The tart, smoky taste of peat is such a scotch whisky signature, and so unlike any flavor in the bourbon profile, that it is easy to say no common ground exists between the world’s two favorite whiskey styles.
Since more than 90 percent of the scotch consumed is blended, and most blends work in at least a hint of peat, finding a scotch with none can be challenging, but they do exist.
If peat-less scotch is what you seek, look to single malts from Speyside. Cutty Sark has about the lightest peat signature of any blend and there is a lovely Speyside malt at the heart of Cutty; The Glenrothes.
Although The Glenrothes Distillery is 134 years old, the Glenrothes brand is only about 20. That’s when London’s Berry Bros. & Rudd, Britain's oldest wine and spirits merchant, first issued a Glenrothes single malt. It was also the first vintage-dated single malt.
The Glenrothes is a huge distillery, one of five in the small town of Rothes. Only about two-percent of its output is released as singles, the rest goes into blends.
“Glen,” by the way, is the Scottish word for river, and when a whiskey’s name starts with Glen, the second part is the name of the river on which the distillery is located. In this case, Rothes is both a tributary of the Spey and the town name.
Rothes is also home to Forsyths, a major still manufacturer. Forsyths made the three pot stills at the Woodford Reserve Distillery in Kentucky.
These notes are based on the just-released 1995 vintage. It is 16-years-old and 43 percent ABV.
In the absence of peat, most of the whisky’s flavor comes from the barrel. About a third of this batch comes from sherry casks, both American and Spanish oak. These casks are new wood that has just been briefly seasoned with Oloroso sherry.
The rest is from former bourbon barrels that have been through at least one full aging cycle with malt whiskey.
Because they're using new wood there’s a lot of vanilla and caramel, a little bit of chocolate, butterscotch, white pepper, and cedar, with a hint of peanuts on the finish. The taste is mild overall and very easy to like. There is a resemblance to Weller 12, a wheated bourbon, believe it or not.
If you’re mostly a bourbon drinker and haven’t had much luck with scotch, this is a premium single malt you just might enjoy.
One of the advantages bourbon usually has over scotch is price. Weller 12 will set you back about $30. The Glenrothes 1995 Vintage is more than twice that much, but you can find other Glenrothes for as little as $45.
In the USA, The Glenrothes is marketed by Campari America, the new name for Skyy Spirits, which in addition to Skyy Vodka also gives us Wild Turkey bourbon and rye.