Mortlach single malt whisky is not exactly new. In 2016, Diageo had already launched the first ever official range of Mortlach single malt whiskies after years of it being one of the conglomerate’s best kept secrets.
Now, I have to admit that I was not really that impressed with that initial Mortlach range that was released two years ago, which consisted of Mortlach Rare Old, Mortlach 18 Year Old, and Mortlach 25 Year Old.
This was mainly due to the fact that I had tried independent bottlings of Mortlach before, and that initial range – with its fruitier and lighter notes – was just a little too different from what I expected from a Mortlach whisky, which is typically bold, rich and quite muscular in nature. It was as if the Beast was being kept on a leash.
Two years later, however, those three expressions are no more, replaced by a whole new range that comprises the Mortlach 12 Years Old, 16 Years Old and 20 Years Old. After trying the new range at a recent launch at Curious Kitchen in Petaling Jaya, I’m happy to report that the Beast has finally been let out of the cage.
Founded in 1823, Mortlach was the first legal distillery in Dufftown, but only started to come into its own in 1853, when a man named George Cowie joined the distillery.
Cowie’s son, Alexander and renowned distillery architect Charles Doig were the ones who developed the distillery’s unique 2.81 distillation process in 1896.
Mortlach has a unique collection of six stills, which are of different shapes and sizes (unlike most distilleries, which tend to have stills of the same size and shape) and combine into three distinct distilling streams that produce different new make spirits.
The ‘2.81’ distillation comes from the precision that goes into creating the final spirit that goes into the cask – a technical process that has to do with the precise cut of the spirit they take from every run.
The result is a thick, viscous new-make spirit that has been called “meaty and savoury” – a description that comes across really well in the new range.
First up is the Mortlach 12YO (43.4% ABV), also known as “The Wee Witchie”, which was matured in ex-bourbon- and ex-sherry casks. Surprisingly, despite it being the lowest age statement among the three, this was arguably my favourite of the lot. It has a rich, fruity yet robust nose and entry, which gives way to a rich, chocolatey, velvety palate that still packs quite a robust punch and a slight spicy finish. Now THIS is a real beast of a dram.
A blend of whiskies matured in first-fill and refill ex-sherry casks, the Mortlach 16YO (43.4% ABV), or “The Distiller’s Dram”, is another step up from the previous range, with spicy, fruity notes on the nose, and layers of dark fruits and berries on the palate. Piece of advice: if you’re familiar with a certain 16-year-old Flora & Fauna Mortlach bottling, it might be wise to avoid comparing this new expression with that famously popular discontinued bottling, just to avoid disappointment.
Last, but not least, is the 100% sherry-cask Mortlach 20YO a.k.a “Cowie’s Blue Seal” (43.4% ABV), which was surprisingly sweet and fruity, carrying over the characteristics of the 12YO, but with more subtlety and light elegance.
Personally, I’m happy to see Mortlach finally realising its potential with these new expressions. At last, we have a Mortlach range that is approachable (and affordable), but still manages to live up to the name “Beast of Dufftown”.