Rosebank 20, 1990 (Chieftain’s)

Rosebank 20 ChieftainsOkay, the cold is done. I’ve rechecked my nose and palate against a previously reviewed whisky (the Glen Moray 12) and I’m back. And I’m back in search of a Rosebank that might turn my head. This 20 yo from Chieftain’s is a bottle I’ve considered taking a chance on every now and then and I’m very glad I get to try it first. I’ve actually had a bit of it before–this at a tasting at a local liquor store (the Cellars) back in 2011 when this whisky was released. That tasting was conducted by one of the head honchos of Impex, the company that imports Chieftain’s and other Ian MacLeod whiskies to the US, and featured a number of the Chieftain’s releases from that year. The circumstances of the tasting were such that nothing made any impression on me. Actually, I lie. Something did make a strong impression on me and that was the conviction that I should never attend such a tasting again, and I never have.

Rosebank 20, 1990 (54%; Chieftain’s, sherry butt #3617; from a sample received in a swap)

Nose: Sherried but not overpoweringly so. Golden raisins, light maple syrup, caramel and some nice fruit leather (apricot, fig). Oddly enough, not a million miles away from some Balvenie 15s I’ve had (odd because those are from single bourbon casks). There’s some lemon lurking under it all too and a grassy, faintly metallic quality that I hope water will not amplify. More and more honeyed sweetness and toasted wood with time and a pastry/biscuity note as well (biscuits in the British, not American sense). After a lot more time there’s a nice note of orange peel. Okay, let’s see what water does. Oh good, the chief effect of water is to draw out more of the citrus, but, on the whole, the nose was better without water. By the end this is a very obviously sherried whisky and those similarities to the Balvenie SB 15s are long gone.

Palate: The lemon is much more to the fore on the palate, followed by the biscuity sweetness (which gets more raisiny with time). Much grassier too on the palate but only at first. And also quite hot and more tannic than the nose had led me to expect. Let’s see what water does. Well, yes, water does integrate everything better and the grassiness and the woody bite recede. However, I’m not sure that it still adds up to anything very distinctive.

Finish: Medium-long. The grassy/metallic quality is most pronounced here as is the sherry which tastes less integrated now. Quite woody after the second sip and long after the swallow there’s a pronounced wood spice note on the back of my tongue. With more time the woodiness recedes a little. With water there’s more salt.

Comments: Once again, blind, I would have had no idea that this was from a distillery that triple-distilled its spirit. And, on the whole, it is good sherried whisky that could have come from any number of distilleries in the Speyside. The nose is much the best part, but it’s not terribly idiosyncratic there either. The palate is fine (especially with water), but the finish is a bit of a letdown. It’s very pleasant but, again, not the Rosebank to convince someone like me, who’s not had many, that this is one of the great lost distilleries. Will the recent Special Release 21 that I’ll be reviewing tomorrow be that Rosebank?

Rating: 85 points.

Thanks to Alex S. for the sample!


8 thoughts on “Rosebank 20, 1990 (Chieftain’s)

  1. More or less. There were about 10 whiskies, tiny amounts of which were being poured into glasses that were not being replaced or rinsed after each tasting. The dude leading the tasting was saying very dubious things about both the whiskies and about the industry in general (for instance, I remember he insisted that the majority of casks used in Scotland are white wine casks). Later I learned that he is a Keeper of the Quaich….

    The charitable reading is that these kinds of events are meant to be dog and pony shows to attract new drinkers and impress them with good stories that get them excited about whisky. It seemed to work that day as a number of the people in the session I was in bought bottles. And to be fair, there was not a heavy sales push.


    • Wow, that is an unfortunate dubious claim. I agree they’re dog and pony shows yet also in my experience there hasn’t been any hard selling. The tiny 0.25oz pours do the whiskies no justice, neither to appreciate nor to sell them on their own merits.

      To me, the sales results are like wine tastings at wineries. Ultimately all of those little tastes add up to enough alcohol to affect some folks’ judgement enough to buy something they wouldn’t otherwise. But at a wine tasting the bottle is $20+; while at whisky tastings the single cask bottle is $200+.

      Quickly sipping a 20-something year old single cask single malt in a glass I have to quickly rinse out myself makes for an odd experience. By the fifth round the sample’s nose has become sort of a weirdly vatted malt. I respect your choice to avoid these things.


      • My choice is entirely a selfish one, I should add. My only motivation in going (this was both the first and last such event I’ve attended) was to try before buying. But after the second whisky it was clear that I was not getting any decent sense of these whiskies.


  2. I happened to find a bottle at Beltramo’s a couple years ago. Yesterday I decided to open it. I have to say this Rosebank was nothing like I expected. The ex-sherry maturation absolutely overwhelmed the whisky which is unlike your tasting notes. I guess I might need the whisky to open up some more but for now this Rosebank reminds me of Macallan Cask Strength.


    • That does sound very different. Maybe my nose was not as recovered from the cold I’d apparently had at the time as I’d thought it was.


      • I might need to give this Rosebank some air. The distillery character is definitely hiding somewhere.

        Incidentally, this Rosebank is a bit unusual because the official bottlings were matured in mostly ex-bourbon casks (the limited 21 year old has some ex-sherry casks in the vatting).


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