Diageo has really thrown down the gauntlet with this year’s rebranding of the Mortlach range. Their challenge, it would seem, is against all reason and common sense. Sounds like a harsh criticism, I know. But as many of you will be well aware, what they’ve done, in essence, is (seemingly) arbitrarily premiumized a brand that has never – up ’til now – been known as a premium whisky. In fact…until the last decade or so, it was almost exclusively a blending whisky, only really ever seen as a single malt in independent bottlings.
So how did they do it? The answer is…through silence. They haven’t spoken up to justify the outrageous new pricing strategy. They haven’t explained the use of ‘rare’ in their naming conventions (considering the distillery’s capacity is nearly three million litres per annum). The haven’t told us why they’re leaning to 50cl (500ml) bottles in most markets (and dumb, perfume-esque ones, at that). And most importantly, they haven’t told us what changed to suddenly warrant escalating this distillery into the ‘premium’ whisky category.
Let’s be blunt. I want to hate the new Mortlach. If not for all I just said, then at least for being yet another brand leading the foray into the whole NAS camp and cost-jacking the consumer, while blurring the lines of trust between producer and consumer. And I do hate them for all of this. At the same time, it is simply foolish to not concede that the whisky is actually quite decent. Or this particular one is, at least.
Mortlach Rare Old is the ‘entry level’ expression in the new range. ‘Entry level’ being relative, as it will run you over $100 in local markets (Canada). From here things get even more ludicrous in terms of price positioning and assumed value. As of now, I’ve yet to experience the entire new ‘core’ range from Mortlach, but irrespective of hijinx and shenanigans, I am still curious to do so.
I will never get behind the concepts employed here (the same malarkey embraced by Dalmore, Macallan, etc), but at the end of the day, good whisky is good whisky, and needs to be assessed as such. Is the Mortlach Rare Old great? Nope. Is it good? Absolutely. While I remain skeptical of the both the ‘rare’ and ‘old’ descriptors in the appellation of this one, I am at least pleased to say that the malt itself is much better than my early preconceptions allowed me to fathom.
Nose: Little bit of apple and pear…and orange. Touch of pepper. Notes of cranberry, in its slight tartness. Very nice clean oak. Ginger and cinnamon. Vanilla custard. A sweet ju-jube kind of candy note. Vague hint of banana. There’s something like wet rock here too. Not quite flinty, but…not sure. Not unpleasant though.
Palate: Wood. Delivery is a lot more restrained than the nose belies, but is pleasant enough, if a little one-dimensional up front. Apple skins. Gentle cherry candy notes. Faint fennel. Cinnamon raisin cookies. Hmmm…maybe leather?
Thoughts: Tasted blind. I said maybe a mid-ager (12-15 years). Said it seemed Speyside-ish in the vein of ‘Livet or ‘Fiddich, but with a litte more personality. After the reveal, I admitted that I’d never have pegged this as a Mortlach. Seems devoid of all the meatier notes I associate with the distillery. Good, solid dram either way, though could definitely benefit from a couple extra abv percentage points. Also…while I concede it’s a decent malt (proven by blind tasting), it was somewhat disappointing to find out this was Mortlach. Lacks all the character I previously loved in the distillery.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt
Consumers’ embrace, or even acceptance, of this kind of marketing will, in the long run, undermine their interests – and it will continue until opposed by boycott. Those buying this good but not great whisky that also lacks previous distillery character are also in fact buying into, and therefore encouraging, further “hijinx and shenanigans” and more ludicrous price positioning in the future. To readers, I can only say that choices do matter; the throat you’re slitting may be your own. Remember, you vote with your dollars: you encourage what you buy.
Though not a boycott, per se, I will not be buying any of this (probably the only one in the range I can afford) Mortlach.
Though not 500ml, as they are peddling in Europe, $100 is still too much for mediocre NAS whisky.
You don’t ask what makes, say, a Louis Vuitton bag a luxury item worth what they charge for it. In fashion, a luxury item is anything its manufacturer deems as such. And the consumer’s perception of that luxury is its own justification for the price. While it may offend us to see Diageo treat whisky as fashion, only the balance sheet will be able to prove them misguided.
Of course I do. And as Jeff suggests, I vote with my dollars. I didn’t buy this bottle of Mortlach*, and will absolutely not buy any of the others either. (Indies are a different story)
*This wsa part of a Liquorature club night, for which I anted in for with the other members, and was poured blind. I s’pose I DID buy it, in a way, but through my own volition, never would have done so.
I’ve always found the “luxury good” defense of costly bottles a little suspect, and too convenient, not only because it can simply be invoked by a big price tag, but also because that price tag often then functions as a distraction from, and even a shield against, analysis of the whisky as a drinkable value – even as I’ve never read any reviewer’s defense of these potentially never-intended-to-be-opened, doorstop bottles as collectibles either. Many at Whisky Advocate fall into this, saying that price is in the eye of the beholder and, as such, they’re “not in a position”, even as whisky experts, to say whether or not this or that crystal-decantered multi-thousand-dollar expression is, in fact, overpriced. Yet you won’t read about how the reviewers are running to buy these products themselves (they vote with their dollars too) or, in the great majority of cases, that they actually state their support of the price as good value for money in print – yet where they do see a bargain elsewhere, they’ll say so as a point of recommendation for consumer purchase.
For example, I was once told by John Hansell that somehow the idea of value for money “didn’t apply” to the “million-pound whisky” of the Dalmore Paterson Collection – and that it wasn’t even a fair question to ask about it – yet, it was implied, QPR somehow still applied to lower-priced bottles (and if you ask too many questions, or the wrong kind, you’re blacklisted). Close to a million pounds was to be accepted as a “reasonable” price for the collection simply by virtue of the fact Dalmore asked for it, yet no one outside Dalmore, even Gavin Smith who actually tasted the whisky, would or could go on the record as saying the collection represented anything close to that sort of value. Somehow it wasn’t “fair” to question the value being claimed by the producer even though, at the same time, as there was no independent opinion, expert or not, that the value was in any way reasonable.
Although putting a huge price tag on something evidently does help to shield it from value analysis, it is PRECISELY these products that should be looked at in terms of QPR – and would be, if the “whisky press” worked for consumers, and not as marketing agents for the industry. I do understand the professional reviewer’s problem, however: you can’t say it ISN’T worth the money without embarrassing the all-important producer, and you can’t say it IS worth the money without discrediting yourself as a whisky professional.
Selling somebody on the idea that they should overpay for what really is an average whisky can’t be argued as being bad for stockholders (unless consumers wake up), but the question for consumers is what sort of benefit this marketing holds for THEM. Yet in the luxury world of whisky, some people do tend to get confused as to whether they are buying or selling, drinking or producing, or they have a very exaggerated idea of what the “trickle down” benefits of their support of overheated, and overhyped, marketing really could be – unless they are supporting, and participating in, that marketing in order to flip bottles. But if some people are right in saying that Mortlach is some kind of trial balloon for what Diageo wants to do with Lagavulin, a LOT of people will find this marketing FAR from harmless.
“But if some people are right in saying that Mortlach is some kind of trial balloon for what Diageo wants to do with Lagavulin, a LOT of people will find this marketing FAR from harmless.”
I’ll just leave this hear regarding Diageo and their Mortlach “experiment”: http://www.dramming.com/2014/10/29/diageo-and-the-pitfalls-of-boom-and-bust/
….the fact that also the Mortlach expansion was put on hold which has already been worked on hints to a certain nervousness on Diageo’s part…
If Diageo is “nervous”, in this or even in other areas, I can only say that it generally works in consumers’ interests to keep them so, and non-support of Mortlach’s “re-branding” is one good way to accomplish this. We’ve seen the alternative: when the people at the company, like Nick Morgan, are feeling full of themselves, you get told silly shit like NAS is really about “running out of numbers.”
I have to hand it to you this time Jeff, lots of good points in your Oct. 29 posts.
While still have my doubts about the wisdom or effectiveness of a blanket boycott on NAS, I think encouraging consumer education and smart buying is a good idea.
Surely every multi-thousand dollar expression is overpriced from a QPR perspective. Can the greatest whisky to ever touch the lips of man truly be twenty times better than the best $100 bottle? As if a quarter were stretched to the size of a bicycle wheel?
I agree entirely, but what you and I know to be true is, for marketing reasons, a total mystery to those who are supposedly some of the greatest whisky titans among us. It’s like a weather expert claiming to be able to predict every tornado for the next ten years but being unable to say whether or not it’s currently raining. But that’s the state were in, and why a lot of professional whisky commentary really isn’t worth shit.
As Dominic Roskrow said: ““Let’s make one thing clear. What whisky writers do is not journalism. Not even close. The best definition of journalism I’ve ever heard is ‘someone writing something that someone somewhere doesn’t want written or someone else to read’. Accepting free flights, accommodation, food and premium whisky from the people you are writing about and then printing nice stories about them isn’t journalism – it’s marketing.”
There you go again getting Jeff all wound up just when we thought he had calmed down. My problem is not so much the NAS as $100 for an okayish bottle. I haven’t seen a review higher than your 84, so off my list! At $60, maybe.
Yes, I did pay $125 for NAS SN2014, but that was for science. And it’s rated higher. And it’s Ardbeg. And I only bought two.
Supernova 2014 still hasn’t made it here. Dying to try it.
Psst. Don’t tell anyone, but try some of your buddy’s first. Did a HTHTH with Ten and Corry. Besides the obvious fact that it’s Ardbeg, not noting anything special. Seems like (and looks like) Ten CS with smoke and soot added. Higher strength and somewhat more complex, but not worth over 3x the price of Ten. Had a chance to pick up a third bottle for $115 and passed.
Oh, BTW, rated the Ten 85, SN 88 and Corry 90.
Mortlach is a whisky that has sentimental value to me. The man who introduced me to spirits, and essentially, started my whisky journey, gave me a number of rare bottles, one of which was the “rare malts” Mortlach. It was the only whisky I’d seen an open bottle of at his home. Sadly, he died (before I started drinking whisky) and I have no idea what became of his collection (which included 8 Black Bowmores and an unclear number of Macallan 25s in addition to these Mortlachs).
So I want to like it, but I won’t be buying any of these watered down, overpriced abominations from Diageo. If I can get my hands on some good, reasonable IBs I will get them, but having shelled out 100 dollars for a disappointing IB already, i admit I’m gun-shy.
My thanks to David for his kind words. The effectiveness of an NAS boycott will depend, of course, upon the number of people who actually participate. As for the wisdom of it, I turn the question on its head and only ask that, given NAS marketing does nothing for consumers, whether the needless, and widening, reduction of production information is taking whisky in a direction that wise consumers would want to see it go, and if, given that NAS IS clearly an industry-driven initiative, they think it will stop going in that direction without opposing that marketing using their buying power. The real value of information or education IS in it leading to better choices and positive action, and that’s why industry people want to obscure the fact that NAS works for them and not for you: it’s not something that they want consumers to know, and certainly not something that they want consumers to act upon.
very good comments here – as usual.
The comparison of what drinks giants think are premium whiskies with Louis Votton bags is askew as far as when you buy a LV bag you buy a nearly lifelong warranty with it.
You can send it in if it has been damaged or is worn and they will do what they possibly can to restore it and give it back as good as new. At a price but they will. Then it is handmade and it is expensive but is premium for and with more reason than Mortlach becoming über-super-premium by Mortlachisation over night eg. a board of directors saying so.
Above trust between consumer and whisky industry was mentioned. At dramming.com I just posted something about confidence between consumer and the whisky industry.
Psychologically I think to anounce the hold of the investments was the wrong signal. It shows lack of confidence in the own decisions. Or mistrust if you will whether the expansion decisions have been the right ones.
The attempt to create a new Macallan under the Diageo roof by mortlaching Mortlach to a more than premium malt was and is wrong psychologically as well.
If premium then you need a better and “fuller” bottle and not a 0.5 ltr. parfume flacon. You need a proper hull at a price point like this and – most important – you need a broad tasting foundation for a new malt in town that hardly anybody knows.
Now how many of us will get the chance to taste the 18 and 25 yo – and why does the improperly named Rare Old not deliver?
On what value does Diageo think they can sell the new Mortlachs – on price and the illusion of premium quality alone? Pure face valu? And to whom do they think new Mortlach might appeal under the circumstances described?
What kind of hare-brained concept is behind all that?
And now the news that Mortlach is among the distilleries which will have to wait for expansion. The burning question is: For how long? This could turn out to be a question with explosive power….