I love snapshots. I love the idea of catching a glimpse of another time. Back to the Future Day (the day Doc and Marty go into the future – October 21, 2015) reminded me of the question – if I were able to travel in time, when would I travel to? The answer is not simple. I’d like to be reminded of what life was like before high-powered computers in our pockets and GPS. I’d like to see how people lived before color TV. Before every family had a car. Before electricity was in every home. Before airplane travel. And yes, I’d like to see what like was like at the Glenrothes distillery in 1994.
1994 was before the recent boom in whisk(e)y. It was right at the last gasps of the dark ages, when whisk(e)y was nothing but served as shots in dive bars. Vodka was still king, but the troop at the Glenrothes distillery was able to create magnificent spirit.
I’m a pretty big fan of consistency in spirit. When I buy a bottle and spend that kind of money I’d like to be pretty sure I know what I’m getting, which is one of the reasons I was so pleasantly surprised by a vintage whisky. While wine makers look for season to dictate a variety of flavors and differences from year to year, it’s commonplace for whiskey makers take bits from several different years and blend into a single bottling to get the flavor you know and love. Yes, even age statement whisk(e)y is still blended so long as the youngest drop in the bottle is at least that old.
I love the color of this whisky. I could stare at the bottle for hours. The unique shape of the bottle combined with small labels (that lets plenty of light through and really allows the true color of the whisky to show) helps, but would mean nothing if it weren’t for the deep amber with a nice ruby tint. The liquid just feels velvety in the bottle – before removing the cork.
Into the glass it goes – silky smooth. In the Gary Hustwit movie Helvetica, one of the interviewees talks about how a good font should look like it’s being held in place by the surrounding white space, and that’s how I feel about the liquid as it pours out of the bottle – like the atmosphere is cradling it and presenting it to the glass.
Nose, Taste, Mouth Feel and Finish
The nose of this whisky is so soft, too. Much lighter aroma than I would have expected for a 43% ABV bottling. Citrus, vanilla, cinnamon, fresh leather, browned butter… I’ve read others notes of apples and I’m stretching to find it and just can’t. On a first taste, it starts just as soft as the nose, but then builds to be much bigger, like a subway train coming around a corner to the station. First it’s only a light in the tunnel, then the rumble and the sounds of the wheels on the tracks, then the rush of air as the cars stop in front of you. The finish is luxurious too – warm and spicy, with a little salt tingle on your lips. It’s not as creamy as I’d have thought, but still a nice body. Then, just like the train leaving the station, the finish ends. Gone without a trace.
Diluting just a touch completely changes the character of this whisky. Now the toffee and apple comes out to play, and the spice is really forward. The citrus is more of a lemon rind now. The flavor has really grown, but the finish is almost nil. Nothing on the lips and the mouth feel went away with it. Tough to say if the addition of water made it ‘better,’ but it’s definitely different – and I like that.
Distilled in 1994 and (as marked) bottled in 2010, this 16 year old whisky falls right in the age range I really like for a Scottish whisky – and it’s nice to have a glimpse back to another time in whisky’s history. Unfortunately as a vintage product there was a limited supply available and it’s all but completely gone now; head down to your local and they may still have a dram around somewhere. Just remember – there’s no right or wrong whisk(e)y, no right or wrong way to drink whisk(e)y, there’s only the whisk(e)y that you like. And that’s all that matters!