Of the closed distilleries in Scotland, Rosebank, a lowland distillery, doesn’t have quite the buzz of a Brora or Port Ellen. There does, however, seem to be a fairly widespread opinion in the whisky community that it’s a shame Rosebank isn’t still in operation. Fortunately for us, they appear to have had a pretty good stock on hand when they closed. A “Rosebank” search on The Whisky Exchange web site currently turns up 18 results, with 10 expressions from various bottlers available for under $100. The focus of this post is a 50 ml sample of Rosebank 17 year, 1991 vintage, bottled at 55.1% ABV from The Single Malts of Scotland (Specialty Drinks Ltd.), a sister company of The Whisky Exchange. This particular expression is non-chill filtered and has no additional coloring added, and it’s bottled from a single cask.
On the nose, this Rosebank is light and very fruity (citrus). There is some light honey sweetness as well. The nose is actually kind of muted, even compared to other “light” drams I’ve had recently such as the Yamazaki 12. On the other hand, you can stick your nose right in there and the alcohol doesn’t really get in the way, which surprised me given that this is cask strength.
On the palate, the strong citrus continues, as does the sweetness. However, the sweetness evolves from honey to, I want to say, butterscotch. There is a bit of alcohol “hotness”, due to the ABV, but it’s not harsh at all. I rather liked it…just a gentle kick in the pants to make sure you’re awake. Then, out of nowhere, pepper becomes very noticeable on the palate, and continues to linger through the medium to long finish. I didn’t see this coming, as I wasn’t really picking up much in the way of spices on the nose. Also surprising to me was the body, which seemed pretty oily and full. I really liked this combination of light flavors and full body.
Conclusion – This is a very accessible drink, even at the full 55.1% ABV. Not only that, I tried adding some water and it retained all of the primary characteristics, just losing that initial hotness on the palate. I’ve only tried one other lowland expression, and that was Auchentoshan Three Wood. I consider this a significant step up from that dram. I also consider this a good jump from some other light profile Speyside scotches such as Glenfiddich 15 Solera Reserve. The only thing keeping it from my top tier of scotches is the muted nose, and I suppose there’s room for additional complexity, but I still rate this highly just for the pure enjoyment factor.
I currently have a bit of an Islay bias, and while I feel inclined to collect just about every peaty whisky I can find, I feel a bit differently about other types of whisky. I’m content (at the moment) to just have one or two solid examples of each profile on hand. For example, Aberlour a’bunadh can satisfy me when I get the itch for a “sherry bomb” Speyside. Likewise, I think this Rosebank is great for when I get the urge for a lighter, non-sherried Speyside or Lowland scotch.
Is it worth nearly $100? That’s a personal choice, of course. I think it probably is, given that 1) it’s a single-cask expression at full strength, 2) it’s from a closed distillery that’s well thought of, and 3) it tastes really, really good. I am, however, curious about the Gordon & MacPhail 1991 Rosebank that goes for 2/3 the price of this SMS expression (although it is bottled at 43% ABV). Could that give me 95% of the enjoyment of this SMS bottling at 65% of the price? Too bad they don’t offer a 50 ml mini of that one (that I’ve seen) for comparison.
Update: After doing a post on Port Askaig 17 and experiencing the strong lemon citrus there, I wanted to revisit the Rosebank 17. The citrus I get here is definitely NOT a strong zesty lemon like I get with Caol Ila and Port Askaig. It’s more of a candied orange. The other thing I noticed upon revisiting the Rosebank is that there is something floral going on here, and I’m surprised i didn’t mention that the first time around. Still a very enjoyable light profile dram, with a cask-strength kick.
Other opinions (and Rosebank info)
- Whisky Fun – Here’s a link to their Rosebank summary page, with links to all of the expressions they’ve tried. They don’t have notes on this specific expression, but they do have notes on other SMS 1991 vintage Rosebanks, with a particularly good review of the 16 year that was bottled 6 months before this 17 year.
- The Whisky Exchange – A link to their page for the full size bottle of this expression. It includes tasting notes from Tim F, who does their blog. [Note - Is it Ok for me to include a link directly to an online alcohol retailer?]
- Malt Madness – Rosebank distillery profile, trivia, and review summaries.
- Whisky Party – Ok, one of the guys over at Whisky Party has now had the opportunity to try the same miniature from TWE, and provides a different view point (he’s not particularly thrilled with this bottling). I don’t expect everybody to react the same to every expression, and my experience with lowland scotch is pretty limited, so I’d encourage you to check out his review. Then go buy yourself a miniature of this Rosebank and let us know what you think! [Added 6/3/09]