The Glenrothes 12-Year-Old ($73)

I’m old enough to remember flipping through my father’s stack of New Yorker magazines, when one could still find tiny little ads for a then up-and-coming whisky brand called The Macallan. These weren’t big splashy one-pagers that you’d see for Glenfiddich or Dewar’s, but what we in the print industry call remainders: little sections of a page where smaller players can advertise for lesser amounts of money. (And kids, advertising in magazines used to be really expensive!) They were simple, elegant ads that promised The Macallan as the whisky for the discerning drinker—the sort of educated sort who was reading Pauline Kael’s movie reviews in the back of the magazine.

And while The Macallan was by no means a new distillery (it was founded in 1824) its rise over the past 3 decades has been meteoric. In size I think it’s still slightly behind The Glenlivet and Glenfiddich, but in prestige it’s no contest—The Macallan is the most prestigious whisky in the world. One of the only other whiskies that has this combination of a rabid following and critical acclaim is Highland Park. (In the early 2000s, legendary whisky writer Michael Jackson called Highland Park’s 18-year-old “the greatest all-rounder in the world of malt whisky,” and their reputation has been a series of never-ending accolades since then.)

If there’s a a problem with either whisky it’s the price: The Macallan 12-year old sherry cask is $175 and that perfect bottle of Highland Park 18 is a cool $350. And they also have one more thing in common—they’re both owned by the privately held Edrington Group.

So why this extended digression into the business side of Malt Whisky? Because a few years back Edrington quietly (everything they do is quietly) took control of another distillery with a storied past—Speyside’s The Glenrothes. The distillery was founded in 1879 by James Stuart, an employee of the nearby—wait for it—The Macallan. And for the past century plus they’ve produced excellent whisky, mostly using sherry casks (again much like The Macallan). But I think it’s fair to say that in the past they’ve had difficulty distinguishing themselves in the crowded Speyside whisky market (where a lot of the players—The Balvenie, Glenfarclas, Glenfiddich—make excellent whisky). But my guess is that this is already starting to change, with Edrington revamping The Glenrothes core line-up (it now comes in easy to understand age expressions of 12, 18 and 25) and putting their full weight behind the production and marketing of the brand.

All of which would be only of interest if what’s inside is worthwhile, and it is. Many in the industry refer to Glenrothes as “baby Macallan,” which I’m sure both parties don’t love, but it speaks to the use of sherry casks at The Glenrothes and their focus on malts with warm tones and a decidedly elegant profile. This bottle—it comes in The Glenrothes distinctive signature “hand grenade” bottle—is just a wonderful deal at $73—nice vanilla notes, some lightly stewed fruit and even more tropical fruit lift. My guess is that in the years to come you’ll look back at this and reminisce about how a bottle of The Glenrothes used to be this price, but I suppose you never know. Worse case scenario, it’s still a wonderful Father’s Day bottle.