Ocean Spirit: How The Glenrothes gets its magic and magnificence

Tucked away in the town of Rothes, proudly hidden from view, sits The Glenrothes, one of Speyside’s most treasured distilleries

Founded in 1879 by a gentleman named James Stuart, the riverside distillery is not just a place of production, but a testament to the beauty and history of its surroundings. From time-honoured traditions to its skilled custodians, it possesses all the vital ingredients needed to craft a superior whisky.

It is one of the few distilleries in the world that utilises its own source of spring water. A natural filtration through volcanic bedrock turns it to exceptionally soft water (twice as soft as the industry standard), which is fundamental to the elegance of The Glenrothes’ fresh and fruity single malts. It is also one of the few with an on- site cooperage, using sustainably sourced casks seasoned by exclusive partners in Jerez, Spain, so that the team has full control over the process.

The Glenrothes 18 Year Old features a new bottle silhouette featuring a transparent label with handwritten tasting notes, and a canister that references the oak casks in which the whisky was matured. Photo by The Glenrothes

Superiority endures, and a forever curious ethos appeals to the discerning and knowledgeable, who are always on the lookout for new ideas and quality of craft. Every person on the team—men and women captured by passion and dreams— shares a voice, eradicating the cliche that whisky is a ‘man’s drink’.

Evolving spirit

Only a limited quantity of its single malt whisky is available for release each year. The amount of aged stock set aside over the decades have been strictly limited in volume, and with this limited legacy of available whisky, The Glenrothes’ annual volume release is one of the lowest in the industry—and alas, the numbers keep falling.

“Special stocks of older whisky allow us to release small, exclusive products,” says Laura Rampling, the company’s master whisky maker since 2020. “The process of putting a whisky together combines poetry and precision. Precision in the sense that we are balancing all the characteristics of the whisky: sensory character, mouthfeel, strength and even colour. Poetry in the sense that the whisky also tells a meaningful story.”

The Glenrothes 25 Year Old is the latest addition to its whisky portfolio. Photo by The Glenrothes

Inspired by ‘timeless artistry’ defined by the place, craft and generations of people at the distillery, The Glenrothes core collection begins with the 18 Years Old, a pivotal age when a whisky’s true qualities begin to surface, with incredible complexity and sophistication. A bright, fruity and elegant spirit evolves into something that is intensely aromatic, rich and creamy. Let it age another seven years, as seen in the 25 Years Old, and you will be rewarded with a profile layered with Swiss milk chocolate, liquid caramel and toasted almond.

“In the same way that wisdom is inherently gained over time, understanding how the spirit evolves makes this wait worthwhile,” Rampling explains. “In fact, our spirit can withstand decades of ageing without becoming overwhelmed by the oak in which it is matured.”

Philos, a whisky odyssey

The Demijohn 1969, for one, is an extremely rare whisky that’s been a long time coming. The whisky spent 44 years in its cask before leaving it for six demijohns. A sip will stop you in your tracks and haunt you with the knowledge of never seeing it again. It will also remind you of summer’s end; a juicy summer dessert filled with macerated peaches, candied peel and luxurious vanilla, lingering with sweetness, with a hint of distant woodsmoke. But more than exceptional liquid gold, it also marks an extraordinary year of adventure, capturing many great cultural and technological moments suspended in time: the first moon landing, Woodstock, the first Concorde flight, the list goes on.

In a quest to honour this remarkable liquid—the family silver, if you will—a dialogue between the disciplines of design and whisky making began. What will be the ultimate way to express the soul of a “unicorn whisky”? Clearly, it must dare to push boundaries and challenge convention, while staying true to its craft and heritage. Naturally, it must be beautiful.

With the help of master makers Little Halstock and luxury design house Studio Indigo, the same company refurbishing Rothes House, Philos was conceived. A world-first across yachting, whisky and design, it is a self-pouring gimbal-decanter designed for luxury yachts, a solution to enjoying the most precious whisky at sea without spilling so much as a drop. Philos pays homage to the maritime traveller guided by stars and the first artillery spheres, and the relationship between whisky, boats and water. Even the Glen of Rothes topography is mirrored in the stepped contour lines of the base.

Philos is specifically designed to protect and pour The Glenrothes’ most precious whisky, the fabled Demijohn 1969. Photo by The Glenrothes

Also inspired by the radical nature of the globe, the idea was to create an iconic spin on a timeless invention, to create a unique and unparalleled experience for the most discerning connoisseurs. Hand-painted with shades of green and the deep blue sea, Philos is a spherical cage set at a 23.5-degree angle to mirror the rotational axis of Earth. Powered by a mechanism evocative of Aerotrim used in astronaut training, a protective shroud of six interlocking leaves is unlocked by hand to reveal the softest Alcantara and a hand- blown crystal decanter. The decanter, suspended in a four-way gimbal, is free to move in response to the rolling waves, big or small.

One may pour a dram by inverting the bottle by hand, locking it in place with a secret key. A secure glass is fixed at the bottleneck, and a 132-year-old antique brass compass, which points to Rothes, can be twisted to engage a series of concealed metal cogs to charge the spirit-measure chamber with a perfect 50ml pour. The same way the spring water journeys from The Glenrothes Estate to the distillery, the whisky soon disappears into a concealed pipe, beneath the shimmering contours, before reappearing in your glass as it sits snugly in the topographic curves of the structure’s base. The entire process is precise and mechanical, and just as satisfying to operate as the whisky is to drink.

Photo by The Glenrothes

Like the exceptional whisky it holds, Philos is a work of art surrounded by an aura of magic. It testifies to the elegance of The Glenrothes and its commitment to timeless artistry and inspired creativity. Every Philos commission (price upon request) comes with six gimbals of 70cl Demijohn 1969s, making each a truly rare and exceptional homage to the time-honoured rigours of craftsmanship.

Further fortifying its place among whisky aficionados, the company kickstarted The Glenrothes Mastery Series this year. The invite-only events cover themes of gastronomy, timepieces and artisanship collaborations, with each unveiling a facet of the storied distillery.

Following the first of the series, held at Sommer in Singapore in February, which explored culinary art and whisky appreciation, the exclusive soirees will continue in the latter half of 2024. You can sign up to be a part of The Spirit of Rothes community at theglenrothes.com for members- only invites and other exclusive content. So, let the journey begin.

The Glenrothes

This story first appeared in the May 2024 issue. Purchase it as a print or digital copy, or consider subscribing to us here