A week of Mortlach reviews began on Monday with a 10 yo bourbon cask bottled by Signatory and continued on Wednesday with a 12 yo sherry cask bottled by Sovereign for K&L. It concludes today with a 20 yo bottled by Gordon & MacPhail from a refill sherry hogshead. As I’ve said before, Mortlach usually shows its best side in the context of sherry maturation and this week’s reviews bear that out. Will a refill sherry cask be as good of a frame for Mortlach’s spirit as the darker 12 yo sherry cask was? If the cask was relatively spent then the extra eight years of maturation may not mean much in terms of imparting sherry character. In any event, I think the point I would make is that what we think of when we think of Mortlach’s “distillery character” is not just the character of the spirit as produced through distillation but also the character of that spirit as transformed through sherry cask maturation—see here for a post from several years ago that goes into this idea of “distillery character” at more length. At any rate, it’s interesting to try a distillery’s spirit from three different types of oak in close juxtaposition. Let’s see how this goes. Continue reading
As you may remember from Monday’s review, this week is a Mortlach week. This in order to try to redress the weak impression people who don’t know the distillery’s spirit well may have received from last Friday’s review of the official 14 yo for travel retail. Well, while Monday’s 10 yo release from Signatory was better, it didn’t exactly light my hair on fire either. Will that happen with today’s 12 yo? On the plus side, it is a sherry butt and Mortlach generally shows its best side with heavy sherry maturation. On the less than plus side, this was bottled for K&L and sold for just about $60. A seeming good deal at K&L can often/sometimes (depending on your point of view) be too good to be true. Hopefully this is not one of those cases. Certainly, I was not overly impressed by the last cask of K&L Mortlach I reviewed—which, like Monday’s Signatory, was also a bourbon cask. Was this one leftover in my stash from that same round of casks or did I acquire it in a separate bottle split? I can’t remember. Anyway, let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
Friday’s Mortlach, an official release for travel retail, didn’t impress very much. As I have some readers who are not very familiar with Mortlach I feel I must try to not leave them with a ho-hum impression of the distillery. Accordingly, I’m following that review with a full slate of Mortlach reviews this week. I’ve not tasted any of these bottles before but am hopeful that at least one of them will give a better idea of what Mortlach whisky’s appeal can be than that Alexander’s Way did. First up, is a 10 yo bottled by Signatory in its Un-Chillfiltered Collection series for Spec’s in Texas. As per Whiskybase a number of these 10 yos from 2008 were bottled by Signatory for stores in the EU as well, all matured in bourbon barrels just as this one was. Indeed, this one is a vatting of four bourbon barrels for a total release of 964 bottles. I believe barrels generally yield a little over 200 bottles. Dilution down to 46% brings the number up. I’ve always had a soft spot for Signatory’s UCF collection—when I first started out buying indie releases this was one of the lines I bought a lot of bottles from. It used to be pretty ubiquitous in the US and pretty reasonably priced. As to whether this Mortlach was reasonably priced on release in 2018, I don’t know—but I do hope it’s a good one. Continue reading
And so a week of reviews of official distillery releases comes to an end. It started on Monday with an outstanding Springbank 10 (the 2021 release) and continued on Wednesday with a typically solid Clynelish 14 (from 2018). I have another 14 year old to end the week, this one from the Speyside. This Mortlach is not from the distillery’s core range; it is rather a travel retail exclusive. It bears the name “Alexander’s Way”. This refers to a prior owner of the distillery who apparently came up with their unique so-called 2.81 distillation regime—which along with their use of worm tubs as condensers—creates the idiosyncratic character of Mortlach’s spirit. You have to hand it to Diageo: these days when a distillery release has the name of someone like that on its label it usually does not bear an age statement. But Diageo have gone ahead and given us a 14 yo. Of course, they haven’t gone so far as to give it to us at 46%, leave alone at cask strength. This is bottled at 43.4%. That extra .4% of abv above the bog standard 43% must be doing a lot of work. And nor have they offered any guarantee that the spirit in the bottle comes by its dark amber colour honestly. But if it tastes good that’s all that matters. Let’s see. Continue reading
Okay, here is a week that will fulfill multiple themes: all Hepburn’s Choice whiskies; all whiskies bottled for K&L in California; all whiskies from Speyside distilleries. First up is a teaspooned 13 yo Mortlach (you may recall that most/all of K&L’s cask exclusives last year were teaspooned, i.e had a bit of whisky from another distillery mixed in). Mortlach is most well-known in its sherried avatar. The combination of the sherry casks, its unusual distillation regimen and its use of worm tubs often lends Mortlach’s spirit a meaty and slightly sulphurous quality. In this case the cask is a refill hogshead, which almost certainly means it previously contained bourbon. In theory a sherry butt can also be broken down and re-coopered into a hogshead but given the premium charged for any whisky to whose label the word “sherry” could be attached in any form, it seems unlikely that this is such a sherry hogshead. Anyway, let’s see how it compares to last month’s Mortlach 21 which was from a sherry cask. Continue reading
Sherry Cask Week comes to an end with this 21 yo Mortlach distilled in 1990 and bottled by Signatory for Binny’s in Chicago in 2012. Yes, I’ve sat on this bottle for almost 10 years, and no, I cannot begin to tell you why. Back in the day, Binny’s had one of the best cask exclusive programs in the US, if not the very best. Brett Pontoni and his team selected casks of a good quality and sold them for good prices without too much hoopla. Those days are long gone as no one seemingly is able to find good casks at good prices anymore and some don’t even seem able to reliably find acceptable casks at good prices. Hopefully the wheel will turn sometime soon. It’s sad to think of how much harder it is now for someone just entering the hobby to truly experience the full range of single malt whisky than it was a decade ago. Will the industry at some point price itself into a dead-end and have to retrench? Or will marketing win out? When you look at what is happening on social media with not just single malt whisky but also bourbon (and increasingly brandy), it seems hard to be hopeful that sanity will return anytime soon. The producers and marketers have whipped customers into a frenzy and all too many people seem excited to pay high prices for marginal bottles. Anyway, let’s go back to 2012 when this 21 yo sherry cask Mortlach cost $99. Continue reading
Okay, after a week of bourbons followed by a week of 20+ yo whiskies followed by a week of peated whiskies let’s maybe close out the month with no theme at all. This is the new’ish 16 yo from Mortlach. It’s all a bit hazy now but some years ago Diageo had suddenly put out a range of Mortlachs, including an 18 yo which replaced the old Flora & Fauna 16 yo (reviewed here). The original range was rather overpriced even by Diageo’s enthusiastic standards, especially considering the bottles were 500 ml. This must have been when everyone thought the market for single malt whisky was going to go through the roof in Asia and that the appetite for expensive whisky would be bottomless. Well, that second part isn’t entirely untrue but high prices on that Mortlach range didn’t quite work out. Apart from the enthusiast crowd no one really had heard of Mortlach and the enthusiast crowd were not enthused by the high prices (£180 for the 18 yo). And then something rather unusual happened: Diageo withdrew that range and in 2018 relaunched the official Mortlach range with new whiskies at far more reasonable prices. This new 16 yo was part of that and was offered at less than half the price of the 18 yo. It’s matured in American and European oak sherry casks, a mix of first and refill. Let’s see what it’s like. Continue reading
We’re leaving the UK today to return to Minnesota and my month of reviews of Speyside and Highland whiskies is also almost at an end. Here now is something you don’t see very often: a bourbon cask Mortlach. As you may know, Mortlach is generally associated with heavily sherried whisky. Its whisky also has a pronounced meaty quality, which results from their use of worm tubs for condensation during the distillation process—less copper contact means more sulphur in the spirit. I’ll be interested to see what that manifests as in a bourbon cask. Let’s see how it goes.
Mortlach 17, 1995 (49.1%: Dewar Rattray; bourbon hogsheasd 2437; from a purchased sample) Continue reading
And here is the last of my five reviews of recent K&L casks. The score so far is 3-1: I really liked the Bowmore 20 and the Bunnahabhain 25, and thought the Bunnahabhain 28 was solid; it was only the Mortlach 22 that I was not crazy about. Well, this is also a Mortlach and, like the Bunnahabhain 28, it’s also a Faultline. Which way will it go? Let’s see.
Mortlach 28, 1989 (42.5%; Faultline; first-fill sherry hogshead; from a bottle split)
Nose: Raisins, a bit of orange and some oak. With time the orange expands a bit but there’s not much of note happening here. With more time still there’s some toffee. With a few drops of water the fruit expands significantly: orange and apricot.
On Wednesday I posted the first of five reviews of some recentl K&L exclusive casks. I very much liked that Bowmore 20, which was bottled in Douglas Laing’s Old Particular line. Today’s Mortlach is a couple of years older but was bottled under K&L’s own Faultline label. More than any K&L casks, those bottled in the Faultline series have proven the most disappointing. Then again, I had low expectations of Wednesday’s Bowmore as well and those were easily exceeded. Will that be true of this Mortlach as well?
Sherry cask Mortlach—which is the most common version—can be a bit of a bruiser. The distillery produces a meatier, rougher spirit—their production process uses old-fashioned worm tubs for the condensation step, and with lower copper content in worm tubs, the spirit retains more of a sulphurous character. This can be a bit of an acquired taste but once you acquire it, it becomes a very specific pleasure. And a good sherry cask can amplify those pleasures. Let’s see if that has happened here or if this will be a regression to K&L’s cask selection mean. Continue reading
Here is an indie release from the Diageo distillery, Mortlach. Unlike Linkwood, Mortlach was promoted from obscurity to the frontline a few years ago when Diageo decided to put out a number of overpriced releases. (This was also the occasion for my whiffing badly in public as I’d anticipated that those releases would be priced very differently.) I’m not sure how those releases have worked out for Diageo. Whisky geeks have not been overly enthused about them but they may well be selling well to regular punters—if you have good information on this please chime in below. I’m also not sure how much Mortlach has been available since then to the independents; before then, of course, Mortlach was available almost entirely from the independents—the Flora & Fauna 16 yo being the only regular official release. Anyway, this was released last year by Malts of Scotland and looks to be very richly sherried. Continue reading
Now that my number of open bottles is down below 40 I’ve begun to finally open a bunch of not particularly exciting bottles that I purchased some years ago in my great hoarding period and put away for no good reason. This Mortlach from Signatory’s UCF line was one of those. I opened it a few months ago for one of my local group’s tastings and while it did not set anyone’s hair on fire, almost everyone liked it. I’ve been drinking it regularly since then and here now are some formal notes.
Mortlach 19, 1991 (46%; Signatory Unchilfiltered Collection; sherry butt 7710; from my own bottle)
Nose: A little metallic; raisins, a bit of orange peel and a bit of dusty wood. Not a whole lot of interest. A little more expressive with a few drops of water but still not particularly interesting.
Gordon & MacPhail have a Mortlach 15 and a Mortlach 21 in fairly regular release and I’ve always been very curious about both. I’ve never pulled the trigger on a purchase both because I’ve heard inconsistent things about both bottlings (and there’s no year of release or batch number clearly marked) and because the prices I’ve seen have always seemed a little high for non-cask strength indie releases. Accordingly, when this 21 yo went on sale in Minneapolis last year I finally went for it. I opened it as the lead whisky in a tasting of older malts with my local group late last year and while it was no one’s favourite it put on a decent show in the company of some higher powered malts (including this Archives Bunnahabhain and this Scott’s Selection Glen Grant).
I sat down with it later for a formal review. Herewith, my findings (these notes were taken more than a month ago—the bottle itself is long gone). Continue reading
Mortlach has been in the news a lot this year with the launch of their hyper-expensive new line. Prices of indie casks from the distillery seem to also have gone up a little as a result. It will be interesting to see if things remain that way in the long run. Diageo may want to protect the new profile of their brand by making fewer casks available to the indies but if production is also going up (a big if) then more casks will become available anyway.
At any rate, this is not a recent release. It was released in 2011 by Ian Macleod’s Chieftain’s Choice label. This label used to be quite ubiquitous in the United States once upon a time, but I haven’t noticed too many new releases—not that that means very much given my general level of obliviousness and my disinterest in reading press releases and marketing materials. This was a bottle I thought hard about when it was first released but after tasting it at a Minneapolis store decided against it. I did love an older Mortlach bottled by Chieftain’s for K&L and so always wondered if I’d given unfair short shrift to this one. And so I’m very glad to be able to review it again from a large’ish sample.
Months go by without a single Mortlach review and then three come at once. I mentioned this Signatory bottling in my post/comments on the Chieftain’s K&L exclusive Mortlach and then remembered that I had saved a 6 oz reference sample. The bottle it was taken from was opened almost three years ago, but the sample was from early in the life of the bottle and today was the first time I poured from it. This was a Binny’s exclusive some years ago.
Binny’s also put out annual exclusive releases; usually from Signatory and Gordon & Macphail, and usually with a lot less fanfare than K&L–though to be fair, Binny’s are far more established and perhaps don’t need to make as much noise. Still, whatever the reason, I can’t say I don’t appreciate their more laid back manner. I will say though that of late K&L’s selections are far more interesting than Binny’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. Continue reading
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.