Tuesday, 31 May 2011

You have tried it, honest - Mortlach 16 Year Old

You have tried it, honest - Mortlach 16 Year Old

Diageo is the world’s biggest drinks company and the largest producer of Scotch Whisky. In drinks it is synonymous with names like Guiness, Smirnoff and Baileys. In Scotch it owns, amongst others, Bells, Talisker, Lagavulin, Dalwhinnie and Johnnie Walker, the globally famous and often exceptional blend. At some point we all drink their offerings. With brand names like these on the corporate CV it may seem surprising that they own and operate a distillery many have never heard of.
Mortlach, in Dufftown, was the first of the seven distilleries built in the famous whisky making town at the heart of Speyside.  Since its building in 1824 it has seen many owners and many great alumni – William Grant of Glenfiddich fame learnt his trade and saved his pennies here. Today it produces somewhere in the region of 3 million litres a year out of 3 wash and 3 spirit still. Surely you must have heard of it?
I the answer is ‘no’ then it is probably because virtually all Mortlach production goes into creating Diageo’s blends, most significantly Johnnie Walker. A small amount of highly prized Distillery release Single Malt does however escape the warehouse walls with a Mortlach label on the bottle. Whilst available in a 22 Year Old expression, most of the Distillery release is bottled as a 16 Year Old – the one I have been lucky enough to get my hands on recently.
The bottle did not come in a presentation box. It has incredibly simple packaging. There is no long story on the back label. It was not found via a social media marketing campaign. In short, Mortlach does not try to sell itself. It does not need to.

The first clear point about the Malt itself is a wonderful mahogany colour – there must be some serious Olorosso cask in here somewhere. On the nose this release does not mess about. A big strong, almost chunky aroma hits the nose with thoughts of sweet syrup, leather and mint. When drunk it is clear to see why Mortlach is so prized by Scotland’s Blenders. A strong and powerful structure offering some sherry sweetness, a hint of smoke and a genuine earthiness tease the palate. The finish is long and is where the Sherry cask influence is most obvious. Bottled at 43% the 16 Year Old has enough meat on its bones but can easily be approached as it is.
Everyone has heard of Johnnie Walker and the other major worldwide brands in the Diageo stable. Mortlach however is a real understated and little know gem - no wonder it is used to sure up the less refined grain whiskies.  If you are after something you know will not be in your friend’s drinks cabinet the look no further.  They like you will have tried Mortlach, they just did not realise it.

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