Disclaimer: I’m doing another review of a free sample. I don’t feel any obligation to write good things about it, but full disclosure and all…This one is from ImpEx Beverages, who imports Chieftain’s, Kilchoman, Smokehead, Isle of Skye, and Arran. Many thanks to them for the sample!
Ah, Mortlach…so hard to come by here in the United States, as there is only one official distillery bottling (16 Year Flora & Fauna), and it’s not imported here. Most of the whisky distilled at Mortlach goes into blends, most famously Johnnie Walker Black. Apparently the bold flavor provided by their unique “partial triple distillation” is highly prized by the blenders. This single-cask expression was matured in a sherry butt, and it was bottled at a hefty 55.2% ABV. I’m comparing it directly with two previously reviewed Tomatins, as this Mortlach immediately reminded me of those.
[Mortlach 15 Batch #7281, Chieftains, 1995/2011, 55.2%, $100, 625 bottles]
I took a whiff right out of the sample bottle and it seemed hugely fruity with dried fruits and red berries. Right up my alley!
In the glass, the nose changed quite a bit. Now, a sweet barley/malt leads the way, followed by dried fruits, but not so much the fresh red berries. Another whiff and I get some baked apples as well, along with something slightly vegetal (is that a word?). Some minor baking spices probably coming from the cask, but no wood shavings or strong vanilla on this one. Finally, imagine there’s a honey-cured ham cooking in the kitchen and you’re in another room. The aroma is just starting to reach you, but hasn’t taken over the room yet. It’s like a whole meal in a glass!
At 55.2%, there is a strong delivery on the palate, but it’s not overly hot. Big, big, malt and apple juice, similar to the MoM 19 Year Tomatin. As it works its way down, a hint of smoke lifts some dried fruit back up into the nostrils, and vague wood spices hang onto the tongue, still overshadowed by the malt. Drying, but not overly so, with a medium-long finish.
More please! This is a highly enjoyable Speyside whisky and a great U.S. representative for the Mortlach distillery. While the big malt presence reminded me of the 18 and 19 year Tomatins that I like so much, there is even more malt here, and definitely less wood influence. I suppose the four fewer years in casks would contribute to that (and this might be a refill butt), but I also get the feeling that the distillate is stronger coming off the Mortlach stills than what Tomatin starts with. There’s definitely something unique about the Mortlach flavor. I’m intrigued and want to try more expressions from this distillery. It would be really interesting to taste a 20 year old Mortlach, where I would expect the additional time in casks to result in a balance that would knock my socks off!
Jim Murray seems to think Mortlach creates a second-rate spirit, sometimes saved by good cask use. I haven’t seen much love for Mortlach over at Whiskyfun.com, either. The slight vegetal presence, and hint of baked ham is different from other Speysides I’ve tried, and I found the overall experience quite endearing. Is this bottle worth $100? I’d like to see it about $25 cheaper, but the reality is that Mortlach is very rare as a single malt, and it’s going to cost $75-$80 to get a 43% bottling by Gordon & Macphail. In that context, this single cask Chieftain’s bottling seems pretty reasonable. I rate it very highly – about the same, maybe just slightly below the Tomatin 18 and MoM Tomatin Cask Strength 19 year. A B+ for sure (88 points). Maybe higher if I spent more time with it.Cheers, Jeff