I am looking forward to reviewing a K&L exclusive 22 yo Mortlach from Chieftain’s tomorrow (well, later tonight, but it will be posted tomorrow) and thought that to calibrate I’d pour myself some of the only other Mortlach I have open, the beloved 16 yo from the “Flora & Fauna” series.
Mortlach, a Speyside distillery, produces a lot of malt for Diageo’s blends. This is the only official bottling available regularly as a single malt. Their spirit is partially triple-distilled (as at Springbank, though Mortlach apparently has a particularly odd configuration of stills) and they are also one of not very many distilleries left in Scotland that uses wooden worm tubs to condense the distilled spirit. The reduced copper contact results in less removal of sulphur compounds than at most distilleries and this in turn results in a meatier, more savoury spirit. I’ve had a number of intense single cask releases of Mortlach from the independents but there’s something about this gentler, simpler 16 yo that I really like.
The image above is of a new bottle; however, the review tonight is of a pour from a 6 oz reference sample saved from early in the life of my previous bottle. This is the first time this sample bottle has been opened but I thought I’d mention it.
Mortlach 16, “Flora & Fauna” (43%; from a reference sample saved from my own bottle)
Nose: Obviously sherried, but the first impression is of savoury brine rather than dark fruit. Raisins and caramel are present, of course, but accompanied by a dry leafiness. There’s some beef stock and soy sauce here too and a hint of chocolate. With time that dry leafiness becomes dry, leafy smoke. And with even more time there’s orange peel on the nose too.
Palate: A little watery but there’s plenty of flavour to spare. Milk chocolate, a touch of citrus (oranges) and something earthy and organic and slightly tannic (in the way that some teas can be). Dark, woody, leathery sherry and toffee. A nice lick of smoke too on the back-end (not phenolic in the slightest; more campfire than peat). Gets a little sweeter with time but the savoury, woody notes keep the sweetness in check.
Finish: Medium. More woodspice here and the last impression is of oak (nothing overbearing though) and salt.
Comments: This Mortlach is not a million miles from the Whisky Trail Macallan 18 I reviewed some weeks ago. It’s extremely accessible and very well balanced for a heavily sherried whisky. Would doubtless be much more complex at a higher abv but it’s nice to have a gentler sherried malt on hand as well that’s not at the sweet end of the spectrum. I wish it were available in the US.
Rating: 86 points.
I could be wrong, but I believe that the presence Mortlach is the one element that separates Johnnie Walker Black from Green Label. All of the darker, sultana and of course savoury notes that are not present in Green add the characteristic “richness” to Black Label, without giving it any more sweetness over Green. Try a home blend of 85% Green Label to 15% Mortlach some time!
Well, the Green Label was a vatted malt, whereas the Black is a true blend (malt and grain). And yes, the Green doesn’t have Mortlach in it.