Mortlach 22, 1990 (Chieftain’s)

This Mortlach is a K&L exclusive selection via Chieftain’s. With characteristic understatement they inform that this is the best Mortlach they’ve ever found or ever will find again (every exclusive sold at K&L seems to be in that range); alas, with similarly characteristic lack of attention to detail they also say that the majority of Mortlach sold in the US by independent bottlers is from bourbon casks. Well, while there do seem to be a few recent releases from bourbon hogsheads and barrels of late, I can think of three sherried selections from Signatory and G&M for Binny’s alone in the last few years, and the somewhat dangerous 15 yo from G&M that’s the most ubiquitous Mortlach in the US is also sherried. In other words, sherried Mortlachs are not such unknowns in the US. Once again, accuracy loses to enthusiasm in K&L’s marketing.

But is this Mortlach better than all of those? Let’s see.

Mortlach 22, 1990 (58.1%, sherry butt 5160; from a sample from a friend)

Nose: Ah yes, this is good stuff. Intense raisins, caramel and maple syrup with the savoury notes–meat stock and soy sauce–following. A strong rye note too and a bit of pencil lead. Gets richer and fruitier with time–apricots and oranges–and sweeter too (dark brown sugar). After more time, a fair bit saltier. Seems to get drier with water.

Palate: Rich, velvety texture; very drinkable at full strength. And a classic sherry bomb–like the very best A’bunadhs but without any of the rawness or spiritiness of youth. I know this is from a sherry cask but it’s really quite reminiscent of older bourbons and ryes like the George T. Stagg or the Sazerac 18. Strong notes of clove and cinnamon along with the raisins, maple syrup etc.. Very little oak and no smoke at all. Gets sweeter as it sits and oddly, unlike on the nose, water emphasizes the sweetness. I certainly find it far sweeter than David Driscoll in his more extended notes on K&L’s Spirits Journal blog.

Finish: Long and mostly as on the palate, with the syrup and clove notes hanging on. Gets drier with water.

Comments: Really quite good. This seems more like a PX than oloroso cask, but it doesn’t say on either the sample bottle or on K&L’s site or in David D.’s writeup. What keeps it out of the 90s for me is the absence of a counterpoint to the increasingly intense dark sweet notes, especially on the palate. Just a touch more oak or some smoke would have put this over the top. It is really very good though and may even be the best Mortlach I’ve had too; so in that sense I guess I agree with David D.–I just wish he could give us the stuff that’s accurate without clouding it with other irrelevant crap. Now, is it worth $169? I dunno–I might have to think about it though.

Thanks to Tim R. for the sample!

Rating: 89 points.


14 thoughts on “Mortlach 22, 1990 (Chieftain’s)

  1. I looked at the bottle. Just indicated Sherry Butt –no indication of type, Oloroso or PX. I agree that the price is a bit steep but I’ll bet if you don’t buy one you will think about it in a few years and wish you did.


    • Yeah, the price is a bit of an obstacle for me.

      Despite what David D. says, sherried Mortlachs are not so hard to come by in the US. Right now Binny’s has a 21 yo from Signatory for $99 (I have an unopened bottle); another Signatory 18 yo for $69 (nowhere as good as this Chieftain’s but not bad at all for $100 less); yet another Signatory cask, a 16 yo for $64 (unknown quantity); two from Chieftain’s themselves, one 15yo (I’ve tried a sample; not a world-beater) and one a 16yo (an unknown quantity) for $89 and $99 respectively; a G&M 13 yo for $89 (quite extreme but I liked it a few years ago) and another G&M 12 yo for $79 (unknown quantity). These are all single sherry casks. They also have the G&M 21 yo for $129 at 46% which is also sherried (also an unknown quantity).

      That’s a lot of sherried Mortlach options. Now it may well be that this Chieftain’s 22 trumps all the ones I haven’t tried but it’s at a steep premium, especially when I have so many Glendronach single casks stashed away (and when so many of those appear every year at lower prices). But who knows, I may yet pull the trigger. I just wish David would not get so carried away with the unnecessary rhetoric. Because he’s so very wrong about the “all the Mortlachs in the US are from hogsheads and barrels” claim, he makes it tough for me to believe the other claim: that Mortlachs this good are about to disappear and this is my only chance, price be damned.


  2. I read David’s post yesterday. He is a bit of a youngster and lets his enthusiasm as a relatively new whisky drinker get the best of him. At the end of the day he is a salesman!!! Do you think he will ever post a description about a new bottling that is described as “decent” or “better than some not as good as others.” Hahahahahaha…it ain’t gonna happen. They are ALL gonna be better than the last. We just have to use our BS filter and go for the ones the appear to be good. They released a 1990 21 YO Clynelish last year David described as “absolutely stellar.” Guess what, it really was stellar. As long as they get them around $100 or less I think they are usually a good deal.


    • Hey, I get the salesmanship part. I don’t expect them to say anything to downplay the quality of their selections, and I would agree that all the K&L selections I’ve tried in the last couple of years have been pretty good. But I think there is a difference between hyping the subjective qualities* (“this is the best Mortlach ever!”) and saying things that just aren’t true (“It’s very hard to find sherried Mortlachs in the US”). The former claim doesn’t even need the latter claim to support it; it would in fact be a stronger claim if they said, “Yeah, there are some other sherried Mortlachs in the US but this one really blows them all away, and is worth the price premium”. The problem with the pointless second claim (apart from it being untrue) is that it then weakens trust in the third claim (“Mortlachs this quality are impossible to find”).

      Funny you should mention that Clynelish. That’s going to be tomorrow’s review….

      *Though even this can get wearying after a point.


  3. And I want to add that given the number of times I’ve critiqued K&L’s marketing practices on W3 and on my blog it might appear that I have something against them. I absolutely don’t. I’m rooting for them, because they bring interesting whiskies into the country. I just wish they would calm the hell down. David D. has mentioned his love of professional wrestling on Spirits Journal more than once–sometimes I wonder if his sense of hype hasn’t been conditioned by it.

    The irony, of course, is that on the blog he often talks about the problem of hype in the production/marketing end of the industry and the claims it makes; but at the retail end he’s doing more than any other retailer in this country in keeping that spirit of hype going.


  4. in regards to the chieftains’s 15yr old mortlach, do you think its worth the price? ive read a couple of flattering reviews about that bottling but both were from people who received free samples from the distributor.


  5. If we’re talking about the same one–cask strength US release a couple of years ago–then I’d say it depends on the price. Close to $100 I’d say no, but if you were to find it on sale close to $70 (I’ve not seen it at that price) then sure. It’s not bad by any means but at the time that I tasted it I would have taken a number of cheaper sherried whiskies (of similar age or younger) over it–all those 12 and 14 yo Springbank sherry casks, for example, or even the non cs Glendronach Revival.


  6. I see that at the LA Whiskey Society a number of people describe it as very oaky/over-oaked, whereas I actually thought it could have used more oak. Some of the astringence noted by a couple of reviewers there I would associate with extensive sherry aging and not oak, so it may be that we are experiencing the same thing but describing it differently.


  7. Thanks for this review. I’m really enjoying the K & L Mortlach, and think it’s really nicely balanced between sweetness and oak. Them again, it’s my first Mortlach, so I don’t really have any basis of comparison. You mentioned the 21-year-old Signatory Binny’s has right now, which I’ve been eyeing for awhile–I’m curious what you think. Please let us know when you crack it!


  8. Sku has a review of the Binny’s Signatory 21 and likes it more than the K&l Chieftain’s 22. He does note that the Signatory 21 is far less intensely sherried. I’m glad to note that he also does not report an excess of oak in the Chieftain’s 22; in fact, like me, he barely remarks the oak.


  9. And further on the oak: In my (limited) experience Mortlachs always have a dryness to them on account of the nature of their more sulphury distillate (not the bad kind of sulphur that people complain about). When you combine this with the dry nature of intense sherry aging* it can perhaps seem like the astringence that comes from being over-oaked.

    See, for example, Claus Rasmussen’s review today of another sherried Mortlach, in which he notes dryness without mentioning wood as the cause.


  10. Thanks for your prompt reply–I’m going to nab a bottle or two of the Binny’s. I like me some sherry, but the Binny’s sounds very tasty, and very reasonable.


  11. I’m currently drinking Hart Bros Mortlach 12 that says ‘sherry wood’ but seems americian hybrid. My first Mortlach and it was not Beefy or Gravy-like that every Forum will almost say. Clean Syrupty Smell. But Taste was like Dried Coffee Bean and Cool Mint with light choc coating. Nothing powerfull or anything spreading around mouth. Just Smooth and Nothing off putting. Maybe bottle Oxidation will bring new notes? I much prefered Braes of Glenlivet 15 cask strenght hart bros . Seemed like for blending scotch and that typical silky feel. But this Powerfull Scotch Scent was blasting through it likemoutain air. Reminded me of the Scotch you smelt as a child like from a Scotch Cake! Can anyone explain Braes of Glenlivet signature character and where that comes from? I’ve tried Springbank that had strong scotch taste but much different and very masculine. Just did not work for me.


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