I have mixed feelings. Let me explain.
Mortlach was once a hidden gem. Much of its yearly 3 million litres of spirit goes into Johnnie Walker Black Label, one of the world’s great blends and a jewel in Diageo’s crown. As far as single malts were concerned, Mortlach was quietly the domain of independent bottlers, with the exception of Diageo’s Flora & Fauna range. The distillery’s worm-tubs – copper coils submerged beneath water outside the still house – led to a unique, ‘meatier’ tasting whisky. The process of distillation is unique, is that some spirit is double or triple distilled – or, on average, ‘2.81’ distilled, as it says on the bottle.
Anyway. People loved it. This old, Dufftown distillery was a great secret known only to whisky beards. Then a couple of years ago Diageo decided to premiumize the range. They began to invest significantly in the distillery’s refurbishment and expansion – although thanks to crumbling international demand, this is now on hold.
The premiumization led to the creation of Mortlach Rare Old, 18 Year Old, 25 Year Old and travel retail Special Strength. A lot of online discussion has focussed on the fact that… well, the value for money for the range isn’t great. The cost of the Mortlach Rare Old sounds just about okay on first inspection – you can pick bottles up for about £55 – but the bottles are actually 50cl and not the standard 70cl. When you consider that the 18 Year Old is almost £200 (again: 50cl), and the 25 Year Old is touching £600, you can see why people are talking mainly about how expensive the bottles are rather than the whisky inside of them.
But for now let’s focus on the whisky itself. The Mortlach Rare Old is a No Age Statement whisky that comes from a mixture of Sherry and bourbon casks, and is bottled at 43.4% ABV.
Colour: amber to deep gold. On the nose: lovely fresh sweetness. Dried fruits in a cake mixture. Apricots. Green apples. Rich honey and cider. Just a touch yeasty, and champagne-like. Not hugely forthcoming, yet it’s very pleasant.
In the mouth: a lot of that comes through here, too. Really admirable texture – velvety and light, and dare I use the word smooth. In fact, it reminds me of some Irish whiskies in this respect. Fresh, gooey bread, vanilla custard, sultanas, apple pie. I’m getting much more dough than the meatier notes that Mortlach is known for. A touch of wood towards the end, and it’s a short finish. Now, this isn’t setting the world on fire, but there’s a wonderful balance of sweet and sour flavours on show. As an entry-level whisky into a new range, this is fantastic stuff. It’s a classy introduction. Just really pleasant to drink, and there’s a lot to be said about whiskies like that. I can imagine this being great to sip outdoors on a mellow spring evening.
The Mortlach Rare Old is very nice. But I believe this is overpriced by around £15 or so. Whilst I think it’s tasty, for an entry-level whisky I think you should go elsewhere. It’s weird saying that, but you have really break things down to: is it worth the money? When you’re sweating away in a factory or working all the hours in a dreary office to keep the wolf from the door, and a bottle of single malt whisky provides that wonderful world in which to explore a whole new sensual realm: is Mortlach Rare Old worth your hard-earned cash?
No. Not at that price.
You see, when even Macallan and Dalmore can put out tasty, premium whiskies, but which seem very cheap in comparison, some people might say to the folks behind Mortlach’s pricing strategy: you’re taking the f*cking p*ss.