Glenrothes 1988


Score: 93/100
ABV: 43%
Age: ~20 years
Type: Single malt
Country: Scotland
Region: Speyside
Body: Medium-heavy
Intensity: Medium-high
Texture: Luscious
Balance: Heavenly
Best served: Neat
Likes: Complex maple theme
Price: $170

I have tasted and rated hundreds of whiskies and spirits, and this bottling of Glenrothes 1988 is the first to receive full marks (six stars). What I love about this whisky is its distinctive oak theme that is not dominated by bitterness but rather glows with bright shades of maple syrup and sparks of sappy sweetness. The phenolic compounds in the oak used to age this whisky have, I think, enriched it with just the right balance of flavours and character.

I blind tasted this whisky alongside a number of others including the much older Black Bull 40 Year Old (a blend) and these were pale in comparison, more brittle and dull. The striking feature of this bottling of Glenrothes 1988 was its density and body which carried its marvelous maple themed character. This work of art definitely goes into my “top whisky” list.

The Glenrothes distillery is located in Speyside, Scotland. It produces whisky that is commonly clean and soft, almost the opposite to the heavily peated whiskies of Islay. Founded in 1878, it is owned by Berry Brothers and Rudd.

Flavours from Oak: Phenolic Compounds

This Glenrothes was distilled on 16/12/1988 and bottled on 4/11/2008. This is important because much of the character of a whisky is drawn from the oak casks in which it is aged. Whisky using different casks or aged at different times or for longer may have different character. This may be demonstrated in particular by Jim Murray regarding this bottling of Glenrothes 1988 quite highly, but scoring a different bottling of Glenrothes 1988 (bott. 2010) more poorly. This bottling of Glenrothes 1988, in my view, is nothing short of spectacular. Why is the oak so important?

When a whisky is distilled it is clear as water, but then it is left in oak casks to age. While whisky is in a cask it draws out a lot of character from the wood, including a number of compounds such as cis-3-Methyl-4-octanolide which is strongly associated with coconut. Phenolic compounds in oak give whisky its flavour, so it is easy to see how a distillery can strike gold with some casks that happen to be rich in certain compounds. Whisky can have hundreds of different flavour compounds, which are taken from the wood or altered from the wood. Not only this, because whisky in a cask is exposed to some air (especially through the bunghole) oxidisation also occurs. This shows that the oak used in whisky making is important, and that different oak casks can impart different flavours. I think The Glenrothes has struck gold with this particular bottling!

Glenrothes 1988 (Dist 16/12/88, Bott 4/11/08) Tasting Notes 

This Glenrothes 1988 glides on the palate with unmatched grace as it elegantly releases complex character that permeates a variety of flavours with bravado and, somehow, with the smoothness of silk. The theme of sweet maple syrup balanced against the bitter oak as the gentle glow of marshmallow adds playfulness to the more serous undertones of spice. This sensational whisky deserves a lot of unpacking and peeling away, as my detailed notes below show.


The elegance and complexity of this whisky weaves a delightful bouquet of diverse character. Rich oak and mahogany are met with trickles of rich maple syrup and dashes of sweet orange as the tang of lime and orange peel dance on the tongue. All the while the purest honey wrestles with some of the bitter oak as the spark of cinnamon and charcoal ignites and releases an array of spiciness. It is soft and luscious, with a distinct sappy sweetness that must be experienced at least once in any whisky lover’s life. My nose could be in this glass for hours as a gust of freshness wafts in the glass, releasing sharp lemon and sweet squirts of mandarin together with the aroma of blackberry and dried tobacco leaves.


This whisky is sensationally smooth with an impeccable texture it slides on the palate without disruption, expressing itself with almost perfect tone and complexity. This whisky is brilliant in every respect! Just as the bitter oak looms, bright sparks of spice and sweet honey shine though as toasted wood and bursts of maple syrup add depth. The honey is similar to Manuka honey, with its rich oily, herbaceous and earthy flavours that balance with sweet sugar. The maple syrup is also of the highest order, with fresh sap tingling on the tongue and the taste of oak and mahogany weaving around sweet orange and raisins. Bursts of baking spices glow brightly in the backdrop of maple and oak. This really is sensationally balanced whisky.


The finish on this whisky is lovely. It is smooth and soft, and it lingers on the tongue without overstaying its welcome!

Visit Glenrothes distillery in the United Kingdom:

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