Tasting Notes: Rosebank 17 (1991)

Rosebank is considered to be one of the great, lost distilleries along with Port Ellen and Brora — now-closed distilleries that were considered exemplars of a specific region (Lowlands, Islay, and Highlands, respectively). The distillery was closed down in 1993 as Glenkinchie — considered by many experts to be an inferior dram — grew in size and prominence. As a classic lowland malt, Rosebank is one of the few scotches that is triple distilled. It’s signature flavor, according to Michael Jackson, is chamomile, while others often describe young Rosebanks as “floral,” and older expressions as more spicy.

ABV — 55.1%

Nose — Very muted (I agree, here, with Scotch Hobbyist). Maybe a hint of spice and toffee, though I think the alcohol content has a higher profile than Scotch Hobbyist suggests.

Taste — This is cask strength, so the dram is slightly hot without a little water. Some spice persists and a semi-sweet floral taste is indeed evident. There is a flavor that is quite distinct — particularly in the middle to the finish — but I’m having trouble putting a name to it. Michael Jackson suggests that chamomile is the “signature” flavor of Rosebank. Since I don’t know what chamomile tastes like, it is entirely possible that this is the unidentifiable taste I’m groping at describing. Whatever it is, it’s definitely very floral and fragrant and I would even go so far as to say cloying. I’m not sure I like it.

Overall — An OK if slightly disconcerting dram, as I don’t like not having the vocab to describe the dominant taste. This is only my second Lowland scotch, the other being a Glenkinchie 10 year I picked up in Duty Free in St. Lucia. The Glenkinchie is a very light dram, also semi-sweat with a nice taste of pears. The biggest difference (aside from taste) is that the Glenkinchie cost me $30 for a whole liter. A full bottle of Rosebank 17 is extremely hard to find in the states, and ordering it from a UK whisky purveyer will run somewhere around ₤65, not including shipping. To be perfeclty honest, this is an occasion where I prefer the cheaper dram and I’m not sure what all the fuss is about regarding Rosebank.

I’m thankful that my wife bought me the miniature rather than springing for the whole bottle, which she occasionally does, though perhaps the taste would have grown on me given the chance for another glass (not possible with the miniature). One the plus side, the miniature goes for about a tenth of the price of a full bottle on the Whisky Exchange, and I got to sample a rare dram without breaking the bank.