Turns out, the 140-year-old distillery is located on the same plot of land as the town’s graveyard. And sure, Alasdair Anderson might tell you it’s the water or the region’s barley (and, okay, maybe he knows what he’s talking about), but we’re holding out for some supernatural intervention. Timing’s right, after all.
And Alasdair really does know his stuff. His plans to become a draftsman architect were derailed after a stint at the Tamdhu Distillery — and 39 years later he’s still messing with malt as Glenrothes’ distillery manager. So we sat down with Alasdair to find out what really defines Glenrothes and how we should be drinking it.
What attracted you to the Whisky-making business and what’s kept you there for 39 years?Alasdair: It's really the camaraderie and friendships. There are a lot of close-knit communities up here, a lot of them still on the land. There are lots of companies here that are almost rivals. But the industry itself at the local level — I can pick up the phone to any of my competitors and ask them a favor, and they will respond.
And likewise. It's a really nice, friendly industry, but we are very serious about what we do. And it's a fun product to make at the end of the day, so that should be enjoyed.
Tell us more about The Glenrothes. The brand is quite old and has a lot of history. What attracted you?Alasdair: Glenrothes was established as a distillery for the blending market and was very, very good at it. It was known as a top dressing spirit for any blended product. We were almost forgotten about when Berry Bros. & Rudd (a UK Wine and spirits merchant) took the single malt side of it and started expanding.
We always knew that Glenrothes was a very good Whisky — a really nice, easy drinking Whisky. And now that Edrington (Scotland-based spirits company) has put their full weight behind it, it's a very, very exciting place to be — the single malt is really taking off. And so, there’s a lot of pride here and that drives us forward all the time.
What’s the deal with slow distillation?Alasdair: Slow distillation means different things for different folks. We have quite a big plant here. We always control the flow rate in the stills for quality purposes, rather than an accountant, who would say, "Push it through the stills as quickly as possible." But going slower allows for the interaction with the copper — there’s a lot more reflux with the large stills here.
We get that light, fruity spirit that we are looking for. If an accountant was running this place, we would be pushing the stills considerably harder. But we've always driven for quality over economy.
Is the water in Scotland special? What is it about Scotland’s water that makes the Scotch so fantastic?Alasdair: As you well know from Scottish weather, the water falls out of the sky quite regularly here. But joking aside, at Glenrothes we've got two farms — I'm part-time farm manager as well. It's the Brauchhill and Ardcanny farms.
I'm not really interested in sheep and cotton crops for the farms. It's solely for the protection of the water rights. Both the springs, the Ardcanny and Brauchhill, produce a very soft water. As we’ve recently found, it's one of the softest in our group and one of the softest in the area. And we are very protective of that.
Tell us more about The Glenrothes Single Malt. What makes it so unique?Alasdair: This is something that frustrates our brand team. There is nothing particularly unique about Glenrothes. What is unique is the way everything is put together. There is no one thing that will stand out, like say our sister distillery, Macallan, with small, squat stills.
We have stills — large stills. But the way we put everything together is all balanced through Glenrothes, which is quite unique in the industry — a balanced distillation. The key I think is our raw materials, the speed with which we do it and the people who actually make it. That is a huge part of it. All of those aspects put together is what makes it unique.
1. If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Invisibility. So I can wander about and just observe — especially other distilleries. Generally, we can go in, but it is nice just to sit and watch.
2. How would you describe The Glenrothes in three words?
A hidden gem.
3. What is your favorite music and what drink goes with it?
It would have to be Steppenwolf’s "Born To Be Wild” with Whisky Maker's Cut. And I'll tell you why — to relax, I race motorcycles. And my friends and I have converted an old bus and we can get five motorcycles in the back of it and go off-road racing. The last time we had Steppenwolf blasting out all the way down the road, me and them, and we shared a bottle of Whisky Maker's Cut. One of us was forced to drive, but the rest was... yeah. That’s a beautiful dram.
4. What would you eat and drink for your last supper?
I will go rural and say a plate of mince and tatties. It's very, very simple, but when it's done right, it's beautiful. Absolutely beautiful. And I’d enjoy the Glenrothes 18 Year Old with it.
5. Assuming The Glenrothes is your favorite, what's your second favorite Scotch?
Two favorites — really. Aberlour A'bunadh and Balvenie Doublewood.
What is The Glenrothes flavor profile?Alasdair: It's always a light, fruity dram. Not a scary drink. A lot of the Whisky out there feels like it almost has to be hard to be good.
Glenrothes is always seen as a friendly drink. You sit down and you enjoy it. It's not intimidating. Full of character. Just generally quite a good dram.
What are some great food pairings?Alasdair: If I was going for a fish dinner, I would go for the lighter end of the market, like the Glenrothes 10 or Glenrothes 12 year old. I think they would almost be a palate cleanser and not overpower the food. Thinking maybe a bit of haddock or whitefish, some bream even. You want to taste the food, so the drink should complement it, rather than dominate it.
What makes being from Speyside so special and different than any other of the Scotch regions?Alasdair: I suppose it’s been the availability of high quality malt and barley in this area. This has been a great area to grow barley, and that has produced the finest malt. The skills have built up over the years in this area — they are second to none.
For example, we are very fortunate to have coppersmiths in the village of Rothes. For a rough guess, I would say 90% of port stills actually are manufactured for the world. So the skill set here, the barley and water all make this area special. The climate as well — the maturation in the warehouses is not overly hot, not overly cold. It's just a fine balance all the way through, so you get a nice, even maturation.
Tell us more about the importance of the Sherry casks.Alasdair: Yes. It's something that is very pleasing to me, especially now that we've taken the brand back in house. The variety and style of casks coming through here was phenomenal, absolutely phenomenal.
But as the brand has been taken over, we’re looking towards the future. We're still filling a great variety of casks, which has actually given our master blender a huge toolbox to work with going forward. So there are very exciting products that will be coming out in the future.