Rosebank sorta straddles that barrier between first tier and second tier when people discuss their personal biases and rankings for the much-mourned closed distilleries. No two ways about it, there’s a deep sentimentality out there for this iconic and quintessential Lowlander, but Rosebank will almost certainly never be held in the stead of Port Ellen or Brora. Especially now, as the eve of the distillery’s renaissance approaches. Another factor, of course, is that Rosebank closed in much more recent times than did the ‘Big Two’. Ten years later, to be exact.
But I think more than any other issue at play is simply the makeup of the malt itself. We’re a comparing a relatively innocuous (that’s not to say it wasn’t lovely, and occasionally even spectacular) light and floral dram with the enormity of the massive peat profiles from an era where homogeneity hadn’t yet become the de facto standard. Now, hear me out: brands don’t strive for homogeneity, of course, but when your grand pursuits are yield and consistency, it becomes inevitable that character will be the sacrificial goat. In the ’60s, ’70s and ’80s there were many more variables at play: a ‘by touch’ method of brewing and distilling, inconsistent cask policies, wild west wood policies, etc. Inevitably, this is what led to such fantastically singular casks slumbering away in some of these fossil distilleries we hold in museum piece-like awe. This is the very same reason that Springbank continues to climb the charts in drinkers’ esteem nowadays.
This 25 year old Rosebank is a near perfect example of what the distillery’s ‘house style’ could be considered. And though I still don’t find it a home run dram, I can’t argue the intrinsic quality. It’s there in spades. Lovely dram. One more please.
50.5% abv. From an ex-bourbon barrel that yielded 192 bottles. Distilled in 1991, just two years before the distillery closed, and bottled in 2017 for the 175th anniversary of Cadenhead.
Nose: Definitely soft and perfumed. White chocolate and a drizzle of warm honey. Toasted marshmallow. Rosehip. Gooseberry. Pineapple upside down cake with French vanilla ice cream. A very berry-heavy artificial sweetness. Also quite creamy.
Palate: Toasted oak, much more assertive than expected, and almost leaning toward bitter. Grapefruit pith, which also bitters a bit, but in a more pleasant way. Orange, mango, kiwi and lychee (yup, as it says right on the bottle).
Finish: Clean and oak-driven. Rather lovely, if maybe a bit anemic.
Thoughts: Really good example of the style and the distillery, but also a perfect example of why Rosebank will rarely be knock-out whisky for me. Very drinkable (not far off some good old Irish whiskey I’ve had, actually), just not my preferred style. Should also note that it just gets better and better with time in the glass. I probably had it a point or two lower than the score it’s getting before it ‘evolved’ with time.