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Dufftown is known as the Whisky Capital of Speyside, with more distilleries per head of population than anywhere else in the land. While the great city of Rome may have been built on seven hills, it is said that Dufftown was built on seven stills. The oldest functioning distillery in the town today is Mortlach, named for the earlier settlement which once occupied the same location.
Founded by James Findlater, Mortlach dates from 1823. Early spirit output of the distillery was sold exclusively to wealthy landowners and transported across hill and glen in miniature casks, loaded two apiece on small ponies. Over 50 or so years, the distillery developed something of a reputation with ‘The Elgin Courant’ reporting in October 1869 that… ‘There is not perhaps a distillery in Scotland that has so many private customers as Mortlach, from which spirits are sent not only over the three kingdoms to families, but to America, India, China and Australia, in all of which Mr Cowie (the manager at the time) has customers who prefer his distillation to all others”.
The Mortlach sprit is famous for it’s weight and robust meaty character which lends itself particularly well to maturation in Sherry casks and even earned the whisky the title ‘The Beast of Dufftown’. This distinctive flavour profile is created during the distillation process, where the Mortlach stills are run quicker than many of their contemporaries, reducing copper contact and preserving the heavier notes. It was this unique character that brought Mortlach to the attention of many blenders and in 1923 the distillery was purchased by John Walker & Sons with it’s spirit soon forming the backbone of many a Johnnie Walker blend.
Today Mortlach is owned by Diageo and is predominantly available as a single malt through four core expressions, presented in 50cl bottles, some of which, carry rather eye watering price tags.
Away from the distillery, Mortlach is occasionally released by independent bottlers like Signatory – the Perthshire based owner of Edradour Distillery. The Signatory brand dates from 1988 and has a prolific release schedule with as many as 50 different expressions available at any one time. This particular dram was distilled in the year 2000, matured for 14 years in a Hogshead and bottled at 43%.
Smell: Honey and Heather with Apple and Pear, Chocolate and Fudge. The famously meaty Mortlach character is there, though less pronounced than one would perhaps expect.
Taste: Cinnamon Spice, Liquorice, Caramel, Apple, Berries and a touch of Barbecue. Carries decent weight on the palate.
Value for Money: On the market at around £50 a bottle, it is an interesting and rewarding mouthful.
A decent dram that offers hints of Mortlach’s greatness without ever quite reaching the same heights. Can’t help but feel that a higher bottling strength would have helped, but it remains a pleasant dram at a decent price.