A Mancunian once said we shouldn’t look back in anger. Clearly, he wasn’t a Mortlach fan or had been done over in style by Diageo.
In 2014, I wrote about the Premiumisation of Mortlach. The masterplan of Diageo to elevate its elegant Dufftown distillery into that of a status symbol: adored, chased and worshipped by elite clientele the world over. Copious amounts of money were spent like there was no tomorrow. A specific brand ambassador was appointed and the Far East targeted relentlessly. Promotional events, high rolling environments and bottomless pits of expenses were granted to achieve that new status. This was Diageo chasing the likes of The Macallan and Dalmore and hellbent on achieving success no matter the cost. The stories that I’ve heard about the madness of it all…
The historical distillery was changed forever, with an eager impetus to commence renovations and remove old buildings. Diageo got its way with the changes. Forget about things being pulled down or starting work before everything was agreed. Mortlach was in the blue-chip arena now and needed more capacity. Oddly, in doing so, it dented the classic character of the distillery. If you happened to walk down to Mortlach prior to the ‘enhancements’, it felt as if you were stepping back in time. You can still feel a part of this journey if you take the walk today, but the impression left on the site by modern construction is noticeable.
Everything seemingly was pinned on the Old and Rare range. A launch that many whisky commentators embraced – especially with free samples and private tastings. I can still recall questioning a couple of bloggers who attended such events, if they’d pay the asking price of these releases? They all surprisingly said yes post-event. Such is the effectiveness of being wined and dined. However, the market is the ultimate judge and jury. We remained steadfast here and just over 5 years later, we can say we told you so. But that’d be too easy. Instead, Mortlach themselves did the talking in Issue 5 of Distilled, by admitting yeah, we got that one wrong.
Totally wrong, in fact.
Even as recently as 2019, Diageo was still trying to peddle Mortlach as an illustrious whisky by flogging a 47 year old expression for a mere £10,000. Needless to say, I didn’t enter that ballot and would rather stick with my Gordon & MacPhail distillery edition. That came even after announcing the replacement of one of the worst and short-lived whisky launches in 2018. Perhaps trying to recoup some of those expenses?
We’ve previously covered the Mortlach Wee Witchie 12 year old in this new range and now it’s the turn of the fondly remembered 16 expression. Except this time it’s in a more modern and swanky exterior with a higher price to match as well. At least we’re back on 70cl territory rather than the so ‘Rare and Old’ that they had to stick it in smaller bottles.
In voting for this release, our Patreons arguably reflect the greater market at large. They have fond memories, or at least an interest in the old Mortlach and want an opinion on the new range. But they are also resistant to making that purchase themselves because of the price. This new Mortlach 16 will set you back £79.96 via Master of Malt, the Whisky Exchange will request £74.95, or Amazon will also demand £74.95 for the experience.
The packaging brings together the whole Mortlach we know today. The 2.81 distilled, the Beast of Dufftown and the proclamation its the distillers edition. I suppose you could scrub ‘distillers’ and replace it with fans, enthusiasts or suchlike. Because we’re the ones that still fondly remember the old 16 and when all the money has moved onto the next fad, who’s left to support the brand?
Speaking of which, interestingly, there has been some chat amongst the Mortlach aficionados around batch variations. A strong initial batch has been followed by weaker, less defined batches. A traditional whisky maker’s ploy and for the record our batch today is L8330DMOO4. So, a roar of the Dufftown beast or more of a Highland cow moo? As always, there is only one way to find out.
Mortlach 16 year old – Jason’s review
On the nose: a pleasant mix of orange zest, honey, walnuts and a touch of cigar smoke. There’s chocolate caramel, ginger root and cinder toffee. An enjoyable balance continues with rubbed brass and well-fired toast. Water isn’t beneficial.
In the mouth: not so much a beast in reality. A gentle patting of sherry gives us a moreish vibe without being too demand or robust. Walnuts, leather, more subtle orange and cracked black pepper. Some apricots, cloves, toasted oak, cherries and brown sugar. Again, don’t bother with water.
I don’t mind this whatsoever, but this isn’t the Mortlach that many love and others have heard about. It feels thin, refined and overly engineered. It could benefit from a higher strength and better blending. We know Diageo can deliver, as we’ve seen it with the Talisker 18, yet this is the what the design is for today’s Mortlach.
Having been fortunate to have tried many well-aged and ancient Mortlach’s, I’m not expecting this to be in the same ballpark, or even stadium. However, I do want to experience a trigger of what a great distillery this can be. I wanted to be stirred, smacked and sparked into life! This just feels like something is amiss and the end product is very safe and ultimately, which pains me to say this; forgettable.
There are commission links within this article and we’re happy to highlight this.