Whisky Odyssey
Old-fashioned with a twist of the modern 

Rare lowland single malts: Inverleven en Rosebank

Well, at least one of them is rare. With the reopening of Rosebank Distillery in Falkirk it is almost as if the resurrection of the lowlands as a whisky region to be reckoned with has come full circle. It will still be some years until we can buy Rosebank again at the local retailer, and hopefully it will be made widely available. The current releases seem to be aimed at the collectors market rather than the whisky enthusiast, and I am sure resurrecting a distillery is a costly business indeed, so I cannot blame the owners. Would have been nice to have been thrown a bone. Instead, we revel in the bottlings of yesteryear.

When I just got into whisky drinking, the lowlands were truly the ugly duckling of the whisky spectrum. There was the rather unassuming releases by Auchentoshan and Glenkinchie, and Bladnoch was not hard to find, even though the distillery was most times silent. Rosebank and St. Magdalene had already been closed, but those single malts you could still easily find and afford. This is probably where my adoration for Rosebank began. I drank gallons of it, because a Dutch chain of stores always offered these clean and crisp Signatory bottlings, most times single casks or a vatting of two or three casks. Easy, every day drams. We taste one today.

More rare were the Ladyburn and Inverleven single malts (not to mention Kinclaith and Killyloch). The former a malt facility inside the Girvan grain distillery of William Grants & Sons, the latter located inside the Dumbarton factory. An interesting titbit about Inverleven is that the stills inside the building were painstakingly acquired by Bruichladdich, where one is now famed for making the Botanist Gin, while the other two stood in the harsh Islay weather for quite some years. Until the Irish Waterford Distillery snooped them up. It is all documented here, and we found this funny little video about it too. Interestingly, these stills look quite a bit like those at Kilkerran, which also originally came from a malt facility inside a grain distillery (Invergordon).

Inverleven 1986, bottled at 40 % abv as Licensed Bottling by Gordon & MacPhail

Makeup: Absolutely no information on this one. G&M hold several licenses for bottling whisky like this, for instance also Mortlach, Linkwood, Ardmore and Glentauchers.

General impressions: Incredibly fresh, all on grass and lemons, with the slightest waxy note that gives an interesting edge to this Inverleven. The longer you give this whisky in the glass, the more influences from an untended garden you get. I am also reminded of the honeyed chamomile tea that my wife enjoys. The taste is leaning towards a bitterness not from chocolate but from wood. During a visit to Scotland around 2007, I stayed in a rather dreadful hotel in Luss, on the shores of Loch Lomond.

There they had this bottle of the shelves in the bar. I think that one mentioned it was bottled in the very early 2000s. Let’s say this is indeed around 15 years old. For such a light style, I think I would have preferred it a little younger. Still, with a nice, fruity finish with hints of white grapes, this is a very rewarding dram.

Conclusion: A true aperitive whisky. Nothing offensive about it, and rather refreshing.

Score: 83 points

Rosebank 1991, 14 years old, bottled at 43 % abv by Signatory Vintage

Makeup: Single cask # 4756 was bottled by Signatory in 35 cl bottles. Matured in bourbon cask. Distillation took place on 27 November 1991, bottled on 19 July 2006.

General impressions: Absolutely a relative to Inverleven, but so much more exuberant and alive. Grass, lemons, flowers and also this waxy note that I found in the Inverleven. Rosebank has such weight behind the liquid, which I attribute to the use of worm tubs. It adds complexity, even in such a simple, triple distilled dram as this one. The taste has this sour candy-like character, and sweetened malt vibes. The mouthfeel reveals that this is liquid with backbone, that can withstand any type of maturation. That makes these bourbon casks perhaps harder to like.

They stay close to the core product which is malted barley, and gives lots of oomph, even at just 43 % abv. Higher strength Rosebank were very industrial in style, which was fantastic if you ask me.

Conclusion: Rare and true lowlands single malt, which waxy notes and stamina. Even in this modest series it was a very decent buy for ‘just off the shelf’. I cannot be happier about Rosebank being back in the fold again.

86 points

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