1823 was the year of the the Excise Act, in which duty on whisky was cut massively. Within two years the number of licensed distilleries in Scotland doubled. Mortlach distillery was right out of the gates – the first to be built in Dufftown, which is now home to several others from Balvenie to Glenfiddich.
Mortlach is a funny distillery. Its stills are all different sizes and not in pairs as is usual for distilleries. Like Craigellachie, it also utilises worm-tubs, loops of copper submerged beneath water (and outside Mortlach’s still house) to condense the spirit. It’s capacity is a shade under 3 million litres each year, much of which goes into Johnnie Walker Black Label.
Mortlach has now become a Diageo darling, with its own range of official releases. I’ve sampled a couple of these, and even other independent bottlings, and found the spirit to be consistently good. There’s a lovely meaty note embedded within the spirit, and I found the Mortlach 25 Year Old in particular to be a stunning whisky (though it clocks in at just under £600 a bottle).
However my first write-up of a Mortlach on Malt is a much cheaper dram. The Mortlach 15 Year Old is bottled by Gordon and Macphail at 43% ABV, and will cost just under £45 a bottle.
Colour: burnished gold, deep copper. On the nose: very fruity. Tangerines, or oranges, and muscovado sugar. Quite Christmassy – a baked ham covered in marmalade, perhaps. Touch of green apples maybe, a little estery, but such delicate aromas are hidden behind those initial sweet fruits.
In the mouth: a medium, robust body, bringing quite sharp fruit notes. More acetone and sweet-shop before the more obvious dried fruits come into play. And then they really do come into play. A dry sherry comes to mind towards the back end. The finish is long and warming, though with a curiously bitter-sweet raisin-musky end. With a splash of water the finish becomes a bit too dry – I’m not sure this whisky works well with water, to be honest, is it takes away the sweetness that’s holding it together.
The Gordon & MacPhail Mortlach 15 Year Old is not a bad dram. It’s just not a great one.