By Kurt Maitland
The Mortlach Distillery was established in 1823 and it had the distinction of being the first legal distillery in Dufftown. “The Beast of Dufftown,” as it came to be known, was always a complex whisky and favored for use in blending.
This flavor was due to its unique “2.81 distillation” process. On the occasions that the Mortlach saw time as a standalone release or an independent bottling, it was always well received. Last year, distillery owner Diageo announced that it would put out 4 Mortlach single malt releases: a Rare Old (an NAS release), an 18 Yr Old, and 25 Yr Old, along with a travel retail-only version of the Rare Old called Special Strength, which is a higher proof 49% abv release.
Three of these releases were highlighted at this year’s Whisky Fest event in NYC, including Rare Old, which was where I got my chance to become acquainted with them.
Mortlach Rare Old Whisky was bottled at 43.4% abv.
Color: Golden Straw
Nose: Richly fruity with the smell of currents and sherry mixed with notes of cocoa and spice.
Taste: Full bodied and as fruity as indicated by the nose. The mouthfeel is a slightly oily one that gets drier and spicier the longer you hold it. It’s hard not to think of desserts and pecan rolls when I drink this. I can see why Mortlach was always considered a standout Speyside. Its taste is complex without overwhelming the senses. With water, this dram gets smoother with the cocoa and toffee notes coming more to the fore.
Finish: Slightly drier than the opening salvo, with sherry notes and cocoa elements rounding out the end.
This is an excellent dram. I can see why it’s called the “Beast of Dufftown.” It brings to bear many of the best features of many Speyside whiskies in one package. Diageo’s plan was to shift Mortlach from being used primarily in blends and to match it up against the best of its fellow Speysides as its own release.
With Diageo halting their planned expansion, I don’t know how that will affect the rollout of this excellent release. One has to imagine that the expansion was to ease the strain on their stocks of whisky as more of the Mortlach was bottled on its own versus being used for blends. It would be a shame to give us a taste of this fine dram to then snatch it away.
$130 US is the average price of this release. This price caused a fair bit of consternation among fans for an NAS, as it was higher than many of the independent bottlings of Mortlach. That said, it might get higher if Diageo scales back the release and these bottles get scarce.