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Interview: An Hour with Jonathan Scott

Jonathan with the Smokehead Range

We have been fortunate to get support from Asiaeuro Singapore and Ian Macleod since we started the blog. We are grateful that the company has always looked after us. Last year, Glengoyne distillery and Jonathan had also gone out of their way to host our writer, Mr Hongfu Teo, when he visited the distillery.

This year, we are once again, grateful, to be invited to the Asiaeuro’s office for an exclusive interview with Jonathan when he popped by Singapore for a really short time. As we had mentioned our love for Islay and peaty whiskies the last time we met, we are invited to cover for their iconic Islay Single Malt whiskies – SMOKEHEAD!

Of Growing Up in Speyside and Tomatoes…

Jonathan Scott grew up at the edge of Speyside, and interestingly, his first memories for whisky is Glen Garioch. We spent some time talking about how to pronounce the distillery’s name, and finally, we agreed that it should be called “Glen Gary”! It helps the unschooled Asian tongue to pronounce the name and also makes it acceptable for the Scottish ears.

Jonathan shared that his childhood in Speyside revolved pretty much around tomatoes. The reason was simple – Scotland does not have the ideal climate to grow tasty tomatoes. Most of their tomatoes come from Spain. Therefore, tomatoes were a large part of his childhood. Nonetheless, tomatoes have had nothing to do with his passion for whisky…

Working in the Industry…

Jonathan works in the whisky industry for the past 15 years. His experiences are varied, and that was what makes things so exciting to him. Considering his many years of experience, we asked him the critical question – What are the differences for Glengoyne, Tamdhu and Smokehead when compared to others?

Glengoyne and Tamdhu Distilleries

Tamdhu 12 and 15 Years Old

Sherry. It is always the sherry wood cask that these distilleries use. Both brands have their reputation built around the excellent sherry oak casks that they use for maturation of their whiskies. They use both first-fill and refill sherry oak casks that can cost up to a £1000! Each sherry oak cask comes from Jerez, Spain, and it is not a readily available item due to the shrinking sherry industry and the inflation of prices for the sherry casks.

Besides the exclusive usage of sherry casks, Tamdhu (in Speyside) also sourced its water from underground springs. Unlike many other distilleries around the area, Tamdhu does not use water from the river Spey. This makes Tamdhu unique as I do believe that water plays a part in the production of whisky.

Smokehead

The Smokehead Trio

The range of Smokehead is the most interesting to me. Despite the various expressions available in the global market for about 16 years, Smokehead remains mysterious in its ways. Ian Macleod works with multiple distilleries on Islay to buy their casks for the Smokehead range. Smokehead started with one expression – the classic Smokehead, and then move on to release other expressions, including the 18 years old and the Sherry Bomb. While there may not be a name put to each Smokehead expression, we probably could tell from the palate when we enjoy the whiskies.

The Interesting Portfolio of Ian Macleod

Jonathan shared an often overlooked characteristic of Ian Macleod’s current portfolio. They have a distillery in the three major regions of Scotland. Tamdhu in Speyside region, Glengoyne in the Highlands, Rosebank in the Lowlands and of course, Smokehead (as a brand) on Islay. Perhaps the next step for Ian Macleod after restoring Rosebank is to build a new distillery on Islay!

They also have two gin distilleries – The Edinburgh Gin Distillery based in the city and a larger distillery in Leith.

Rosebank Robbery and its Restoration

Diageo mothballed Rosebank Distillery in 1993, and the robbery took place over the Christmas of 2008/2009. The thieves stole all the original Rosebank copper stills, but they left the whisky alone! If we looked at the context of that period, we would realise that copper was probably more expensive then whisky! In some ways, that was lucky! Otherwise, we would not have any remaining Rosebank whisky now.

The restoration of the distillery is underway now. As all the stills were never recovered, Ian Macleod has to rebuild all the stills in its original form. That is taking up much of their time, but patience will pay off eventually. While Jonathan does not have an exact timeline for us right now, we can be assured that Rosebank distillery will rise from the ashes again soon!

New Releases from Ian Macleod

Smokehead Sherry Bomb

Smokehead Sherry Bomb

Exciting new releases from the three brands are coming to Singapore in June and July. First up, we have the brand new Smokehead expression – the Sherry Bomb. Strong peat, creamy vanilla, and some fruits came through on the nose. Oily, black smoke, peat and burnt banana filled the palate. The long finish has hints of sweet sherry and a tinge of saltiness to remind you of the origins of the whisky.

Besides the Sherry Bomb, you can still find the classic Smokehead, the 18 Years Old, and the High Voltage expressions in Singapore too.

Tamdhu 12 and 15 Years Old

Tamdhu launches the 12 and 15 Years Old whisky recently, and Singapore will be getting them soon. If you are a sherried whisky fan, these are to die for. Try them for yourself and let us know what you think.

Glengoyne The Legacy Chapter One

The Legacy is one of the newest NAS bottles from Glengoyne, and we understood that the expression would only come to Singapore sometime in July. Even though it is not yet in Singapore, we are positive that this bottle will be again an extraordinary expression. We have received a sampling portion and will soon be posting a review of the whisky. Stay tuned for it!

Where can you find these products in Singapore?

Some of our bars in Singapore are carrying the brands from Ian Macleod. One bar of special notice is The Wall at Tanjong Pagar. They have the most number of bottles from Ian Macleod, from Tamdhu to Glengoyne to Smokehead. In fact, the bar is stocking up with some of the new releases such as the Smokehead Sherry Bomb, Tamdhu 15 Years Old and Glengoyne Legacy. Smokehead Sherry Bomb is available now, while Tamdhu 15 and Glengoyne Legacy will arrive in July.

Besides our friends at The Wall, you can also find Tamdhu 10 and 12 Years Old at The Connoisseur Divan! There will be more places in future, so do keep an eye out for them! In the meanwhile, head over to the two bars to try these delectable whiskies!

 

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The Rise and Fall of Rosebank Distillery

Rosebank is as mystical as a unicorn for some of us, perhaps a holy grail of sorts. It nestled along the banks of Forth and Clyde canal between Edinburgh and Glasgow, in the town of Camelon. As a closed distillery, its reputation grew as whisky lovers recognised the excellent liquid that the distillery once produced. There was, therefore, a lot of rejoicing, when Ian McLeod Distillers announced the intention of reopening Rosebank Distillery in October 2017. The esteemed company purchased the site from the Scottish Canals and the trademarks from Diageo with the full intention of rebuilding this once majestic Lowland distillery.

The Humble Beginnings of Rosebank Distillery

Historical records pointed to a distillery in Falkirk that existed as far back as 1798. Founded by the Stark brothers, this first distillery was the forefather to the currently mothballed Rosebank distillery. In 1817, a man named James Robertson opened another distillery nearby and called it Rosebank. The exact location was unclear, but it could be the same site as the current one. Unfortunately, the early Rosebank distillery closed permanently in 1819.

In 1827, John Stark (one of the Stark brothers) opened a distillery on the west bank of the Forth and Clyde canal and named it Camelon Distillery (after the town). He took charge of the distillery until his death in 1836. The distillery then passed to Thomas Gunn and his father. After four years, in 1840, a man named James Rankine approached the Gunns to lease or purchase the Camelon distillery malting grounds (on the east side of the canal). The deal went through, and Rankine set up a new distillery under the Rosebank name.

The Rise of Rosebank

The new Rosebank proliferated and expanded in 1845. Rankine also brought out the Gunns when Camelon distillery went bankrupt in 1861. He demolished the old distillery and left only the malting floors on the west side of the canal. By 1864, Rankine rebuilt the distillery, creating Rosebank as a distillery set across two sites on each side of the Forth and Clyde canal with a swing bridge to link them.

In 1886, Alfred Barnard visited the distillery, describing it as a distillery “set across two sites”. The former Camelon distillery’s malting floors on the west side of the canal produced the malt before transferring it to the distillery on the east side with the help of the swing bridge. Barnard also noted that Rosebank distillery had storage of 500,000 gallons of whisky in their warehouse.

By 1894, the Rosebank Distillery Ltd came into existence as further evidence of its success. It was also one of the many companies that amalgamated to form the Scottish Malt Distillers. The group later became part of DCL.

The Steady Fall of Rosebank

Rosebank was a premier Lowland whisky, but United Distillers decided to mothball the distillery in 1993. The company said that the distillery was no longer commercially viable as it needed a £2m upgrade to comply with the European standards of the time. Hence, the distillery closed with many historical features of whisky production within.

United Distillers sold off the warehouses on the west banks of the canals, and the new owners redeveloped it by 1988. In 2002, Diageo sold the distillery buildings and contents to British Waterways while the malting floors become a housing development. 2008 saw some hope for Rosebank’s revival as the new owners made plans to reopen Rosebank in Falkirk with its original equipment. Unfortunately, during the Christmas and New Year period of 2008/2009, metal thieves stole the original Rosebank stills, together with all the other material. Efforts of recovery were in vain.

The Planned Revival of Rosebank

The plans of revival continued despite the stolen equipment, culminating in the approval of the Scottish Government. News of setting the new building near the early distillery of 1798, near Laurieston, abound. Rumours float around with the hopes of the new distillery releasing its whisky under the Rosebank name, but Diageo, who owns the trademark denied it. In the meanwhile, it continued to release limited bottles of the original Rosebank whisky.

Finally, in October 2017, Lan MacLeod Distillers bought the Rosebank trademark from Diageo, purchase the land from the Scottish Canals and confirms the re-building of the Rosebank Distillery. The new distillery will produce the whisky in its old style, with equipment modelling after its original stills.

The Rosebank Whisky

Flora and Choc do not profess to drink many of the Rosebank whisky, but we have tried a few. Geek Choc loves Rosebank, and he believes that the new distillery will do well if it models the old style. Geek Flora agrees that Rosebank is a premium malt on its own, but she doesn’t like it as much as she loves Littlemill.

We did a couple of reviews of Rosebank earlier this week. The first one is an official bottling by Diageo – a 21-year-old whisky under the Roses series. The second is an independent bottling by Blackadder – a 14 years old cask strength Rosebank. Both have their merits, with Geek Flora liking the official bottling better and Geek Choc liking the independent bottling more.

The Future of Rosebank

We hope that the new Rosebank will be as successful as the old. With Ian MacLeod Distillers, we expect the distillery to flourish and grow under their able hands.

 

Whisky Review #95 – Rosebank 1990 – Blackadder

I am not fond of Blackadder as an independent bottler. I had tried more than a couple of Blackadder’s bottles, and none of them has impressed me too much. However, it changes with this one bottle of Rosebank 1990. I was completely bowled over and forced to admit that it is good. Nonetheless, I am still not convinced that Blackadder is consistent. I shall wait and see.

This review is another Rosebank expression distilled in 1990. It is a cask strength bottling from Blackadder’s Raw Cask series and only matured for 14 years.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Dirty Gold
ABV: 56.3%

Nose: Sweet fresh berries such as cranberries and strawberries waft in before the sweetness of peaches comes for a visit. Vanilla, honey and hints of coconuts come after. Gentle spice hides in the background, a reminder of its high abv. (18/20)

Palate: Fresh cranberries and strawberries in the forefront before peppery spice assault the palate. A light sweetness of peaches appears for a brief moment before vanilla engulf the entire mouth. (17/20)

Finish: Long finish with vanilla cream lingering all the way to the end. Some fresh berries in the middle before it develops into a pleasant oakiness. (17/20)

Body: It is an interesting dram because the profile is far from its Lowlands characters. There are notes of ex-bourbon and ex-sherry which makes the dram both balanced and complex. The notes of sherry/bourbon influence also keep replacing one another, making this dram exciting and fascinating to enjoy. (37/40)

Total Score: 89/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I avoid Blackadder’s bottling usually because I never enjoyed any of them. However, this bottles came highly recommended by the owner of The Malt, Taipei. After trying, I got to admit that it is good, and hence, I will strive to keep my options open when I happened upon another Blackadder’s bottling.”

Geek Choc: “I love Rosebank, so I must try all the expressions that I came across. When the owner of The Malt recommended this, I jumped at the chance of trying it. I only regret that I cannot bring the whole bottle home.”

 

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Whisky Review #94 – Rosebank 21 (Cask Strength)

Rosebank…”The finest example of a Lowland malt” (Michael Jackson) is a whisky which creates many emotional outbursts amongst whisky lovers. Rosebank shares typical Lowland characters of grassiness, fruits and flowers with other famous Lowland distilleries such as St Magadelene and Littlemill.

Recently, we got lucky and tasted two Rosebank expressions bottled in the 1990s. Both of them are 21 years old, bottled at cask strength. The bottle that we tried in The Drunken Master Bar was from the 1992 bottling while the other one that we had in The Swan Song was from the 1990 bottling.

This review showcases the Rosebank 21 Years Old distilled in 1990 and released in 2011. Part of the Rose series, this expression is a heavenly dram which represents all the Lowland glory of Scotland.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Gold
ABV: 53.8%

Nose: Glorious Lowlands notes are immediately apparent. Grassy, herbal and slightly cereal. Then after a few minutes, the sweetness of fruits surface. Green apples, sweet pears and a hint of melons. Mintiness also appears with the grassy notes going into the background. Peppery spice combines with the grassy notes to give an extra complexity. (19/20)

Palate: The palate is herbal, grassy and fruity all at once. Green apples, sweet pears, peppery spice and mint come together after that. The oak influence becomes more prominent after a while and creates a slightly drying palate. The fruitiness of the dram combined with the gentle spice gives a comfortable feel to the overall experience. (18/20)

Finish: It has a medium to long finish that is oaky, minty and sweet. The drying effects from the grassiness of the dram lengthen the finish. (17/20)

Body: It is a balanced dram with typical Lowlands notes. The identity is Rosebank from the nose to the finish. Excellent dram! (36/40)

Total Score: 90/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “I was not a Rosebank fan previously, but after drinking this expression, I was converted. It is light and floral but yet, complex. I especially love the minty notes that we get, as it is quite special to me.”

Geek Choc: “I am a Rosebank fan and can only love Rosebank more with every expression that I tried. Rosebank produces good quality whisky, and I am looking forward to the new Rosebank distillery.”

 

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Whisky Review #85 – Rosebank 20 Years Old (Zenith Italia)

Rosebank generated a lot of buzzes recently with the news of its revival as well as the upcoming release of its new bottling. Since we have yet to hear news of the new release, we are satisfying our craving for its beautiful liquid from the old stocks! What we have here is a sample of a Rosebank 20 Years Old distilled in the 1970s by the Zenith Italia S.A.S Import. We bought this sample at TMA Vol. 1 and have only recently tried this.

Let’s look at the review now.

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Gold
ABV: 57%

Nose: Sharp cinnamon and nutmeg spices lead the way before green apples and pears surface. After two minutes of airing, it turns grassy (like a sweet meadow) and melon sweetness appears! Wow! (18/20)

Palate: Cinnamon spice leads the way again but nutmeg is nowhere to be found. It has an oily mouthfeel and light green fruits appear on the palate. The melon sweetness that we got in the nose appears for a brief while and disappears too quickly. There is also a slight alcohol burn down the throat that lasted almost a minute. After airing for a while, the oak influence comes in and the side of the tongue gets some bitterness. The sweetness returns after that to create a sweet taste in the middle of the tongue, but the fruitiness does not reappear. It is a little disappointing as the palate does not deliver what the nose promises. (15/20)

Finish: The finish is relatively long with the sweetness lingering briefly. Oak influence rushes in to overwhelm the sweetness soon after, making the long finish astringent and slightly bitter. (16/20)

Body: It is a relatively balanced dram but not impressive to wow. A one-dimensional dram with a disappointing palate and a beautiful nose. (31/40)

Total Score: 80/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “Well, I am greatly disappointed with the palate and finish. The nose promises such wonderful things but the palate and finish fall flat on it. It would be an impressive dram if the palate and finish follow through.”

Geek Choc: “Sigh, I had high hopes for this dram because the nose was pure bliss but I was disappointed with the palate. I wondered if we had aired it too long after purchasing the dram. We wouldn’t know it unless we tried this again from a full bottle, I suppose.” 

 

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Whisky Review #77 – Rosebank 20 Years Old (Silver Seal)

Rosebank…the distillery that is resurrecting in the near future. Most of us who have tasted the exquisite liquid from this distillery are likely to remember it for a long time to come. That sweet, floral oaky taste stays for a long time and remains etched in our memories.

The bottle for review today is a 20-year-old expression from the Silver Seal Company. Part of the Sestante Collection, it is a single barrel with an outturn of 298 bottles. The distillery distilled the liquid in 1990 and Silver Seal bottled it in 2011.

Let’s check out the notes!

Tasting Notes:

Colour: Honey Gold
ABV: 56.7%

Nose: Perfume, sweet, floral perfume wafts up the nose before sweet honey, musky oak and fresh tropical fruits rush in. A pleasant aroma of freshly cut flowers remains in the background even as warm spice creeps in. (18/20)

Palate: Hmm! Sweet raw honey, fresh fruits and flowers float the palate with the first sip. Warm spice appears with the second sip at the back of the throat, but the floral sweetness remains, bringing an enjoyable experience of a high abv whisky. (18/20)

Finish: It has only a medium finish, but the impact is impressive! The sweetness of the honey and fresh fruits lingers till the end while the spice completely disappears. (17/20)

Body: Oh boy! What a balanced dram! The floral sweetness follows through from nose to palate to finish, while the spice does a disappearing act in the finish! It is truly a pleasant dram to drink! (37/40)

Total Score: 90/100

Comments:

Geek Flora: “When I first tried this, I thought to myself, “Wow, did I just drink some perfume?” It was an interesting experience with the floral sweetness that remained me of a DKNY perfume that I used to like! It is a beautiful and balanced dram indeed, but I do wish that the price can be a little less steep!”

Geek Choc: “Wow! Just wow! I love Rosebank! That perfumey sweetness is perfect for me! I love everything about this whisky, except the price that I had to pay for it! Hahaha!” 

 

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