Whisky Review #64: Rosebank 1991 14 Years Old (Dun Bheagan range)

Rosebank was a distillery with a rich history and a sad fate, having been mothballed by United Distillers in 1993 and then sold off in 2002 for redevelopment. The whisky produced at the distillery was also said to be the best in the Lowlands and it was probably the only distillery which practised triple distillation on a large scale.

Records indicate that there was a distillery in Falkirk which was built in 1798 by the Stark brothers and in 1817, the first mention of a Rosebank distillery was recorded when James Robertson built a distillery under that name. The distillery only operated for 2 years before it was closed and records are unclear as to whether the actual Rosebank distillery was the same as the earlier incarnation.

What we are sure about is that the present incarnation of Rosebank distillery was constructed in 1840 by James Rankine on the banks of the Forth and Clyde canal in Falkirk and the distillery took its name from the roses which grew on the banks of the canal.

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Rosebank distillery (Picture credit: http://www.discoverrosebank.com)

Rankine decided to build the distillery without a maltings facility as he had approached the Camelon distillery which was located on the opposite side of the canal to provide the malted barley for the distillery.

Interesting fact: The Camelon distillery was established in 1827 on the western bank of the canal by John Stark (who founded an earlier distillery in 1798). Stark ran the distillery until his death in 1836, after which the distillery was sold to Thomas Gunn and his father. When the distillery went bankrupt in 1861, James Rankine purchased it and demolished everything except the maltings facility, which was used by Rosebank.

The distillery was expanded in 1845 and was partially rebuilt in 1864 in order to keep up with demand and the Rosebank Distillery Ltd company was formed in 1894. The distillery became one of the founding members of Scottish Malt Distillers (SMD) in 1914 alongside Glenkinchie, St Magdalene, Clydesdale and Grange distilleries.

This union lasted until 1919, when Clydesdale distillery closed for good and ownership of SMD and the distilleries under its purview was transferred to the mighty Distillers Company Limited (DCL) which later became part of United Distillers and then, Diageo.

Under DCL’s purview, Rosebank flourished and became known for producing some of the best whiskies in Scotland. The whisky which was produced by the distillery was unusual in the sense that it was the only true triple distilled spirit in Scotland. While Auchentoshan tends to conduct triple distillation, it was only later on in its history and even then not in the same scale as Rosebank.

The distillery remained in operation until 1993, when United Distillers mothballed it. The reason for Rosebank’s mothballing was due to the £2m it would have taken to upgrade the distillery’s effluent treatment processes in order to comply with the European standards at that time. United Distillers felt that the cost was too high and that didn’t make the distillery a commercially viable entity, which was why it was mothballed.

The distillery buildings were then sold to British Waterways (which is now known as Scottish Canals) in 2002 and the maltings facility was demolished in order to make way for residential and commercial developments.

Interesting fact: In recent years, there have been expressions of interest from various parties who are keen to resurrect the distillery and bring whisky production back to Falkirk. There were even rumours that the distillery would be able to operate under the old Rosebank name, but these were swiftly denied by Diageo, who retain ownership of the brand and the distillery stocks which they continue to release on a sporadic basis.

When operational, the distillery utilised a rather unusual configuration of 1 wash and 2 spirit stills to triple distill the whiskies which it produced and it was capable of producing up to 560,000 litres of pure alcohol on an annual basis.

This week’s review focuses on a 14 Years Old expression of Rosebank which was distilled in 1991 and matured in two sequential casks (#2052 & #2053) which yielded 552 bottles at 46% abv when bottled in 2006 by independent bottler Ian MacLeod for their Dun Bheagan range.

So, let’s get right into the review!

Rosebank 14 Years Old
Rosebank 1991 14 Years Old

Rosebank 1991 14 Years Old (46% abv)

Colour: Bright gold

Nose: Initial entry presents a pleasant grassy and barley sugar filled aroma alongside some citrus. With time, there’s a maltiness which emerges along with a floral note which is somewhat reminiscent of earl grey tea.

The citrus note intensifies slowly and there is a hint of mango in there, which is rather enticing. Quite clean on the nose, but rather expressive too. (22/25)

Palate: Intial entry presents many of the notes on the palate that were identified on the nose, with the citrus and barley sugar being particular dominant from the fore. With time, the grassy and floral earl grey notes emerge and intermingle with the barley sugar and citrus.

There’s a note which emerges after some time which is reminiscent of apple cider and the mouthfeel becomes slightly buttery, which is rather enjoyable. (22/25)

Finish: Medium on the finish, with the citrus and earl grey notes being particularly dominant and a hint of dry oakiness emerging towards the very end. The mouthfeel still retains some of the buttery notes detected on the palate, but it is now counterbalanced by the dryness and a bit of grass. (21/25)

Balance: A superbly balanced dram which showcases the best of the signature Rosebank character. The triple distilled spirit is clean and yet rather expressive as it allows the citrusy, floral and grassy notes to shine through while allowing every aspect to work in tandem with one another. A really enjoyable expression! (23/25)

Rating: 88/100

I have a soft spot for Rosebank, having previously tried both the 12 Years Old and 25 Years Old official expressions and loving them immensely. This particular expression was sampled at The Auld Alliance earlier in the year and it was nice to revisit the produce from a stellar and sadly departed distillery.

I honestly feel that the loss of Rosebank was nearly a death blow for the Lowland region of Scotland (an area which is known more for its production of grain whiskies for blending purposes rather than for its malt whiskies these days) and in all honesty, I don’t find much comfort in the expressions from Auchentoshan, Glenkinchie or even Bladnoch.

That being said, I have yet to sample the produce from the dearly departed St Magdalene and Littlemill distilleries (both of which I have heard amazing things about) and will endeavour to do so in the hopefully near future.

I also remain open to revisiting the expressions from the three active Lowland distilleries mentioned above in the hope that doing so will allow me to revise my initial opinion of them and the whiskies that they produce. After all, our palates are constantly evolving and I just may end up liking a whisky which I previously didn’t as much.

Until the next review, have a wonderful week ahead.

Slainte!

Brendan

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