The Whiskyphiles

Whiskyphile, noun [C] specialized / ˈwɪɪl / a disciplined devotion to whisky. Established 2013.


Mortlach Distillery

Region: Speyside, Scotland.

Founded: 1823

Status: Active

Owner: Diageo

Stills: 3x Wash 3x Spirit

Capacity: 3.7 million litres per annum

Mortlach distillery is a distiller of Scotch whisky in Dufftown, Moray, Scotland. Founded in 1823, the distillery is currently owned by Diageo. The whisky is a key component in several Johnnie Walker bottlings.


Established in 1823 by James Findlater at the wake of the Excise Act, Mortlach distillery was founded on the site of an older illicit distillery, becoming the first legal distillery in Dufftown, the heart of Speyside, the epicentre of Scotch Whisky production in Scotland. The saying goes that ‘Rome was built on seven hills, Dufftown built on seven stills’ – at the time these were Mortlach, Balvenie, Dufftown, Glendullan, Glenfiddich, Convalmore (silent) and Parkmore (closed). It was the only distillery in Dufftown for over 60 years, until in 1887 Glenfiddich was founded. In fact, the founder of Glenfiddich, William Grant, worked at Mortlach distillery for 20 years previous to this.

Back then the output was about 50 gallons per week and it was generally sold direct off the still in 9 or 10 gallon casks to the very few well-to-do local gentry who could afford it. The price was about 9\-per gallon duty paid. There were few roads of any consequence and delivery was usually by pack pony over the rough hill tracks.

In its early years, between 1823 and 1853 the distillery passed from owner to owner, at one point even becoming a brewery. However the fate of the distillery changed when, in 1853, George Cowie joined the distillery with the then current owner John Gordon. Previous to joining the distillery George was an engineer during the Golden Age of Victorian Engineering. Enlisted by two of Scotland’s greatest Victorian civil engineers – Thomas Grainger and John Miller – George was set to work developing vast segments of Great Britain’s railway infrastructure; he will have had a hand in the development of railway bridges, viaducts, tunnels and stations during this key period in Britain’s Industrialisation.

The Cowie Dynasty
In 1867 George Cowie became sole owner of the distillery, took the distillery from strength to strength and started up its global reputation as the whisky for flavour epicureans. Under his esteemed leadership, the liquid lived through a golden age; referred for a depth and strength of flavour other whiskies could not offer, it was reported in the Elgin Courant in 1868 that “There is not perhaps a distillery in Scotland that has so many private customers as Mortlach from whisky spirits are sent not only over the three kingdom’s to families, but to America, India, China and Australia, in all of whisky Mr Cowie has customers who prefer his distillation to all others”

Having married Margaret Mitchell in the summer of 1860 at Mortlach Church, in 1861 they had a son – Alexander Mitchell Cowie. Sharing his father’s relentless ambition and quest for knowledge, Alexander originally found his calling in medicine, graduating as a Bachelor of Medicine from the University of Aberdeen before moving to Vienna to further his studies and broaden his horizons. Just like the whisky, Alexander found himself travelling the empire, finally settling on the far reaches of Hong Kong. However, in 1896 when he found out his father was falling ill Dr Alexander returned to Dufftown and took control of the distillery, heralding a new chapter in the story of Mortlach. Like his father the art of building was in his blood; he set about continuing the Cowie dynasty. Calling on his scientific education and analytical mind, he paved the way for the creation of a unique distillation system, the 2.81 distillation process. Working with the famous distillery architect of the time, Charles C. Doig, the distillery was expanded in 1897, the 2.81 distillation process was put into place and they added the railway siding known as the ‘Strathspey line’ linking it directly to Dufftown. The distillery also received electrical lighting in 1898 – one of the first in the area.

This unique and astonishingly complicated distillation process, which commentators have attempted to explain as ‘2.81 distilled’, produces a whisky so flavoursome that whisky commentators have referred to it as the ‘Beast of Dufftown’ – a bold, rich and powerful spirit tamed for years in the finest oak casks.

Alexander’s leadership and pioneering work on whisky creation and production were soon recognised in the leading role he played in Scotland’s esteemed malt whisky world. As Chairman of the North of Scotland Malt Distiller’s Association, Alexander represented the interests of over 40 distillers and was responsible for continuously pushing the boundaries of what was possible through a rigorous programme of innovation and testing. In fact, in 1907 Dr Alexander stood up in front of this board and said he was the proud owner of a ‘thick’ whisky – something that is true today.

In a golden age of Victorian expansion and improvement, the Cowies were typical of those generations of engineers, scientists, surveyors and entrepreneurs who shaped the world in which they lived. They challenged the status quo and looked boldly beyond the horizon in a constant drive to better themselves, the world around them and the whisky that they produced.

In 1923 the distillery was bought by John Walker and Sons who then owned just one other distillery, Cardhu distillery – their spiritual home – which goes to show just how valuable they knew it was to some of their finest and most treasured blends. As such, for decades since then Mortlach has been considered a secret weapon amongst whisky blenders, going into some of the world’s most treasured and beloved blended whiskies. With its thick, rich, robust character the whisky provides backbone, body and character in the blending world. It’s also highly prized by whisky lovers across the world – highly sought out but, in the past, hardly found. That was until in 2014 the distillery was given the limelight and recognition it not only deserves, but one that it truly has earned with the launch of 4 new luxury single malts.

Mortlach whisky reviews:

  • Mortlach 10 Years Old 2004 76.120 Sweetie shop wish list ~ 58.9% (SMWS) - Mortlach 10 Years Old 2004 – 76.120 Sweetie shop wish list ~ 58.9% (SMWS) 58.9% ABV, £48.40 for 70cl Score: 86/100 What they say: The nose was a sweetie shop wish list – Dolly Mixtures, Liquorice Allsorts, Kendal mint cake, sherbet lemons, foamy bananas, toffee, tablet and pink marshmallows; all tempered by hot sawdust, nutmeg, […]
  • Scotch Malt Whisky Society Mortlach 11 Years Old 2002 76.108 Raspberry Ruffles ~ 57.9% (SMWS) - Mortlach 11 Years Old 2002 – 76.108 Raspberry Ruffles (SMWS) 57.9% ABV, outturn 235 bottles, £48 for 70cl (Mortlach) Score: 72/100 What they say: Cask No. 76.108 A very interesting nose; vibrant, fresh, fizzy, fragrant and fruity – all at once. Green apples, peaches with vanilla custard, orange and lime flavoured refreshers, sherbet lemon, fresh […]
  • mortlach-14-year-old-1999-casks-7902-and-7903-signatory-whisky Mortlach 14 Years Old 1999 Casks 7902 & 7903 ~ 43% (Signatory) - Mortlach 14 Years Old 1999 Casks 7902 & 7903 Speyside single malt scotch whisky 43% ABV, £35 for 70cl Score: 86/100 What they say: This is a 14 year old expression, distilled by Mortlach in May 1999, matured in two hogshead casks and bottled by Signatory in December 2013 with an outturn of 843 bottles. […]
  • Mortlach 15 Year Old Gordon & Macphail Mortlach 15 Years Old ~ 43% (Gordon & MacPhail) - Mortlach 15 Years Old (Gordon & MacPhail) 43% ABV, £40 for 70cl Score 80/100 What they say: From Master of Malt A 15 year old from the Mortlach distillery, aged in first fill and refill sherry casks before bottling for Gordon and MacPhail. The nose is rich with cereal sweetness and warm barley. Apple blossom […]
  • Mortlach 16 Years Old Mortlach 16 Years Old Flora and Fauna ~ 43% (Diageo) - Mortlach 16 Years Old Flora and Fauna ~ 43% (Diageo) 43% ABV, £42.99 for 70cl (while stocks last) Score: 93/100 What they say: Tasting Note by The Chaps at Master of Malt The nose is quite fresh and floral, with developing smoke. Notes of rubber spearmint leaves and gentle smoke with a hint of warm […]
  • Mortlach 18 Years Old 1995 – Strictly Limited ~ 46% (Càrn Mòr) - Mortlach 18 Years Old 1995 – Strictly Limited (Càrn Mòr) 46% ABV, £60 for 70cl Score: 86/100 What they say: Distilled in 1995 and bottled in 2013, this amalgamation of 2 Hogshead casks producing 693 bottles What I say: Another Mortlach, this time at 18 years old, an amalgamate (or marriage) of 2 casks, bottled […]
  • Mortlach1954SC Mortlach 1954 Speyside Collection ~ 43% (Gordon & MacPhail) - Whisky Review: Mortlach 1954 Speyside Collection Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Mortlach distillery Bottling: Gordon & MacPhail, Speyside Collection ABV: 43% Cost: £10,495.95 from Master of Malt   What they say: Speyside Collection Leading whisky specialist Gordon & MacPhail has launched an exclusive Speyside Collection, offering customers the chance to purchase six exquisite single malt Scotch whiskies […]
  • mortlach-20-year-old-1990-cask-6069-cask-strength-collection-signatory-whisky Mortlach 20 Years Old 1990 [Cask 6069] Cask Strength Collection ~ 57.9% (Signatory) - Mortlach 20 Years Old 1990 [Cask 6069] Cask Strength Collection (Signatory) 57.9% ABV, £75 for 70cl Score: 85/100 What they say: This was distilled at Mortlach on the 17th September 1990 and it was aged in refill sherry butt number 6069 for 20 years before bottling on the 18th January 2011. A release of 521 […]
  • Carn-Mor-Vintage-Collection-Mortlach-2006 Mortlach 2006 Vintage Collection ~ 46% (Carn Mor) -   Whisky Review: Mortlach 2006 Vintage Collection Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Mortlach distillery Bottling: Carn Mor,  Vintage Collection ABV: 46% Cost: £11.99 What they say: Carn Mor Vintage Collection Mortlach 2006 Single Speyside Malt Scotch Whisky The Carn Mor Vintage Collection is a truly unique Single Malt Scotch Whisky anthology: Twenty four exceptional whiskies from […]
  • Mortlach-2013-SoS-Festival Mortlach 2013 Spirit of Speyside Festival ~ 48% (Diageo) - Review: Mortlach 2013 Spirit of Speyside Festival Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Mortlach Distillery Bottling: Diageo ABV: 48% Cost: £100 What they say: An exclusive Limited Edition bottling of Mortlach, bottled to celebrate the 2013 Spirit of Speyside Whisky Festival. Hand picked casks, each selected to represent the individual aspects of Mortlach’s complext […]
  • mortlach-21-year-old-1994-cask-2-mission-gold-murray-mcdavid-whisky Mortlach 21 Year Old 1994 cask 2 Mission Gold ~ 50.4% (Murray McDavid) - Review: Murray McDavid Mission Gold Mortlach 21 Year Old 1994 Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Mortlach Distillery Bottling: Murray McDavid ABV: 50.4% Cost: £175.95 from Master of Malt What they say: Muscular Mortlach matured in a first fill bourbon cask! The outturn was 292 bottles at 50.4% abv, a common bottling strength for […]
  • Mortlach 21 Years Old 1991 [Cask 12/943] - Cask Strength Collection (Signatory) Mortlach 21 Years Old 1991 [Cask 12/943] – Cask Strength Collection ~ 53.8% (Signatory) - Mortlach 21 Years Old 1991 [Cask 12/943] – Cask Strength Collection (Signatory) 53.8% ABV, £75 for 70cl Score: 85/100 What they say: Distilled on 1st October 1991 and bottled on 8th November 2011, this expression from Mortlach Distillery was matured in refill sherry butt #12/943 for 21 years and produced a 315 bottle outturn. Bottled […]
  • Mortlach 22yo 1989 Mackillops Mortlach 22 Years Old 1989 [Cask 3926] ~ 54.9% (Mackillops Choice) - Mortlach 22 Years Old 1989 [Cask 3926] (Mackillops Choice) 54.9% ABV, £110 for 70cl Score: 90/100 What they say: A cask strength sherry-matured Mortlach from MacKillop’s Choice. This was distilled on the 1st September 1989 and aged for 22 years in cask 3926 before bottling in March of 2012. Each bottle is individually numbered. What […]
  • Mortlach 23 Years Old 1990 [Cask #6074] – Cask Strength ~ 54.5% (Signatory) - Mortlach 23 Years Old 1990 [Cask #6074] – Cask Strength Single malt scotch whisky 54.5% ABV, £89.95 for 70 cl available from Royal Mile Whiskies Score: 84/100 What they say: Distilled: 17/09/1990 Bottled: 17/02/2014 Age: 23 years Cask Type: Sherry Butt Cask Number: 6074 Limited to 569 bottles What I say: Sampled at the Water […]
  • mortlach-25-years-old-1989-exclusive-gm-2 Mortlach 25 Years Old 1989 Cask 4302 Exclusive ~ 50% (Gordon & MacPhail) - Whisky Review: Mortlach 25 Years Old 1989 Cask 4302 Exclusive (Bottled 2014) Category: Speyside single malt scotch whisky Origin: Mortlach Distillery Bottling: Gordon & MacPhail; Exclusive from Mortlach Distillery ABV: 50% Cost: £130 from Gordon & MacPhail’s shop in Elgin What they say: Distilled at Mortlach Distillery in 1989 this has spent 25 years maturing […]
  • Mortlach 26yo 1987 Adelphi Mortlach 26 Years Old 1987 [Cask #3102] – Adelphi Selection ~ 57% (Adelphi) - Mortlach 26 Years Old 1987 [Cask #3102] – Adelphi Selection (Adelphi) 57% ABV, £85 for 70cl Score: 81/100 What they say: A 1987 vintage Mortlach from independent bottlers Adelphi. This was aged for 26 years in cask 3102 and bottled in 2014 at full strength of 57%. What I say: Who can resist not only […]
  • Mortlach_rare_old Mortlach Rare Old ~ 43.4% (Diageo) - Review: Mortlach Rare Old single malt scotch whisky Mortlach Distillery – Diageo 43.4% ABV £54.28 for 50cl from Master of Malt Score: 67/100 What they say: Nose: Reserved and discreet, first showing a ripe fruity tang of red plum, peach and blackberry. A dryer note in the smooth, nutty layer underneath reveals complexity and depth. […]
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