Mortlach (Pronounced: MORT-lack)
57°26'34.23"N, 3° 7'20.02"W
Dufftown, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Kininvie, Glendullan
Sources in the Conval Hills
3 Wash stills, 3 Spirit stills
2,900,000 litres of pure alcohol per year
Diageo (since 1925)
Dufftown, Keith, Banffshire, AB55 4AQ, Scotland, UK
Hardly (except Flora & Fauna and UDRM)
Below, on WhiskyFun and on the Malt Maniacs Monitor
Scores & tasting notes:
2002 - For a long time the closest thing to an official bottling of Mortlach were the licensed bottlings by Gordon & Macphail. However, the Mortlach 19yo 'Manager's Dram'
(55.8%, OB, Refill cask, 2002) marked a new beginning.
2004 - The Mortlach 32yo 1971/2004 (50.1%, OB) is released.
2009 - The Mortlach 1997/2009 'Managers' Choice' (57.1%, OB, C#6802, 240 Bts.) appears.
2013 - Diageo unveils an £18 million investment plan to double the capacity at Mortlach distillery 'and promote it as a standalone single malt'. So I guess this means that a large chunk of that money will be spent on advertising and PR, and not on improving (or even maintaining) the quality of the whisky. So, more brand, less product...
The Mortlach distillery was the first distillery in Dufftown, pre-dating
the next one (Glenfiddich) by over four decades. Mortlach was founded
in 1823 by James Findlater, who was joined by Alexander Gordon and
James Macintosh the next year. They acquired partial ownership.
The initial owners didn't manage to keep the distillery running for more
than a decade; Mortlach was sold on to John Robertson in 1831 for the
ridiculous amount of 270 GBP. This marked the start of a number of
purchases by different (part) owners, including A. & T. Gregory, John
Alexander Gordon and brothers James and John Grant. Mortlach was
inactive for a few years (at least as far as the production of malt whisky
is concerned) - the buildings were used as a brewery and as a church,
Just like the founder of Glenlivet (also constructed in 1823), the founders of Mortlach hoped to benefit from the new Excise Act. If they benefited at all it was only for a few years; Mortlach was sold on to new owners for a number of times and some of the buyers didn't even intend to actually produce any whisky. For example, when John & James Grant of Glen Grant bought the distillert they removed the distilling equipment and left it silent - probably as a way to reduce competition. After Mortlach had been used as a brewery for a few years in was converted back into a distillery in 1852, using brand new equipment to produce a whisky with the name 'The Real John Gordon' - a reference to the owner at the time.
In 1853 or 1854 part of Mortlach was taken over by George Cowie Senior, a railway company surveyor and (later) the mayor of Dufftown. When John Alexander Gordon passed away in 1867 he became the sole owner of the Mortlach. His son George Cowie Junior started work at the distillery in 1895, two years before the number of stills was expanded from three to six in 1897. This was an unusually large number of pot stills in those days - the expansion of the production capacity was probably inspired by the massive 'whisky boom' of the time, which effectively meant that all the produced whisky could be sold.
When the extra stills were installed in 1897 the owners also added
a railway siding that linked Mortlach with the Dufftown train station.
One year later electric lights were added, as well as a hydraulic lift
system in the warehouses that was used for lifting casks and other
loads to the upper floors. This were the last modernisations of the
distillery until 1923 when Alexander Cowie decided to sell Mortlach
to John Walker & Sons - the company that became part of Distillers
Company Limited (DCL; predecessors of Diageo) two years later in
1925. The configuration of the six stills at Mortlach is unusual - and
probably unique in Scotland. The 'partial triple distillation' that is
used at the Mortlach distillery is a variation of the technique that is
in use at Springbank and Benrinnes.
Mortlach has one larch washbacks for every one of its six stills and a semi-lauter mash tun
that was added in 1996. More than two decades earlier (in 1964) there was a refurbishment
that was so considerable that it pretty much meant a that the whole distillery was rebuilt, at
least on the inside. The exterior was the only part of Mortlach that remained largely intact at
the time; although the pagoda roofs would have a strictly decorative function in the future.
Mortlach's floor maltings remained operational until 1968; after that they switched to external sources.
Three years later (in 1971), Mortlach distillery switched from direct heating of the stills to indirect (steam) heating.
These two technological changes mark a fairly significant change in the production process of the Mortlach malt whisky.
1) In 1886 a distillery employee by the name of William Grant left Mortlach after almost twenty years.
Apparently he had learned quite a bit about the fine art of distillation during that time; within a year after he had left Mortlach he built his own distillery; Glenfiddich.
2) Mortlach malt whisky is an important component of the Johnnie Walker Black Label blend.
3) The Mortlach distillery was built around a well that had been previously used for illicit whisky production.
4) Mortlach ceased to use the traditional method of direct firing under their stills in 1971.
5) Larch worm-tubs on a platform outside the still house are still used to condense the spirit.
6) Mortlach features five traditional 'dunnage' warehouses that provide storage capacity for 21,000 casks.
Mortlach 20yo 1990/2010 (56,5%, Wildon & Morgan Barrel Selection, Sherry wood C# 4412)
Nose: Coffee and odd, heavy farmy aroma's. One of a kind, that's for sure. Some odd fruits like a finished malt.
Maggi and sellery and complex herbal notes emerge after a few minutes. Mocca? Keeps evolving over time.
Taste: Fruity, compressed and sweet. A solid foundation, but most points are aerned on the nose.
Score: 90 points - for some strange reason, a LOT of casks from 1990 ended up with independent bottlers.
However, I should point out that it needed at least 30 minutes to gradually rise from 87/88 points to the 90's.
Mortlach 18yo 1990/2009 (57.3%, Wilson & Morgan Barrel Selection, Sherry butt, Cask# 4433)
Nose: Sweet with old, heavy fruits. A whisky with a typical sherried profile with not too much wood.
Taste: Big, sweet, fruity and sherried - but easily drinkable as well. Matches the nose quite well.
The fruity layer seems slightly 'pressure cooked' like a finish. Loads of lovely, lovely tannins in the finish.
Score: 87 points - the profile was quite similar to that of last year's 18yo 1990 bottling by Hart Brothers.
Mortlach 18yo 1990/2008 (46%, Hart Brothers Finest Collection, First Fill Sherry Butt)
Nose: Heavy, old fruits. Rhubarb? Complexity with plenty of spices and organics. Nutmeg? Speculaas?
Pineapple. Very complex with the accent on the sour end of the spectrum. Saltier & leathery after a while.
However, the fruity elements remain very dominant; this feels almost like a wine finished whisky.
Taste: Big, with fruits and menthol. Very pleasant, but it falls apart if you let it breathe for too long.
It feels much more powerful than the relatively civilised 46%. Medium dry finish with some tannins.
Score: 86 points - but with a littlle more balance and staying power it could have approached 90 points.
Mortlach 18yo 1990/2008 (56.8%, Wilson & Morgan, Sherry Butt, C#4422)
Nose: Odd fruity notes. Pressure cooked? A foreign whisky? Weird, but expressive. Difficult to score.
Some meaty notes as well. This certainly has some depth - but some rough edges as well.
Taste: Strong wood influence. Odd fruits like the nose. Tannains and a hint of smoke.
Fruits and very strong tannins in the finish with a hint of menthol. Feels quite harsh on the palate.
Score: 81 points - Recommendable, but it didn't really stand out at the MM Awards 2008.
That being said, I feared that my score was a few points too low when I tried it again later on.
Mortlach 1954/2008 (43%, Gordon & MacPhail Rare Old)
Nose: Passion fruit and other lovely deep fruits. Some citrus too. Dried apples?
After a few minutes some spices emerge - a LOVELY nose that eventually drags it into silver territory.
A combination of an (almost) gold nose and a bronze palate.
Taste: Fruity and smooth with a touch of something medicinal in the background. Hint of pine too?
Fruity evolves to floral after a few minutes. Young wood in the dry finish. Hey, a touch of something peaty?
Score: 86 points - a fine malt, but then again I'd expect something more at this age and price.
Mortlach 1991/2007 (56.4%, Berry Brothers & Rudd, Cask #4227)
Nose: Strong fruits - a finished whisky? Some rough edges.
Taste: Closely matches the nose: strong but somehow artificial fruits.
Wood is the dominant factor after some breathing.
Score: 82 points - recommendable, but not especially impressive for a Mortlach.
Mortlach 11yo 1992/2004 (46%, Douglas Laing McGibbons Provenance, Autumn/Summer)
Nose: Much grainier than I expected. Light and a little creamy. Vegetables.
Some spices emerge after a few seconds. Hints of smoke and oil? Flowery?
Cod oil, growing stronger over time and slowly pulling it from the upper 70's.
Taste: Slick, smooth start, growing fairly harsh towards the finish. Pinch of salt?
Fairly flat and dry on the palate. Hint of oil? Finally a malty sweetness lifts it above average.
Score: 76 points - this becomes likeable enough, but doesn't leave a lasting impression.
Mortlach 1990/2004 (43%, The Spirit Safe, 415 Bottles)
Nose: Light and a little grainy. Apple. Lemon. Maltier over time. Almost Lowlandish.
Sweet. This is pleasant enough, but in the end it shows little depth or development.
Taste: Smooth start, growing hotter and sweeter in the centre. This is a throat burner.
It remains quite powerful for quite some time, but grows grittier. No real depth here.
A little woody and winey in the finish, but not too much. Pretty well balanced, actually.
Score: 76 points - not very challenging, but perhaps that not always necessary.
Mortlach 13yo 1990/2004 (50%, Douglas Laing Old Malt Cask, 384 Bottles)
Nose: Wow!!! A load of sherry first. It settles down, but it leaves some strong organics.
Mushrooms? Leather? Now some fruits emerge as well. Rice crackers. Very peculiar.
Taste: hey, that's interesting! Fruit and smoke. Lots of smoke! Woody and winey.
Liquorice. Herbal - like Swiss cough bonbons. This one is really 'on the edge'.
The amount of smoke is amazing - this would appeal to lovers of Ardmore and G'Garioch.
Score: 88 points - this is a very extreme malt; it disguises itself like an Islay whisky.
Mortlach 12yo 1990/2003 (46%, Hart Brothers, Sherry cask, Distilled May 1990)
Nose: Lovely! Sweet and sherried, just the way I like it. Then spices and organics.
A hint of smoke. Bakery aroma's. Dried apples? Very big and round - a classic profile.
Over time the organics grow ever more complex, but the nose doesn't 'jump at you'.
Taste: Hmmm. Quite dry and smoky in the start - a little too much so for my tastes.
A tad winey with lots of tannins in the finish. Another one that loses points here.
Score: 86 points - but based on the nose alone I was ready to go for the 90's.
Mortlach 14yo 1988/2003 (43%, Signatory, Sherry Butt #4724)
Nose: Not very sherried, it seems - only the organics stand out. Creamy.
Quite subtle. Maybe a faint hint of smoke? This wasn't a fresh cask, I'd say.
Taste: Dry and a little bitter in the start. Faint hint of smoke or peat, perhaps?
A beer-like prickle towards the finish. I like the nose but it tastes below average.
Score: 76 points - the nose is quite interesting, but I couldn't really recommend this malt whisky.
Mortlach 13yo 1990/2003 (58.6%, SMWS) - a sample from Serge.
Nose: Aaah. Old sherry and complex organics. Is that a hint of smoke, perhaps?
Yes, I think it is. There are obvious similarities with the last one, but this is harsher.
At first I thought about a score in the upper 80's but this one lacks some definition.
Taste: Sweet and fruity. Smoky. Oaky. Tannins. It seems sweeter with time. Great.
With some water it turns a bit dry and slightly dry in the finish. Best enjoyed neat.
Score: 84 points - this twin bottling of Mortlach whisky doesn't seem quite as complex as the last one.
Mortlach 13yo 1989/2002 (59.4%, Blackadder Raw Cask, Sherry Butt #5149)
Nose: Quite sharp - but that's not surprising. Sherried and malty beneath the alcohol.
Late summer fruits. Mon chery - cherry liqueur filled chocolates? Growing complexity.
Toffee and a hint of smoke. Then some faint spices and organics. Very pleasant!
Taste: Sweet and fruity, growing smokier towards the finish. A little flat in the tail.
A generous dash of water brought lots of liquorice to the surface. Still quite strong.
Score: 87 points - it loses just one or two points on the palate - nice but dim.
Mortlach 12yo 1988 (43%, Signatory Vintage, Butt #2636, Bottled +/- 2000, 930 Bottles)
Nose: Lots of organics here. Something 'veggy' and grassy in the background.
Interesting, but you have to work at it to bring everything to the surface. Smoke?
Taste: A flat start followed by a chewy centre. Cookies and bubblegum. An odd one.
A little smoky. Sadly, it grows drier and drier towards the finish. Quite unusual.
Score: 80 points - just because it's so unique. I can't say I really like the palate.
These were not all (official & independent) bottlings of Mortlach Scotch whisky I've tried over the years.
Besides, these tasting notes only reflect my own, personal opinion; your tastes might be different from mine.
Fortunately, you can find the scores and tasting notes from up to two dozen other whisky lovers in the 'Malt Maniacs Monitor' - an independent whisky database with details on more than 15,000 different whiskies from Scotland and the rest of the world. Visit the Mortlach page on the MMMonitor and select 'scorecard view' if you want to know how other whisky lovers felt about the dozens of Mortlach expressions that were released in recent years. However, if you'd like to learn more about whisky in general (and single malt Scotch whisky in particular), you might want to check out the Beginner's Guide to Scotch whisky (10 chapters filled with everything you need to fully enjoy and appreciate a glass of single malt whisky) or the mAlmanac (sort of a rudimentary whisky shopping guide.)
Is the distillery or