Monday 10 November 2014

The Glenrothes 1969 Extraordinary Cask Launch in Hong Kong, with Ronnie Cox (Tasted #138 - 140)

Last Friday saw the Hong Kong launch of The Glenrothes Extraordinary Cask 1969, a release of only 133 bottles worldwide, retailing for $49,900HKD.

Never ones to do things by halves, The Edrington Group invited The Glenrothes' and Berry Bros & Rudd's Brand Heritage Director (Spirits), Ronnie Cox, to Hong Kong to launch the incredibly limited whisky.

Ronnie, who we had the pleasure of spending a very enjoyable hour with earlier in the day (interview to follow) was a wealth of whisky knowledge, having come from "at least" 7 generations in the whisky industry in one form or another. Ronnie's extensive knowledge of The Glenrothes, and experience in the whisky industry all over the world made him the perfect host for the evening.

Held at The Marriott's Flint Grill & Bar, the event was an intimate affair with a handful of media present. A dram of The Glenrothes Select Reserve was served on arrival (in those instantly recognisable mini Glencairns that The Glenrothes are so well known for) and soon after Ronnie took the floor to walk us through a tasting and explain a bit more of the history behind The Glenrothes, Berry Bros & Rudd, and the 1969 Extraordinary Cask release.

As mentioned on this blog before, The Glenrothes are one of the few distilleries (and indeed the pioneering distillery) to use vintages in place of age statements for a lot of their whiskies. In addition to the more readily available vintages like the 2001, 1998 and 1995 (which are single vintage but not single cask), The Glenrothes also very occasionally release a single cask bottling, only when a cask is found to be of such "extraordinary" quality that it is justified (only 21 times in total in the distillery's history). Interestingly, this 1969 single cask release (which joins 2013's 1970 single cask, and will be joined by a 1968 release in 2015) came from a parcel of casks which were originally purchased by a New York collector Abe Rosenberg, which then ended up in the hands of Independent Bottler Duncan Taylor, before being purchased back by the distillery.

(This I found particularly interesting, as we've previously tasted a 1969 The Glenrothes on this site before...from none other than Duncan Taylor! On hearing the connection, I was even more keen to try the official 1969 release.)

The spirit from cask #11485 (a refill hogshead) was distilled on July 10th 1969 and bottled in late 2013, making it 44 years old. Yielding just 133 bottles, the whisky has been bottled at a cask strength of 42.9% ABV. Interestingly, the hand-blown decanters (hand-made of crystal in Portugal, and winning the "World's Best Design in World Whisky Award 2013") can vary in size by up to 2cl, meaning some of the 133 bottles in fact contain slightly more than the standard 700mL.

Ronnie entertained the crowd with some more of his worldwide whisky experiences (including a comment on the state of the Russian whisky market, which is such that if they wanted to sell all 133 bottles there, they could probably do it in a single day!) then took us through a tasting of three releases:

The Glenrothes Vintage 2001 (43% ABV, 2001 Vintage, 11yo, Speyside, Scotland, $428HKD)
Colour: Light gold
Nose: Nutty, some coconut and milk chocolate, with trademark ex-bourbon cask vanilla notes.
Palate: Berries, vanilla cream, some cinnamon and a lot of caramel fudge.
Finish: Medium length, with milk chocolate and caramel fudge shining through the most.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 90/100. A very enjoyable, easy sipping whisky, though the nose and palate shine above the finish.

The Glenrothes Vintage 1995 (43% ABV, 1995 Vintage, 16yo, Speyside, Scotland, $788HKD)
Colour: Bright, deep gold.
Nose: "Fruit and oak" - red berries, cherries, mixed in with a hint of oak. A slight hint of coconut too.
Palate: Lots of spice! Cinnamon, nutmeg. Not as sweet as the 2001. Some grapefruit, and a hint of butterscotch.
Finish: Medium to long. Oaky, and very spicy. Always smooth though, from beginning to end.
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 91/100.

The Glenrothes 1969 Extraordinary Cask (42.9% ABV, 1969 Vintage, 44yo, Speyside, Scotland, $49,900HKD)
To set the scene for this tasting, and to re-iterate the incredible age this whisky is carrying, Ronnie stood up and mentioned The Moonlanding, The first Concord flight, Led Zeppelin's first album and the end of The Beatles. All events that took place in the same year this whisky was distilled. Incredible.
Colour: Slightly difficult to get a good gauge as we were given a fairly small dram (understandably!) but light orange - somewhat lighter than expected, even if it was from a refill Bourbon cask (it did spend 44 years in there don't forget)
Nose: Big coconut notes, vanilla, and lots of tropical fruits. Jelly babies, pineapple. I also got the slightest hint of smoke, but not peat.
Palate: Rich and mouthfilling. Plenty of pineapple from the nose, but coconut and vanilla too. It's not every day a dram transports you to a tropical island, but that's what this whisky did for me.
Finish: Long and lingering (in stark contrast to the other 1969 The Glenrothes we've tried). Spice, vanilla cream, and SPC tropical fruit tubs (ah, those take me back!)
Rating (on my very non-scientific scale): 92/100. Delicious, liquid history.

With the tasting over, it was time for a few of Flint Grill & Bar delicious canapés before heading home for the weekend, with the knowledge that we probably won't try a whisky that rare, unique or old for a long, long time.


The full Press Release can be found below.

Press Release - The Glenrothes Extraordinary Cask Collection Vintage 1969 
(7 November 2014) The Glenrothes, the award-winning Speyside Single Malt Whisky will hold an exclusive press reception at Flint, JW Marriot on 7 Nov 2014.  The session, hosted by Mr Ronnie Cox, Brands Heritage Director of Berry Brothers and Rudd Spirits, presents two distinctive expressions of The Glenrothes Vintage Whiskies, including 2001 and 1995, in addition to a sleek preview of The Extraordinary Cask Collection 1969 to members of the press.  An exceptionally rare and unique breed of its own, The Glenrothes Vintage 1969 is a limited release kept to only 133 bottles on a global scale.Clinching the title World’s Best Design in World Whisky Awards 2013, The Extraordinary Cask 1969 is the definitive single malt whisky being impeccable for its wood policy, quality, and bottle design. 
The distillery lies on a tributary of the river Spey in the Highlands of Scotland.  Speyside is universally acknowledged as the heartland of single malt whisky distillation.  The rigorous process of its making and assessment in the single malt makes every drop of The Glenrothes of incredible depth, balance and flavour. 
The shape of the instantly recognisable Glenrothes bottle has been enhanced further in its Extraordinary Cask Collection Vintage 1969 by using hand-blown lead crystal, for the single cask decanter but in a manner that is in keeping with the elegance of the whisky and the heritage of the Glenrothes.  The essential shape has been retained but is now multi-faceted – heavy crystal at the base elevates the bottle and frames the whisky within. 
Each decanter has been individually created by a master craftsman at Atlantis Crystal in Alcobaca, Portugal, using the purest form of crystal, distinguished by its great resonance, transparency, luminosity and weight.  The team at creative agency Brandhouse, designed the decanter to retain the look of the iconic Glenrothes bottle shape while taking inspiration from the world of perfume to add an extra air of decadence. 
A plaque made of polished brass is applied to just the front facet: engraved with the year of distillation and the bottle number to ensure the uniqueness and authenticity of each individual decanter.  Brass has also been used for the hand-engraved collar on the neck of the decanter, supplied by Charles Stott, the renowned Edinburgh-based Scottish Silversmiths. 
The tasting notes label that comes foremost to every whisky enthusiast and aficionados – in this instance of The Extraordinary Cask 1969 has been positioned around the neck of the decanter to leave the body perfectly unadulterated. The label is hand-signed by the Malt Master, Gordon Motion, and numbered and dated thus ensuring each bottle is identifiable and unique.
The outer case is made of fine, hand-crafted leather, reminiscent of luxury travel luggage. Each bottle comes with its own oak plinth, made from solid Scottish oak, for display purposes and a book co-written by seven leading whisky writers each contributing a chapter about The Glenrothes, its history and the whisky.  As with the making of single malt Scotch whisky, the materials used in the packaging of The Glenrothes Single Cask are kept to a minimum – only crystal glass, brass, leather and oak have been used. 
About The Glenrothes Single Cask 1969 
The hallmarks of The Glenrothes are quality and purity, evident in the beautifully-balanced, elegant and well-mannered single malt with peerless texture, perfectly expressed by this single cask bottling.  The spirit was distilled on July 10th 1969. Cask #11485, a refill hogshead, yielded just 133 bottles at a natural strength of 42.9% alcohol by volume. 
[Official] Tasting notes:
Appearance: Clear and bright with rich golden hues. 
Bouquet: Grassy with herbal tea and verbena.  Yoghurt and mint giving way to ginger honey cake. 
Palate: Very expressive and intensely fluid; beautifully balanced liquorice and barley sugar with the texture of raw silk.  
Finish: Mouth−watering lemon, lime and coriander. Indonesian pepper and yuzu; Citrus notes are emphasised by the judicious addition of water. 
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