This is a timely piece! About Mortlach! No, not that Mortlach.
You may not have seen it but Diageo announced this week that they’ve come up with a raft of new bottle designs for the re-launch of Mortlach. They are pretty gorgeous, and you have to tip your cap to them for changing the design for each of the core expressions. There will be four of them, in time, thanks to an £18M investment to expand the distillery.
The resurgence of Mortlach is pretty great news, as far as I’m concerned. The Speyside distillery has plugged away since the 1820s to little fanfare, primarily being sunk into Johnnie Walker blends but rarely having a chance to stand on its own. Most of the shelf space afforded to it’s single malt presence seems to be in the form of independent bottlings. Signatory, Wemyss, Gordon & MacPhail, Douglas Laing, Mackillop’s, and the rest offer a variety of ages and finishes of the curious whisky.
And curious it is, indeed. A review by one of my favourite scotch blogs (Wemyss Malts 1990 Mortlach “Sugar and Spice”) called it, in a word, a “meaty” whisky. That’s not a bad description, really, in my limited experience.
When I was in Arizona recently I picked up a very reasonably-priced Gordon & MacPhail bottling of Mortlach. The 15 year-old bottling in sherry casks was actually bottled several years ago; it might seem people down there don’t quite know what they have. Bottled at 43% ABV, I have no earthly idea what other parameters may or may not be in the mix here in terms of colouring of filtering. Do people always worry about that sort of thing? Anyway…
This thing is goddamn delicious. The intriguing nose opens up with a smooth grassiness, a bright and fresh note that mingles insouciantly with a refreshing lemon zest. The combination cuts through a dusty, musty maltiness that I suspect would otherwise dominate and potentially destroy the nose. Light, dry oak and slight sherry follow on an undercurrent that also carries some fresh green apples.
There isn’t much of the nose following through to the tongue, however. The palette hits spicy and sweet at the same time, a peppery spiciness commingling with a sherried orange zest sweetness. A nutmeggy fig fruitiness off-sets an earthen, somehow meaty/beefy tone. A strong oak, nearly devoid of vanilla, rolls through on the back of the tongue as it coasts towards a lengthy finish.
This is a super-neat Speyside malt. It wanders so far away from what the more well-known Speyside malts like Glenlivet and Glenfiddich are known for but still represents the Glenfarclas’ and Aberlour’s while being unique in its own right. From the nose through the finish, it is a fascinating combination of myriad terrifically-balanced flavours. You’ll never, ever, ever, ever see this in Saskatchewan but if you’re abroad and you see a bottle then check it out. If nothing else, you’ll be that much farther ahead of the pack when the expanded single malts are widely-released.