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Monday, 3 October 2016

Rosebank 15 yo (Single Malts of Scotland) Whisky Review!

Rosebank has been closed for nearly a quarter of a century, and although it has never enjoyed the cult status of a Port Ellen or Brora, its whisky is still highly prized.

Rosebank Distillery was located in the Scottish Lowlands, in the town of Falkirk. It was founded in 1840 on the banks of the Forth & Clyde canal, and was named after the roses which grew along the banks. Rosebank was rather unusual in that it produced triple-distilled Scotch whisky, where (in very basic terms) what would normally be considered new-make spirit in most distilleries, having been distilled twice, is then distilled a third time, resulting in a 'purer' spirit and obviously a higher alcohol content.

This practice is far more common in Irish whiskey, but there are currently only two active Scotch distilleries that are regularly producing fully triple-distilled whisky; Auchentoshan in the Lowlands, and Springbank in Campbelltown (under their Hazelburn brand), although Benriach has also dabbled in triple-distillation with certain limited bottlings in the recent past. Generally, triple-distilled whisky is lighter in flavour and texture, and in my opinion usually less characterful thanks to the removal of those 'impurities'. Rosebank does (or rather did) regain some of this character through the use of worm tub condensers, giving back some of that texture and flavour.  

The distillery was closed in 1993, despite being very well-regarded. Due to the expense required to modernise its waste processes to bring them in-line with EU standards at the time, then-owners United Distillers (now part of Diageo) decided to mothball the Lowland distillery in favour of Glenkinchie, with its far larger production capacity and easier logistics. The distillery buildings were sold to British Waterways in 2002, and while there have been a number of efforts to revive it, none have been successful thus far. The remaining stock is now owned by Diageo, and is released as part of the annual 'special releases', although the pricing is generally more reasonable compared to the other 'dead' distilleries.

There are a few independent bottlings around, which are of course becoming much rarer as the years go by. So I'm lucky to be able to taste one of those, thanks to a generous fellow whisky nerd. This bottling is from the bottler Single Malts of Scotland, owned by Speciality Drinks, the company behind The Whisky Exchange store, and the Port Askaig and Elements of Islay brands. This particular bottling is a relatively young 15 year old, which was matured in an ex-bourbon cask before being bottled at 46%, without added colouring or chill filtration. So this should make for a pretty good introduction to Rosebank!
(don't worry, it isn't clear! This is the empty bottle that the sample came from)
Rosebank 15 year old, Single Malts of Scotland, 46%. Falkirk, Scotland.
Matured in a single ex-bourbon cask. Distilled July 1991, bottled March 2007 by Speciality Drinks under their Single Malts of Scotland brand. Non-chill filtered, natural colour. Cask 2902, 284 bottles.

Colour: Pale gold.

Nose: Interesting! Not overly light or overly sweet like I expected. Still floral and sweet, but also fruity and spicy. Acetone, toasted spices, baked green apple, peaches, a little raspberry. There is some grain character here with the acetone but I wouldn't say it's malted barley that comes through.

Texture: Not bad at all, medium weight. Syrupy with a little heat, but not too much.

Taste: Sweet, honeyed and fruity.More malt character here, but still not a lot. Quite a bit of raw spirit as well, plus that lightly floral sweetness.

Finish: Medium-length, but quite one-dimensional. Still quite spirit-y to start with, then the fruit comes back, particularly the apple, but it's oxidised now. A little dry oak here as well.

Score: 2.5 out of 5.

Notes: Quite interesting, and not quite what I expected. But in a good way! Although I imagine at 40% and chill filtered it might have scored lower, I was really expecting not to like this one at all. I'm yet to try a Hazelburn, but so far this would have to be one of the best triple-distilled whiskies I've tasted. The nose in particular was very enjoyable, despite that acetone / raw spirit note, although the palate wasn't quite 'up my alley' and the finish fell over a little bit. Definitely not an active cask here either in my opinion. Nonetheless, I'm lucky to have even tried a Rosebank, especially one so well presented. So a big thanks to my anonymous benefactor for the sample of this one.

So, if you're lucky enough to come across a Rosebank in a bar or you find a dusty bottle somewhere with a reasonable price, don't discount it straight away, it could pleasantly surprise you.