News came out today that Diageo are finally going to feature cult Speyside distillery, Mortlach as a mainline single malt. The only official Mortlach now available is the 16 yo at 43% in the Flora & Fauna series (which I have reviewed here). This generally well-liked bottling is going to be discontinued and is to be replaced by four new bottles, two of which will be older at 18 and 25 years old. Since the news came out a number of whisky geeks online seem to have got their underwear very tightly knotted by this “bad news”. It’s not clear to me, however, why this is bad news. Rather than mourn the F&F 16 I’m more inclined to be pleased that there will be far more official Mortlach out there–and presumably more of this official Mortlach, unlike the F&F 16, will actually come to the US.
Is this naive? Perhaps. It is certainly possible that the seeming NAS bottling the 16 yo will be replaced by on the affordable end will be of lower quality. But I see no reason to believe that will be the case. Diageo’s entry-level malts for almost all their distilleries are of very high quality: see the Caol Ila 12, the Talisker 10, the Clynelish 14, the Lagavulin 16 etc. etc.. It is also certainly possible that the new bottles will be significantly more expensive–we have to wait and see, I guess (certainly Ian Buxton’s announcement on Whisky Advocate suggests it will*). But the hand-wringing over the demise of the F&F 16 yo seems to me to be overdone. It’s a nice whisky, but come on, it’s not essential or irreplaceable by any stretch of the imagination. And somehow I doubt that most whisky geeks have had it on steady rotation on their shelves. And for those of us in North America it was already “discontinued” by default.
The big effect is likely to be felt by indie bottlers, who will now doubtless have far less stock to draw from. Assuming Mortlach is still going to be in heavy demand for Diageo’s blends, less and less of it will surely now be available as single casks for indies. But again if the new official bottles are good and widely available this may be a wash. It’s also worth remembering that there’s still a lot of indie Caol Ila about and Caol Ila too is in high demand for Diageo’s blends. Indeed it may be the case that a higher profile for the distillery will lead to better cask selection by the indies albeit at a higher price–indie Mortlachs right now can be a bit hit and miss. And there are still plenty of other hidden gems out there for the indies to bring to our attention.
At any rate, it seems very premature to be gnashing our teeth about this. If we like Mortlach we should be happy that there will now be more of it out there and that the distillery will see its profile lifted (and thus be more protected against future downturns) and that we may now have the opportunity to drink older Mortlach (unless, of course, Diageo price these very extravagantly).
I look forward to being told why I am wrong and I am certainly open to having my mind changed–these are just initial reactions. I do have to say that it is disconcerting to not be on the cynical/skeptical side of whisky news.
[*As a sidebar: there’s apparently some controversy about the fact that Whisky Advocate inadvertently broke this news three hours early, thus breaching Diageo’s “embargo”. I have learnt from this that there is such a thing as an “embargo” on whisky news. The only thing that’s interesting to me about this is that this is further confirmation of the degree to which whisky publications and pro/am bloggers etc. generally willingly participate in the marketing plans of the producers, receiving news and press releases ahead of time and agreeing to release them synchronized with their p.r schedules. I mean if these things were not being so tightly stage managed would anyone care whether they heard this news today, tomorrow, next week or last week? None of it is news. If you decry hype, stop participating in it.]