Aberdeen Airport, Monday 14th November.
Its been an early start to get here. More so for my travelling companions that I’m currently enjoying a coffee with as we wait for our transport to arrive. I’m sitting with Melita Kiely from ScotchWhisky.com and Ashley Coates, who writes for The Independent and The Evening Standard.
Conversation flows pleasantly as we wait for our transport to arrive and before we know it we are on our way towards the small town of Rothes, home to the Glenrothes Distillery and our base of operations for the next two days, the impressive Rothes House.
The hilltop building is what was once the village manse, and is still a most impressive building. Owned by the Berry Bros & Rudd family it is still used by them today as a holiday home, as well as for corporate hospitality and press trips such as ours.
Quickly unpacking before a fantastic lunch (if you have had the Rothes House Fish Pie before then you know what I’m talking about) we were soon to head out for a short walk through the woodland and the churchyard to the Distillery itself. We were guided down by Eric (our temporary host as Brand Heritage Director, the indomitable Ronnie Cox, had been delayed on his way up from London) and then given a comprehensive tour of the closed to the public distillery.
The distillery itself was built in 1878, after construction was almost halted after a funding issue was solved by a loan from the local Free Presbyterian Church of Knockando.
The ownership of the distillery has been somewhat confusing. When the Cutty Sark brand became part of the Berry Bros and Rudd empire in 1987 so did the distillery. Berry Bros have since offloaded the Cutty Sark brand (to Edrington) and now own the Glenrothes brand. The plant itself still belongs to Edrington.
Notably Glenrothes release their expressions as vintages rather than age statements, perhaps a nod to their wine merchant owners heritage.
Fact: when Glenrothes is used for blending it is ‘renamed’ Glen Shiel.
At this point we are joined by Ronnie, who apologises unnecessarily but profusely for his delay and then leads us around the last part of the tour, encompassing the cooperage and the warehouse, where we get to draw samples and get to guess the ages of the whiskies which we have drawn, and then to the heart of the distillery experience, the tasting room.
Hitherto referred to as the ‘Inner Sanctum’
On a side note if you ever get the chance to spend time in the company of Ronnie, then make every effort to do so. A great ambassador, showman and conversationalist, I could spend all day with him, listening to the stories of his career and his adventures.
I’ll not spoil them for you but the man has tales to tell. In my mind he’s best described as the Ranulph Fiennes of the whisky world…
Most of these stories were regaled to us over dinner at Rothes House, the food was excellent and the sticky toffee pudding, paired with a (1988 I think) Glenrothes was quite a highlight.
Retiring to the siting room for more drams and conversation a great night was had by all.
There is however a challenge awaiting guests as its tradition to make Ronnie breakfast the next day. Breakfasts are marked out of 5 and scores compared to other guests. Some take it really rather seriously (stealing wort and barley from the distillery) and others take an easier approach. I’m not giving away our secrets but I will remind you not to forget the morning paper…
After fuelling up on breakfast it was off for some outdoor activities. Rifle shooting, Argo driving and Clay Pigeon shooting were the order of the day, after a warming mix of Kings Ginger and some Glenrothes Special reserve.
Grabbing a quick spot of supremely tasty lunch on our way to the station there was time to reflect on a fun few days as all of a sudden we realised it was all over and it was time to head our separate ways.
**This was an organised trip on behalf of The Glenrothes brand and Berry Bros and Rudd. Although all expenses were paid, neither of the companies involved, nor the PR company have had absolutely no influence of my article**