“I love your pants!” I said to Ronnie Cox. The brand ambassador for The Glenrothes, a Speyside single malt, was hosting a couple dozen media and spirits trade insiders at Mary Queen of Scots in the Lower East Side. He was wearing a double breasted blue blazer and plaid wool pants in his family’s tartan. He smiled as my wife exclaimed, “Oh! I didn’t notice them—wow!”
Cox suddenly looks crestfallen. “She didn’t even notice them,” he mutters, pretending to walk away. He’s a character and a warm host, and he worked the back room of the bar with the ease of someone who loves doing it. Cox comes from a family of distillers, but clearly, he’s the type of guy who’d rather be among the whisky drinkers than the whisky makers.
We were all at Mary Queen of Scots, a newish restaurant and bar on Allen Street near Delancey, to taste The Glenrothes (pronounced glen-ROTH-ess) vintage 1995 and the Editor’s Cask. The former is the single malt the distillery hopes will satisfy the palates of scotch connoisseurs who loved the celebrated 1994, which Cox says will run out by January or February. “Buy two now,” he advises. “Cases, I mean.”
But first, we’re treated to three cocktail options, all created by bartender John McCarthy. The McQueen, my favorite, was something the bar has been serving since Fashion Week, back in September. It’s in honor of the late designer, Alexander McQueen:
1oz The Glenrothes Select Reserve
1oz Fidencio Mezcal
.5oz dark agave syrup
dash orange bitters
dash chocolate bitters
grapefruit twist garnish
It’s a bold bartender that successfully mixes a single malt and a mezcal, but this works in part because The Glenrothes isn’t very smoky. The cocktail picks up the mezcal’s smoke and the scotch’s vanilla and it really works.
All three cocktails used the Select Reserve Single Malt, a $45 bottle meant to be a combination of the best attributes of The Glenrothes, in a consistent opening price bottle.
But most of the offerings of The Glenrothes, unlike typical single malt distilleries, are bottled by vintage. “When they’re ready,” Cox says. “Not by age, but by maturity.” The 1995 was expected to be ready two years ago; it was the first whisky specifically set aside by the distillery to be aged and bottled this way. Unlike the lighter, more cistrusy and fruity 1994, the 1995 is sweeter, richer, with more butterscotch flavor. Neither is particularly smoky. The 1995 was aged first in first-fill sherry casks, and then in refill bourbon barrels.
The highlight of the evening was the Editor’s Cask, a $375 per bottle limited release that was chosen by a small group of spirits editors on a trip to The Glenrothes. One of that group of four, Liquor.com editor-in-chief Noah Rothbaum, was there to describe the process and introduce the whisky. He and the others (one was from Germany, one from France, and another from Taiwan—now one of the biggest scotch markets in the world) chose from a sampling of 18 assorted and experimental barrels. In the end they couldn’t completely agree, so there were two: the European editors chose a 1979 barrel and the American and the Taiwanese editors chose a 1996 matured in Spanish oak.
As that Editor’s Cask bottle made it around the room to be poured into waiting glasses, the first thing that stood out was its deep brown color—much darker than the light amber of the other Glenrothes whiskies. It was like nothing else we tasted: thick, almost syrupy, but paradoxically light the way high-proof spirits often are (this was bottled at cask strength, 114 proof). It had an almost rum-like molasses and spice flavor to it—though still uniquely scotch in its main attributes—and it was spectacularly good.
The Editor’s Cask, for those fortunate enough to afford it, will be sold in certain markets, including the New York area, Massachusetts, Florida, Texas and California. There are only 120 bottles.