The Glenrothes Alba (Bourbon Cask) Reserve

Seeing as I am already on my second bottle of The Glenrothes Alba Reserve (now renamed the "Bourbon Cask Reserve"), I thought it deserved a review. The “Alba” has been matured in 100% American White Oak Ex-Bourbon casks.

The “House” symbol of the Kashrut London Beit Din Certification features prominantly at the back of the English Language label.

The Glenrothes distillery was until a few months ago, under the distinguished ownership of Whisky dealers “Berry Brothers & Rudd”. It was given to them in a complicated deal with The “Famous Grouse” Edrington Group. Now Edrington have taken the distillery back into full ownership and now, once again sits alongside Glenturret, Highland Park and Macallan, all of whom are famous for their preference to Sherry dominant wood flavours.


The Berry Brothers & Rudd packaging design and dumpy lightbulb bottle really stands out amongst all the cardboard box cartons and metal canisters. The elegant design which shows off the bottle like a giant gemstone in its gold brown setting, looks really good on the eye as well as on the shelf but offers little bottle protection from the front or back.

If I had to pack it in my suitcase to board a flight, I’d be very nervous indeed. It will be interesting to see in the coming year, if The Famous Grouse decide to repackage the distinctive Berry Brothers packaging or leave it alone.

Almost all Glenrothes expressions have some kind of Ex-Sherry cask influence so it will be interesting for the veteran drinker to this distillery to find out if the signature flavours of Glenrothes come out in this completely non-Sherried expression.

By the way, there is a very confusingly named Glenrothes bottling called the “American Oak Vintage Reserve” which you would be forgiven for assuming it was either charred Virgin oak or Ex-Bourbon matured. In fact, these white oak American casks have been seasoned in Sherry before being filled with their new make spirit. This Sherry seasoning in-house is a speciality of the Edrington Group.

Watching Rob’s “The Spirit Safe” review of the most popular Glenrothes expression, “The Select Reserve”, I can see that a lot of the flavours and character which he described, also very much apply to this kosher Glenrothes. That’s really good to know! We are in fact experiencing a real Glenrothes with all the influence of the barley mash, fermentation process and distillation through those gorgeous looking shiny copper stills, Lyne arms and condensers that so contribute to the whisky flavour.
Almost everyone agrees that some 60% of the final flavour comes from the wood but that still leaves 40% from the distillation process contributing flavour notes which is no small percentage.
I found a striking photo here of the stillroom looking more like a perfectly designed and fine-tuned brass musical instrument. You can almost imagine the conductor, (the distillery manager), standing in front of the metal staircase in front, tapping his baton on the rails to begin the Distiller’s Symphony in G Major.

The Alba (Bourbon Cask) Reserve is bottled at 40% abv and clearly chill filtered. The Glenrothes does state on many of its bottlings that they are natural colour. There is no information as to whether this is though although if they have added some E150a colouring, it could not have been much as the colour looks to me very typical from a whisky matured in American Ex-Bourbon white oak. Prices vary in Israel but expect to pay around NIS 300.

The Glenrothes is unmistakably a Middle Highlands “Speysider” but less "travel-sweets in icing sugar" sugary and much more Scottish white creamy fudge in the mouth. Along with the fudge is English Orange Marmalade and English Tea with milk, like “PG Tips”, or “Yorkshire Tea”, what I believe the Americans call “Breakfast Tea”. This seems to be a key flavour component of all Glenrothes. To continue the English analogy, there are malted barley notes at the front of the tongue like crumbly toasted Devonshire Scones. On the finish there is a hint of woody spices and more fudge.

This is a completely straight forward, extremely uncomplicated and honest whisky. It needs no warming up time, no experimenting with water drops, no oxidisation techniques. You simply sit down, uncork the bottle, pour a nice generous measure into your Glencairn glass, admire the fudge brown colour for a few seconds before bringing it to your lips and tilting the glass. You then enjoy the experience of all those exploding “yummy” receptors sending pleasure signals to the brain.
One of the reasons why this Glenrothes is so approachable to even someone who has never experienced single malts before, is that it has no nose prickle whatsoever. I'd go further and say that it really does not taste like 40% abv, having no alcohol spirit edge to it at all. It is a superb beginner’s whisky which is so delicious I'm sure it can hook a lot of people into the single malt whisky world. Unlike say, the Bowmore Small Bourbon Batch which tastes as if its watered down, this Alba Reserve is rich and full flavoured.
I sometimes find that Speysiders have a slight saccharine artificial bitter fruit sweetness to them. Not so with this Glenrothes. It has a natural home cooking confectionary sweetness to me and the sweetness balances well with all the other flavours.
When the glass is empty, you are left with a very creamy fudge, toast and marmalade with English-tea-with-milk taste in your mouth and this generates a great urge to reach for the bottle and casually pour yourself another dram. I have to say, this is by far the easiest drinking, unchallenging yet delicious malt whisky I've ever had. It's quite dangerous really because you can end up treating it like a wine or premium beer and if you are not careful, finish off half the bottle before you realise this is NOT 15% abv but 40% abv.
The Alba Reserve is, as they say in Essex, England, “very moreish”, so much so that I went and bought another bottle before my first had almost run out.
No complexity here folks, no deep layers to reveal, no peat smoke or bowl of exotic fruit flavours, just a very straight forward, tasty single malt and highly recommended. Get yourself a bottle.


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