Chieftain’s 1990 Rosebank 20 Year Old – Review

*Thanks to the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

Poor, poor Rosebank. Long thought to be perhaps the finest of the Lowland distilleries, it has a rich history dating back to the early 1800’s but came to a fairly ignoble end, completely unfitting its status and popularity. In 1988, one of the warehouses was sold with part re-opening as a Beefeater Restaurant, which despite its name, also serves chicken.  In 1993, citing the huge expense of keeping up with environmental standards, parent company United Distillers mothballed Rosebank, but kept the distillery intact. Though there was always hope that it would re-open, by 2002 the site had been sold with plans for it to become a housing developement. In 2008, there were apparently rumors of a new distillery in the works, to be built nearby, and using the Rosebank stills and equipment. Unfortunately, those last, thin, threads of hope were dashed later that year when thieves stole the stills and other equipment and presumably sold it all for scrap. So, like I said, a sad, somewhat protracted end to a once proud distillery.

On a barely related note, how the hell does one steal a still, let alone several? Clearly, that was not a very attentive neighborhood. You simply do not just walk into an old distillery, look around, and walk out with a couple of washbacks. At best, you might be able to toss a spirit safe into the trunk of a sizeable hatchback, but to make off with stills and more…man, that must have been a seriously planned outing. While we here at The Casks are appalled at such a theft, and of course would never condone such an activity…you kind of have to admire the spirit behind it.

Speaking of spirits, this independently bottled Rosebank from Ian Macleod’s Chieftain’s Range was aged in an ex-sherry butt for 20 years, which I gather is somewhat unusual as Rosebank is typically aged in American oak. It’s been bottled at cask strength and, as all Chieftain’s releases are, is non chill-filtered and contains no artificial color.

The Nose:  Sweet, fruity, and a little floral with clover honey and caramel, ripe, ripe cantaloupe, and fresh raspberries in cream. Drier fruit notes of raisins and figs play a prominent role as well. Smooth cinnamon notes from the wood, hints of roasted nuts and little wet stone provide a nice balance to the sweetness. A bit of water adds more of a floral quality, deepening the complexity of the honey, adding more cream to that bowl of raspberries, and toning down the spice and nuts.

The Palate:  Initially lightly creamy with more honey, caramel and a little vanilla. The fruit from the nose is here, though it’s more in the background. A nice wave of honey-roasted nuts is soon joined by lots of cinnamon (both red-hot candies & raw stick), clove, and tannic wood. That nuttiness grows and carries well into the finish. Water really makes the palate delightful, lengthening the creamy caramel and vanilla and integrating fruit, nuts and wood-spice even more.

The Finish:  Pleasantly tannic with more cinnamon, clove and a dwindling roasted almond quality. A little unsweetened chocolate shows up towards the end once a little water is added.

Thoughts:  A very, very nice Lowland malt. Without water, the subtle, yet complex nose takes a while to get to know and the palate moves a little too insistently into that spice and nuttiness, but it’s still a delicious malt. Adding a little water really brings out more balance and structure, calming the influence of the wood and really letting the soft, rich, floral character come out more. It’s always a treat to try whisky from a distillery that no longer exists.When you do see it, Rosebank is typically a relatively high quality malt and this one is no exception. Recommended.

Chieftain’s 1990 Rosebank 20 Year Old, Lowland

54% aBV

Score:  85

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4 thoughts on “Chieftain’s 1990 Rosebank 20 Year Old – Review

  1. What a modern, sad, and totally heartbreaking tale. I’ve heard it before, but it gets me every time. I had a bottle of Rosebank back in the 90s and enjoyed it. I have a bunch of samples now and generally find it quite nice. Park Ave Liquors has this (a few blocks from my office) and I’ve been wondering about it (not cheap). Thanks for the detailed tasting notes and the characteristically well researched and written back story. What an awesome blog!

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