Dufftown is known as the Speyside Whisky Capital because it is home to six major distilleries. Mortlach is the oldest of these and takes its name from an earlier settlement which occupied the same land.
Mortlach dates back to 1823 and was founded by one James Findlater. In the early years the spirit made here was sold to the few well-off local landowners who could afford it and then transported across hill and glen in small casks strapped to either side of a pony.
Over the course of some 50 years the distillery built quite a reputation and loyal following. ‘The Elgin Courant’ reported 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 spirit made at Mortlach is famous for it’s weight and meaty character, which lends itself particularly well to maturation in Sherry casks. The Mortlach dram even earned the nickname ‘The Beast of Dufftown’. This character comes about through distillation techniques. The stills are run quicker at Mortlach than at many of its contemporaries. This reduces copper contact and results in a greater build up of sulphur resulting in a meaty character and heavy mouthfeel. These characteristics brought the malt to the attention of blenders and in 1823 the distillery was acquired by John Walker & Sons and went on to form the backbone of many Johnnie Walker blends.
Today both Johnnie Walker and Mortlach are owned by Diageo with the latter rarely available as a single malt until 2014 when a range of four new core expressions were released, causing some controversy along the way due to the decision to bottle at 50cl with somewhat inflated prices.
Away from official bottlings Mortlach can occasionally be found amongst the independent bottlers and in fact, the expression I’m reviewing was released by Signatory – a Perthshire based bottler and owner of Edradour Distillery. The company dates from 1988 and has a prolific release schedule – sometimes having as many as 50 different expressions available at one time. This Mortlach was distilled in 2000 and matured for 14 years in a Hogshead. It is bottled at 43% ABV and at natural colour.
The Scores: About the Scoring…
Smell: 16.5 / 20. Honey and Floral Heather notes with Apple and Pear, a little Chocolate and Fudge. That meaty Mortlach character is there, albeit a touch subdued – it comes out a little more with a drop of water.
Taste: 17 / 20. Cinnamon Spice, Liquorice, Caramel, Apple, Berries and a touch of Barbecue. Carries decent weight on the palate.
Value for Money: 8.5 / 10. I picked this up while on holiday in Malta and paid somewhere around £50 for it. Bearing in mind that the official distillery bottlings of Mortlach start at around that price for a No Age Statement, 50cl bottle, this Signatory release offers rather good value for money.
Overall: 42 / 50. A fine dram that offers hints of what a great Mortlach can be without ever quite reaching those heights. Can’t help but feel that a higher bottling strength would have helped but it would also have driven up the price so mustn’t grumble too much.