The past four years have been interesting for Mortlach. Once a little-known Speysider with a single official bottling and occasional independent releases, it was a whisky fan’s whisky. But back in early 2014, the Mortlach Flora & Fauna 16 Year Old disappeared and a new Mortlach range appeared. Fans were dismayed. But now it’s time for some new Mortlachs – the powers that be were listening.
The entire range is being redone. The new whiskies will be 12, 16 and 20 years old, with rough price points of £50, £80 and £200 respectively – and they’ll be 70cl bottles. We had the opportunity to try them at a pre-release tasting a few weeks back:
Named after the distillery’s smallest spirit still, the infamous Wee Witchie, this is very much a statement of intent for the new range. It pulls together both sherry and bourbon casks, focusing on the sherry-oak character that the distillery is best known for.
Nose: Nutty fruit cake with juicy sultanas, candied ginger and bittersweet marmalade. Fruity dark chocolate sits underneath, along with baked apples topped with a generous grating of nutmeg. Gravelly touches develop, with walnuts and hazelnuts, and a touch of nut-shell woodiness. The nuts become nut brittle and candied peanuts, and more fruit appears: tropical trail mix and dried apple rings.
Palate: Rich toffee and brown sugar. Soft sultanas and spiced sponge cake follow. Spice rolls in – cinnamon and clove – with raisin-topped baked apples dusted with caster sugar. Poached pear notes develop, drizzled with caramel sauce and served with a side of apple jelly.
Finish: Charred raisins and sultanas, sharp apples and their skin. This sweetens and becomes lingering tarte tatin.
Comment: Well balanced, combining darker sherry notes with fresher orchard-fruit flavours, all while emphasising the distillery’s weighty character.
The whisky that will be most examined from the range – a new 16-year-old. Right from the beginning of that tasting, we were told that this was not a new incarnation of the old Flora & Fauna edition. It was put together with the same idea – rich and sherried, with a meatiness from Mortlach’s spirit – but is meant to stand on its own merits.
It’s all European oak and is a mixture of first-fill and refill casks – first-fill to get the punchy sherry notes the fans really want and refill to give the whisky more balance than the old Flora & Fauna edition.
Nose: Singed raisins and oozing apple pies – dark fruitcake slathered with rich apple sauce. Stewed apples sit at the core, surrounded by dried fruit, dark sugars and rich spice. Damp-oak rancio and fresh-oak cinnamon are joined by raisins, dates, chocolate and a touch of Dundee cake.
Palate: Rich and thick, with brown sugar syrup stirred into a bowl of dried raisins and apples. The sticky sweetness is tempered and balanced by gentle barrel char and sharp orchard fruit – unripe apples and crunchy pears. Dark oloroso notes build – sweet and savoury dried fruit – and dark chocolate sauce pools underneath. Hints of menthol and clove hide at the back.
Finish: Mint and menthol fade to chocolate raisins. A menthol tingle lingers.
Comment: Not as meaty as the Flora & Fauna and, in my opinion, better for it. More balanced, with sweet and savoury fruit as well as a touch of the Mortlach weight.
The Cowie family made Mortlach the distillery it is today. George Cowie joined the team in 1853 and his son Alexander took over when he died. George was an engineer who streamlined production; Alexander was a doctor and not only continued his father’s work, but also brought in the complex distillation that the distillery still uses today – three wash stills, three spirit stills, some double distillation, some triple, some quadruple, with all of the spirit vatted together at the end to even out at about 2.81 times distilled on average. Or so they assure me…
The 20-year-old is a tribute to the Cowie family and takes its name from one of the oldest whiskies of theirs that we know of – Cowie’s Blue Seal. Again, this is entirely composed of European-oak sherry casks, although this time with more refill casks in the mix, allowing Mortlach’s spirit character to force its way through the cracks.
Nose: Olive oil, sultanas and green apples to lead. Warm, oily engines hide right at the back, with soft fruity notes pushing forward – sweet apples, raisins and mixed peel. Tropical notes begin to emerge: pineapple and candied papaya. Brown sugar and toasted oak slowly builds.
Palate: Demerara-sugar dusted apples, olive-oil sponge cake and a bowl of mixed sultanas and raisins. Darker flavours slowly develop, with dark chocolate, dates and prunes balanced against fresher apple and pear orchard fruit notes. Hints of honey and menthol appear towards the end.
Finish: Honey and menthol to start – lemon Lockets without the lemons – with nuts and vanilla to follow.
Comment: Harking back to the elegance of the Mortlach 25 Year Old from the previous range, this layers on sherry notes and adds extra depth to that dram’s more gentle character. A marriage of traditional sherry with old Mortlach’s more delicate and frarant side. More a pussy-cat than The Beast of Dufftown, and that’s no bad thing.
We’re still waiting on final confirmation as to when the new Mortlach range will be available.