned by The Edrington Group and distributed by London merchants Berry Brothers & Rudd, The Glenrothes is known for its vintage-dated releases and distinctive squat rounded bottle. A principal component of the Cutty Sark blend, and also included in The Famous Grouse. The distillery, located in the town of Rothes from which its name is derived, has ten stills and uses both wooden and stainless-steel washbacks. Spirit is filled into both ex-sherry and ex-bourbon casks, from which each vintage is carefully blended to achieve varying effects.
The Glenrothes Vintage Reserve
40% ABV
ScotchNoob™ Mark:
Price Range: $33 - $46
Acquired: (bottle) K&L Wines and Spirits, Redwood City, CA, $33

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  • Sorry, but I pretty much disagree. I find this quite a decent Speysider for the price and have bought three bottles over the past year at $42 each. At the same price, it’s better than Glenfiddich 12 for sure and edges out Glenlivet 12. It’s not reasonable to compare it to Balvenie DW as it’s about 40% more expensive, and the other two have totally different taste
    profiles. What $42 Speysider do you recommend instead?

    • Good question. Around here Glenlivet 15 and Glenfiddich 15 are $45 and $50 respectively, and I would choose either over the Vintage Reserve. Here, Balvenie DoubleWood 12 is $45. Macallan 12 and Dalmore 12 are under $50, and superior, and Aberlour 12 (although I prefer the Macallan) is only $39 here. Glenfarclas 12 and Cardhu 12 are in that price range (again I prefer the Macallan to those). Any of the finished Glenmorangies that are under $50 are better, although I’d probably take the Vintage Reserve over the Glenmo Original. GlenGoyne 12 might edge it out as well. Of course, if you like this dram, awesome! Taste is always going to be subjective, and this one just didn’t click with me. Cheers!

      • I have to agree with the Noob. I find Glenrothes very “meh”. Though, in fairness, I also find Macallan incredibly overrated, though I haven’t tried all their offerings. Aberlour offers the best bang for your buck if unpeated Speyside is your thing. If you like a bit of peat with your sweet Speysider, Benromach is out of this world value, imho.

  • My perspective on Glenrothes aligns with SN’s. I have tried several varietals from this distillery over the years and none resonated as particularly appealing nor memorable. If forced to choose, I would say the Sherry Reserve offers the highest ratio of quality-to-price. The profile is somewhat unique and for $43 here in ATL it’s hard to complain too much unless you get hung up on the 40% ABV and NAS, of course. I have Glenrothes slotted in the same category as Jura and Bowmore in which I continue to keep an open mind but nevertheless perpetually find myself underwhelmed by the product.

    • I’ve only tried one, quite some time ago, and it made me think that Glenrothes might be the wannabe Dalmore just as Dalmore is the wannabe Macallan; there’s a lot of pretension to luxury, provenance and tradition, but not all that much delivered. At 40% with only indifferent sherry finishing, one probably CAN do a great deal better than the base models in all three whiskies, but the base models don’t always inspire the effort, or significant money outlay, to try.

  • Price is now $34 here, so I’ll pick up a couple as that makes it a real buy for me. All the ones you mentioned at $45-50 are $50-65 here, so I’ll go for this instead. Not a great or even very good malt, but fine for an inexpensive dram. Only other malts in the low $30’s here are Glenmorangie 10 and Singleton Glendullan 12. Glenlivet 12 and Glenfiddich 12 are low $40’s. I regularly buy Glenmorangie 10 and seriously considering trying the Glendullan 12. Anyone tried this?

  • I’m usually a big complex flavor guy, so I’ve never had any success with bargain whiskies like this. The exception to that rule for me has been Aberfeldy 12. It only costs about $30. In general I spend too much on whisky. It’s either that or torture myself with stuff I just can’t stand

  • Fascinating, as I do not get citrus at all really, before water is added, but much more maraschino cherry and faint peach. Overrall is a faint essence of blackberry jam that never seems to leave. And raw honey that comes forward the more I drink it.

    But you are right on with the marzipan. I guess it could be called nutty, but more malty than anything. And you are very on the mark with the lemon-lime that leaps out of it with water – like 7-Up. Water also brings out the young spirty quality in the finish, which is a vague burn across the top of the mouth and soft palate before water is added.

    But for a 40% ABV it has good body and texture, soft, velvety and honey-ish, It reminded me of the entry level Glen Garioch or even Alberfeldy.

    I am not a big fan of Glenrothes and keep looking for one I will like. But I did not dislike this for the price.

    I have had MANY of the new-age malts that try to use older whisky to mask way-too-young whisky. This does a much better job of that than more expensive malts like Talisker Storm and Highland Park Valkyrie, in this regard. But in the end it is indeed unremarkable and not something I expect to repeat.

    PS calling anything Dalmore is damning in my opinion, another malt I have yet to find an example of I would buy twice.