Glenrothes is of course a new town in the Kingdom of Fife with its own distillery known as Inchdairnie which was established in 2015. This town has nothing to do with the distillery that bears its name and is located in the Rothes region of Morayshire, several hours drive to the north.
The distillery itself was founded in 1878 during the midst of a prior whisky boom that resulted in a sustained development of new distilleries across Speyside. The original founders of the Glenrothes were a consortium of bankers and James Stuart who had previously been involved with the Macallan. This initial arrangement did not last very long due to financial problems with the original agreement being terminated and a new partnership with some of the surviving parties combining once more. This proved more successful with the Glenrothes producing its first spirit in 1879 and the company becoming the Glenrothes-Glenlivet in 1884.
In 1887, the company merged with the Islay Distillery Company to become known as the Highland Distillers Company Limited. A period of expansion then followed with the number of stills doubling to 4 in 1898, this was partially prompted by a substantial fire at the distillery the previous year leading to renovations and rebuilding work. Beset by problems, the Glenrothes was damaged again in 1903 following an explosion and in 1922; a fire ravaged the warehouses on site. The buildings were rebuilt but then the economic conditions of the time assisted by the Great Depression and Prohibition forced the Glenrothes to close for a short period. This would not turn into another distillery tale of woe as seen at Banff. One historical fact does persist regarding the first day of distillation at Glenrothes, which was recorded as being 28th December 1879 and is the same day as a violent storm hit the Tay Bridge resulting in its collapse and the loss of 70 lives.
Thankfully, a period of tranquillity arrives at the Glenrothes as very little happens at the distillery, which goes about its business until the swinging sixties arrive and more expansion plans are put in place. In 1963, the stills are increased to 6 before another set is added in 1980, to be joined by another 2 in 1989. These 10 stills remain in place today and are capable of producing almost 6 million litres annually, but in reality production at the distillery is somewhat lower.
In 1999 the current owners, Edrington, who also own the Macallan and Highland Park, take an interest in the distillery. The set about establishing the Glenrothes as a single malt brand with a selection of historical releases that utilises some of the best existing stock from the warehouses. Then in 2010, as part of a deal to acquire the rights to the Cutty Sark brand, the rights to the Glenrothes are transferred to London wine and spirits merchant Berry Bros & Rudd. The firm had distributed the Glenrothes internationally from 1995 before becoming brand owners. Whilst logical to a certain extent, the deal did seem an unusual arrangement and was ended recently in 2017, when Edrington struck a deal to reunite the brand with the distillery.
The new deal may mark the beginning of a reappraisal of the core range of the Glenrothes, which is extensive. In recent years there has been an explosion in not only specific vintages from the distillery and inventive cask finishes, but also No Age Statements such as the Peated Cask Reserve and Ancestor’s Reserve appearing on shelves in the last year. A special range also exists for the Duty Free market although it’s still the specific vintages that attract many enthusiasts with some selling out promptly. Using the year of distillation rather than say a 10-year-old statement has proved popular and has been seen at other distilleries such as Balblair in recent times. Part of the appeal generally is that the Glenrothes is a classic Speyside whisky, with an approachable mix of vanilla, soft spices, cream and hints of orange layered with nuts. What plans Edrington now have for the brand will become clear in the coming years.