There’s a weird and spooky connection between South Africa and Speyside distillery Glenrothes. It takes the ethereal form of the ghost of Byeway Makalaga, an orphaned boy found hiding in some bushes dur- ing the Anglo-Boer war by Colonel Grant of Rothes. He took Makalaga with him when he returned home from the war.
Makalaga became not only a helper to the Colonel but a well-known and somewhat exotic figure in Rothes. Records reflect that he even turned out for the local village football team. He died in 1972. In 1979 when two new stills were installed at the Glenrothes distillery, local workers reported having seen the ghost of Byeway twice. There was nothing sinister about his appearance but it was unsettling enough to war- rant calling in university professor Cedric Wilson to investigate. Wilson’s verdict was that a ley-line – an invisible earth energy median – had been disturbed by the stills. After restoring the matter Wilson is reported to have visited the graveyard adjacent to the distillery – the first time he’d ever done so. He stood quietly for a while before heading straight to a tomb- stone 70 yards distant. Witnesses said he appeared to be talking to the headstone. Upon his return he said the restless spirit had been appeased.
Without ever having set foot in the graveyard previously, he’d gone directly to the grave of Byeway Makalaga… His ghost has never been seen since and it’s become tradition at Glenrothes to “Toast the Ghost” with a dram.
Glenrothes are happy to have a presence in South Africa. “South Africa’s got a whisky culture and an interest in malts specifically,” said Berry Bros. & Rudd Spirits’ sales development director Mike Harrison on a recent visit. “We’ve visited South Africa a few times over the past few years and we’ve seen the explosion.” In the past, their route to market was somewhat hampered by distribution but is not a factor since linking up with Kreate brands. “We used to be Scot- land’s best kept secret,” said sales director Peter Davie, “but we don’t want to be any more. We want to gain recognition for producing a top quality product.” Between 2000 and 2008 Glenrothes was the fastest growing premium whisky brand in the world with annual sales increases in the region of 17%.
Setting Glenrothes apart from other whiskies is the declaration of spe- cific vintages, much like Portuguese Port houses do. The idea is that vin- tages are only declared in special years, when the distilled spirit is something unique. So maturity and quality rather than years in cask is what sets various bottlings apart. “Vintages are both finite and rare,” their sales material proclaims – and is borne out by sheer scarcity value. Among the samples Whisky mag tasted for this issue were the 1994 and the 1975 – of which just seven and 16 bottles respectively remain in South Africa. There used to be more of the 1994 but four rather lucky folks received special Christmas presents from their loved ones. Norman Goodfellows in Johannesburg sold the bottles at R3 995 each!
“It’s early days but we see South Africa as an exciting market,” said Harrison who further revealed that their sales strategy would be driven through upmarket bars and the on consumption trade. “We believe education to the trade is paramount. After all, people like to be seduced when they go out. People want to be persuaded to try something a bit different – and fulfilling that need comes from educating the staff behind the bar.” Davies made the point that price is an important issue. “We don’t want to be seen as a cheap product. The recognition of the quality we produce is vital.” And there are a range of products across a variety of price points to satisfy both the collector and those who are less involved.
Glenrothes speyside single malt scotch whiskies:
Glenrothes select reserve
Pale golden, bright colour with red glint.
Nose leads with dried apricot, vanilla and some coconut. Followed by a hint of plum, orange and coffee.
Full flavoured, medium bodied mouth is loaded with malt and more vanilla is very apparent.
Some sherry notes with more dried fruit and sweet spice.
The whisky is lively, yet gentle with a soothing finish where some prune shows and again the vanilla comes into play.
Novices: Fiona – vanilla fudge and short- bread with some autumnal, leafy flavours.
Pale, bright gold. Slight but attractive smoky note with lemon and some toffee. Gentle apricot fruit with more citrus.
Smooth, creamy mouth has some deep mature flavours with orange and oak featuring strongly.
Hints of spice where cinnamon, nutmeg and vanilla feature.
Long, controlled finish where once again, the spice is very evident and lots of berry fruit.
Novices: “I get chocolate covered dates – the kind you buy in Dubai” said art director Megan Knox.
Publisher Shayne Dowling agreed with the chocolate nose but also found citrus flavours.
Bright clear, pale gold. Gentle nose slowly fills with the essence of maturity.
Subdued fruit takes time to come into focus but when it does it brings a concentration of marmalade and sweet spice.
Folds into the mouth yielding deep mingling of citrus flavours and rich vanilla.
Appears to be slightly sweet but that is simply the super smoothness and seamless texture.
Long rich finish where the satisfaction of not just the age but matu- rity holds supreme.
Novices: Shayne said he struggled with this one while Megan said it was almost a “whisky-lite” or diet version… While Fiona found some roasted nuts and pepper. Candice Baker, who as the Bascule Bar’s former whisky sommelier is no novice, concurred with Hughes on the marmalade element.
Deep, old gold. Nose opens with a good delivery of nuts, citrus and vanilla. All wrapped in beautiful mature notes.
Rich, full, well rounded in ultra smooth mouth. Layers of flavour are revealed with slow passage through the mouth.
Toffee, choco- late, almonds, citrus and vanilla. Great oak cradle without too much wood flavour. Flavours linger forever.
Incredible length in fine flavoured finish. Delightfully satisfying, slow sipper.
Novices: Undoubtedly the popular favourite. Fiona remarked on the initial perception of mildness but then how ‘75 grew and grew in complexity in the mouth. Shayne noted the malt and caramel toffee elements.