In one of the biggest about-faces in the recent premiumisation of Scotch single malt whisky brands, Diageo have decided to re-brand/re-launch Mortlach single malt again.
In 2014 Diageo announced Mortlach onto the whisky world with the launch of Rare Old, Special Strength, 18 and 25 year old expressions. For many years previous it had been held in very high regard by those who knew about it, mostly based on the strength of their sole official bottling the Flora and Fauna 16 Year Old.
With today’s announcement perhaps indicating that the initial re-brand in 2014 may not have been as successful as they had hoped. Further trouble ensued when the attempted distillery visitor centre planned for Mortlach (which had previously had none) met with all sorts of planning and building issues including the report of nesting bats stopping work. The project was quickly shelved along with several other major expansion and refurbishment projects Diageo were running throughout their range of ‘Classic Malts’ distilleries. The rumor being that predicted market sales in areas such as China, Russia and South-East Asia that had spurred all this expansion were clearly over-estimated and not being met.
Diageo have returned Mortlach closer to its roots with this re-brand, specifically re-introducing an all-sherry matured 16 year old expression, priced at £80. A return to more sensible pricing and an “If it ain’t broke don’t fix it” mentality it appears. Here’s hoping the liquid in these bottles display a return of Mortlach to it’s once great form.
Here follows the Press release:
Discover the best kept secret in Scotch: Mortlach brings bold flavour to Speyside
Speyside distillery, Mortlach, unveils three new bottlings, providing a glimpse into the best kept secret in Scotch. The Single Malt Whiskies will delight flavour seekers, offering a new dimension that eschews the smoke traditionally associated with big-flavoured whisky.
In a region generally known for its smoother, gentler style of whisky, Mortlach’s exceptional flavour bridges the gap between mellow and smoky. The three new bottlings – 12-year-old “Wee Witchie”,16-year-old Distiller’s Dram and 20-year-old Cowie’s Blue Seal – are set to bring the dark side of Speyside to life.
Using a fiendishly complex distillation process unique to Mortlach known as “The Way”, the audacious approach to distillation has remained unchanged since it was invented by distiller’s son Dr Alexander Cowie in 1896. The precise 2.81 distillation process is a closely guarded secret, handed down through generations of Mortlach distillers.
It is this process which creates Mortlach’s distinct and thick character spirit, with dark, complex and rich notes, earning it the nickname, The Beast of Dufftown.
Dr Craig Wilson, Master Blender, said: “These whiskies really stand out in Speyside. For me it’s the way the unique 2.81 process gives you such an intensely complex liquid and character from the minute it comes off the still; it’s like having three distilleries at the one still house. Our job is to hone the character in the right way to give you three well balanced whiskies of unparalleled richness and complexity.”
Mark Brunton, Distillery Manager, said: “It’s an honour to work in a distillery with such a distinct heritage and I love the challenge that comes with it. We worked with our colleagues in maturation to create a diverse range with each at its heart still reflecting the bold distillery flavour. The 16-year-old is a classic Mortlach expression, while the 12-year-old offers a strong distillery character through its use of refill casks. The 20-year-old offers a balance of character and distillery character with active wood.”
Mortlach 12-year-old, 16-year-old and 20-year-old will first launch in Taiwan in autumn, followed by other markets.
Details of the new Bottlings are:
Mortlach 12-year-old Wee Witchie
Barrels: European and American oak. Ex sherry & ex bourbon.
In brief: “It’s at its most expressive on the mid-palate where you pick out bitter chocolate, marmalade and light tobacco that’s balanced by a puddle of syrup before it deepens further…”
- Nose: Rich and deep, with immediate warming, toasty oak tones (wood shavings) and a light peachy element that moves towards honey and then cooked fruits hinting at good depth. Some chestnut helps to add a sweet nutty background alongside hints of wax crayon. This impression of oak, sandalwood, light spice, and fruit – now with some dried berries – slowly gives way to some charred elements, hard (Highland) toffee and some light meatiness. Once this is established (and it takes time) it starts to deepen, earthy, petrichor, (the smell of early autumn), dried blossom, pineapple and bitter orange that itself extends into Terry’s chocolate orange and then cooked plum. As it dries so the woodland gives way to a coal bunker/lichen encrusted logs in a woodpile.
- Body: Medium to heavy, with a thick texture.
- Palate: A sweet, almost peachy, concentrated start with a little oak and almost smoky (charred) element. It’s at its most expressive on the mid-palate where you pick out bitter chocolate, marmalade and light tobacco that’s balanced by a puddle of syrup before it deepens further and starts to grip, there’s liquorice, roast chestnut, tree bark, roasting coffee, and a burnt edge which might be the sulphur working its way out. As it develops so you get bourbon biscuit, then the meaty flavours which themselves have the herbal qualities of goat or lamb. The grip loosens, and light gets back in with things getting sweeter and also more spicy.
- Finish: Quite dry and slightly sooty/ashy with oak (fresh-sawn timber). There’s some plum with an added hint of bitterness.
Mortlach 16-year-old Distiller’s Dram
In brief: “Dark, full, liquorous, and rounded. As it moves into the back palate, so it starts to dry and pick up in terms of intensity…”
- Nose: Rich and deep. It is slightly shy initially, but with a sense of massed weight. Stewed black and orchard fruits (damson, black cherry) with an immediate earthy note and some spice. While there is some honeyed sweetness, this has greater maturity than the 12-year-old, coming across as leaf mulch, with a burnt element: dried Nora pepper/grilled red pepper and light blackened skin (the pepper’s that is, not human) and chocolate which moves the meatiness towards molé. The oak is more relaxed (or integrated) allowing the gutsy almost feral weight of the distillate greater say but there is some planed wood alongside light varnish, then nutmeg and raisin. It gets progressively darker and richer with some biltong/beef jerky hints balanced by the sweetness. It also gets slightly nuttier, reminiscent of mature Gouda/Emmental.
- Body: Robust and full. Palate coating.
- Palate: Big, quite deep, but also sweet. As on the nose, there’s some spiciness here (frying mustard seed). It is this sweeter element (toffee-like, with some dried apricot and the honey note seen on the nose) which comes over first. This softness then gives way to a chewy-mid palate where the darker fruits lurk. It then goes deep. Light, slightly leathery with malty elements then a gamey meatiness with supple tannins. However, rather than just the more powerful oak influence beginning to dominate the cooked fruits return adding a layered quality. Rather than sweetness you get a more savoury effect. Dark, full, liquorous, and rounded. As it moves into the back palate, so it starts to dry and pick up in terms of intensity and moves into the shadow of the trees.
- Finish: Surprisingly, it sweetens again. Long, complex and, yes, meaty. Now you also get the Syrah-like sootiness.
Mortlach 20-year-old Cowie’s Blue Seal
In brief: “The mature depth seen on the nose comes immediately into focus, but before it goes towards the dark there’s a refreshing lift of aromatic and overripe fruits (quince especially) and a touch of spiciness…”
- Nose: Super dense and rich, with touches of floor polish and much more of the waxy, earthy, meaty element seen in the previous examples. This has real elegance and complexity – and little intrigue. There is an added oiliness which you only get from mature whiskies. This in turn moves into varnish, leather oil, wood resins and even a touch of dubbin. The sensation is like being in some ancient, mysterious, library. There are dried fruits, a touch of scented wood, fir trees, cedar, Moroccan leather, slightly foxed books, floor polish, and some ink. It grows in the glass, moving towards chanterelle mushroom/cep mushroom even some of the wax crayon also seen on the 12-year-old. Huge, highly complex and contemplative.
- Body: Robust and rich. Palate clinging.
- Palate: The mature depth seen on the nose comes immediately into focus, but before it goes towards the dark there’s a refreshing lift of aromatic and overripe fruits (quince especially) and a touch of spiciness. It then expands as the fruits dry and the oils start to coat the tongue. The meaty element comes in quickly here, full-on grunt with animalic edges, cured leather and light bitter notes that bring to mid nutshell, espresso crema, damson jam, cacao nibs all balanced with some hedgerow berry fruits meaning that the back palate has a brighter lift than you might expect from something which is so dense and meaty (think of a berry sauce with venison). As it develops so this back palate shows more roasting tin elements, some bark. It continues to extend into dried fruits.
- Finish: Quite dense. It carries on seamlessly from the progression seen on the palate with liquorice and dried fruit.