Signatory Vintage Mortlach 2000

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The Beast of Dufftown

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 spirit is famous for its weight and robust, meaty character. It lends itself particularly well to maturation in sherry casks and has earned the nickname 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. Condensation in worm tubs helps to preserve this character. Its unique style brought Mortlach to the attention of blenders and in 1923 the distillery was purchased by John Walker & Sons. Soon the malt was 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.

The Whisky

Mortlach is occasionally released by independent bottlers like Signatory, the Perthshire-based owner of Edradour distillery. Signatory 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.

Thoughts: I paid around £50 for this bottle. The price seemed reasonable to me since the whisky was 14-years-old and released in a small batch. It’s an interesting, rather than mind-blowing, experience. It certainly doesn’t quite reach the heights that this distillery is capable of but it’s tasty enough. The meaty Mortlach character is there, though perhaps not as prominent as you’d expect. I suspect the spirit really needs a sherry cask to fully shine but I’m glad I picked this one up, anyway. Even when it isn’t at full strength, it is still more interesting than several other Speyside distilleries.


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