Reviews of affordable whiskies with some entertaining tales along the way…
Mortlach is a single malt Scotch whisky distillery owned by Diageo. It is one of several distilleries based in and around the village of Dufftown in Speyside. Much of the whisky produced on-site is used in blended Scotch brands like Johnnie Walker but when bottled as a single malt, however, it can produce some special results. The spirit’s robust character and meatiness earned it the nickname, “the Beast of Dufftown”.
For many years, the only official bottling came in the form of a Flora & Fauna expression but in 2013 that bottling was removed from the market. The reasoning became clear a year later when Diageo announced a new range of Mortlach single malts, aimed squarely at the luxury market.
Below, you will find my tasting notes and opinions on two Mortlach single malt expressions. The samples were included in a Drinks by the Dram advent calendar which I received free of charge. *As always, I will strive to give an honest opinion on the quality of the dram and the value for money it represents.
Nicknamed “The Wee Witchie” after one of the pot stills used in its production, this single malt is matured in bourbon and sherry casks. It’s bottled at 43.4% and retails for around £50 – £55.
Smell: Fresh fruit. Apple. Pear. Melon. Then toffee and fudge. Cinnamon and pepper. Dark chocolate. Touch of walnut. A light touch of sulphury struck match.
Taste: Citrus notes followed by dark chocolate and hazelnut. Red apples. Raisins. Vanilla pods. Currants linger into the finish with a touch of coffee and some old oak.
Thoughts: This is actually a pleasant wee dram. Even reduced to 43% it carries some real intensity and even feels ok in terms of weight. There’s a little of the Mortlach meatiness in there which gives the dram a bit of backbone and the combination of bourbon and sherry brings a nice balance between caramel and vanilla and dried fruits. No doubt it’s chill-filtered but I’m not sure I’d have guessed at that if I were blind-tasting, such is its fullness of flavour.
Price: £55. The price is a wee bit problematic. I say a wee bit because this is a really good whisky. In truth, it’s probably a step above the average 12-year-old-at-reduced-strength bottling. I’m still not sure it’s £55 worth though. The price puts it in the same bracket as Springbank’s 10-year-old, for example, which as well as being difficult to get hold of, is bottled at 46% and un-chill-filtered. The Mortlach 12, therefore, is a good single malt with a slightly inflated price tag.
Matured predominantly in sherry casks, “the Distiller’s Dram” is bottled at 43.4% and retails for £105.
Smell: Lots of dried fruits. Raisins, sultanas, figs. Walnut. Leather. Tobacco leaves and unlit cigars. Honey. Also some red fruit top notes. Some charcoal – and the famous meaty note is present and correct.
Taste: The first thing you notice is the texture. It has a lovely oiliness to it, which is quite an achievement if the whisky has been chill-filtered. Plenty of sherry with all the dried fruits and dark chocolate you’d expect. Some dark oaky spice in the background as well. Ginger and cinnamon spice coming through as well.
Thoughts: I can’t lie, I thought this was quite delicious. Sometimes I find Speyside malts a little too light to cope with the richness of sherry casks but Mortlach’s spirit is robust enough to carry it off beautifully. It’s old-fashioned but in a good way. A leather armchair in front of the fire with a glass in one hand and a cigar in the other. It’s that kind of dram.
Price: £105. I’m a little torn because I really enjoyed it but I’m not at all convinced that it should be costing that amount of money. Even after a massive overnight price increase, the famous Lagavulin 16 stopped at £80. The Mortlach is some way above that. It’s very good though so anyone who does splash out for a bottle will be rewarded. I won’t be one of them, however.
For more on Mortlach visit: https://www.mortlach.com/