Category Archives: Mortlach

Mortlach 1998 Co-op Exclusive (Gordon & MacPhail) Review

IMG_2357Mortlach 1998 Co-op Exclusive (Gordon & MacPhail)

59.7% abv

Score:  87/100


A bottle made even sweeter due to circumstance.  A mate of mine and I laid down a bet at the start of last year’s NFL season: who could pick the most division winners.  Do note…this guy is a junkie for the game and knows waaaaay more than I do.  I got two right (out of eight).  He got one.  For two huge football fans, obviously a pretty pathetic outing.  Goes to show, I suppose, that on any given Sunday…

Anyway, the stakes were a bottle.  No other real parameters.  And this Mortlach single cask was his ‘settling up’ offering.  Hell of a generous dude.  And a Scot to boot.  Known to be ‘frugal’ and all that, right?  I prefer ‘smart with money’.  😉

Said lad presented this one to me at the tail end of a Dram Initiative club tasting a couple months back.  I immediately cracked it and poured out most of it for a roomful of eager malters.  Needless to say it went over like gangbusters.  I kept back a wee bit to be able to write this up and offer public thanks.  So…thanks, Stu!

Bottled exclusively for Co-op Wines & Spirits (and still available at the time of writing!), this is a typical meaty Mortlach.  Seems most Mortlach I’ve drunk of late has been heavier on florals than bovine, but this one takes me back into familiar territory.  Good outing.  And a hell of a lot more exciting than the standard range of generic (aside from the odd bottling strength), overpriced distillery bottlings.

Nose:  Moderate beef note at the fore.  Quite spicy too.  Tea and toast.  Salted meat.  Very dry, overripe berry notes.  Neat nose, if slightly ‘flawed’.  I like it though.  Very, very faintly hints at sulphur.  Big nose, all told.  And yes…there are some sweet fruity notes, but they are ridiculously hard to pin down.  Monk’s Blend tea.

Palate:  Still meaty, but rich and soooo much more than the nose gives us.  Great bold and juicy arrival.  Barley is clear and rich.  Still a slight Bovril meatiness to it, but tempered with chewy dark fruits.  Leathery, with notes of very dry cinnamon and ginger.  Something green and weedy here.  Big barley finish.

Thoughts:  This one stutter-steps into my ‘oddball winners’ category.  Not without its bumps, but its merits make it worthwhile.


 – Images & Words:  Curt

Mortlach 1995 (Duncan Taylor “The Octave”) Review

Mortlach 1995 (Duncan Taylor “The Octave”)019

55.4% abv

Score:  87/100


Here’s another release from Duncan Taylor’s ‘The Octave’ series.  This range consists of whiskies given a short secondary maturation (aka finishing) in small ex-sherry casks known as Octaves.  The finish time is short due to the intensity of spirit / wood interaction in these small barrels.  Anything longer than the prescribed three months would most likely lead to over-oaking.

We recently checked out a surprisingly good Deanston from the Octaves line-up; now let’s see how this method of maturation works on a more robust spirit such as Mortlach.

This is an 18 year old whisky from 1995.  It’s heavy…it’s meaty…it’s dense…and it’s sherry-rich.  In short: it’s all things Mortlach has generally been renowned for throughout the ages.  The distillery’s fingerprint is crystal clear in this malt.  That, even if for no other reason, is enough to put me squarely behind this one.  It doesn’t hurt that the whisky is quite decent too.  Not stellar, but absolutely enjoyable and multi-layered enough to please those looking for more depth in their dram.

Confession time now.  I’m not gonna lie: I’m fighting a tendency to score this one higher simply due to my rebellion against the current direction official Mortlach bottlings have taken.  Indies are the way to go with this distillery.  Historically, they always have been.  It’s a no-brainer that in the age of slap-in-the-face premiumisation on the part of Diageo that we’ll continue to reach for independent Mortlach bottlings over the branded stuff.  Better value, to be sure, but also an inherent responsibility to dig our heels in and reject the philosophy of arbitrary price-fixing.  If you are in the dark as to Diageo’s modus operandi regarding handling of this distillery, let me help you out by sharing a fellow cynic’s POV here.

Nose:  Yes! This is Mortlach, as I’d expect it to be. Pie crust.  Orange marmalade, cinnamon and ginger.  Peppery meaty note. Fruit leather. Makes me think of the Ardbeg Auriverdes if you could somehow leech all the peat out of that beast (odd, right?). Almost a eucalyptus note playing off a BBQ savoury note.

Palate: Savoury and spicy arrival. Raspberry jam, candied ginger, licorice. Slightly salty playdough note and yes…still meaty here. Thick and gooey. Resonates with dark, dark fruity notes and a very heavy spice profile. And…a touch too much wood.

Thoughts: Nice to be in familiar Mortlach territory, even if this is not the most spectacular example. To be fair, though…it is a kickass dram and the price tag isn’t that bad (substantially under $200.)

* Sample provided by Kensington Wine Market’s Andrew Ferguson.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Advent Day 16: 1998 “Pastille Bouquet” Mortlach 15 y.o. (Wemyss Malts)

Secret Spirits Advent Calendar Day 16 – December 16th086

1998 “Pastille Bouquet” Mortlach 15 y.o. (Wemyss Malts)

Cask #5402 Bourbon Hogshead

46% abv

Score:  87/100


A whisky from the Secret Spirits Advent Calendar First Edition.

Ok.  Let’s keep this one short and sweet.  We all know Mortlach.  No need for a lengthy introduction or distillery background.  Just a few personal thoughts.  Let’s go…

Mortlach has long been a favorite distillery of mine.  Just a bit of a personal affinity.  It’s a Speysider, but in my eyes, it’s one which bucks the overly formulaic apple/pear/berry/vanilla/oak trend most Speyside malts (excepting the big sherry bombs) are usually known for.  It certainly does bear some or all of those hallmarks, but often injects a little bit of a meaty backbone and an occasional whiff of smoke to mix things up a bit.  Mortlach is a malt with character.  A malt that I find almost always deserves a good long bit of my attention.

For these reasons, I was tickled pink to open door number 16 and find a 15 year old Wemyss Malts Mortlach.  And while this one didn’t light me up like some of the others, it is still a rather sexy dram.  I’m probably only disappointed because I have such elevated expectations for this distillery.  More accurately, I have expectations regarding what sort of profile I’ll be getting when I pop the cork.  This malt is simply not the Mortlach I know.  Good?  Absolutely.  Familiar?  Well…not so much.  Perhaps that has to do with a lack of sherry influence in the casking here.  Most likely, I’d say.

Oh well.  Still a cool one to try.  While I can’t say I’m behind the new over-marketed and unjustifiably premiumized Diageo abominations, I’m still a sucker for the older indie Mortlachs when available.  This was just such a case.

Nose:  Lovely candy notes.  Dusty potpouri or dried flowers of some sort.  Nicely spiced.  Grain dust (like being near a mill).  Big Turk candy bars.  Fuzzy Peach candies (just a hint).  If those savoury Mortlach notes are here at all, they’re very faint.

Palate:  Maybe just the softest mince, or at least a similar spicy tart note.  Apples.  There’s a little more fresh fruit, but having trouble putting a pulse to it.   Just a vague smokiness.  Oak.  Pear and apple cider.

Thoughts:  Always love trying Mortlach, but increasingly finding variants lacking the meaty notes I associate with the distillery.

Bonus:  My mate, Jonathan, and I are gonna blog on these drams side by side through the season.  Here’s a link to his notes on the same whisky at


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt

Mortlach Rare Old Review

Mortlach Rare Old083

43.4% abv

Score:  84.5/100


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

Gordon & MacPhail Generations Mortlach 70 Review

Gordon & MacPhail Generations Mortlach 70

46.1% abv

Score:  94.5/100


Things like this aren’t supposed to happen.  Not here.  Not to me.

Last week a serendipitous meeting with Andy Dunn, representing Gordon & MacPhail, led to a series of conversations regarding the possibility of a feature article on the already legendary Mortlach 70 year old.  I was hoping to take some photos, put together some details and let the Great Northwest know that Calgary was now in possession of the world’s oldest bottled whisky.  In all honesty, I was also hoping to be able to nose this revered old chap and write up a partial review (partial, as I had no expectations of actually tasting it), as I mentioned to Andy.  Brazen to even ask, I suppose.  Andy not only graciously agreed to the shoot and nosing, he said something that sounded conspicuously like “I’ll let you taste it”.  My stunned ears could not quite comprehend this, and my belief was held in suspense ’til the following day.

Fast forward several hours and I found myself in a back room of one of my favorite whisky shops in the company of this wizened old dram, snapping photos and being…well…stunned, to be frank.

All Things Whisky is both proud and humbled to be able to offer up tasting notes on the world’s oldest whisky.

In a further nod to the fates…this 70 year old whisky is ATW’s 70th review.

On October 15th, 1938 a first fill sherry hogshead, cask number 2656, was filled at the Mortlach distillery in Dufftown.  I don’t think anyone could have possibly imagined the contents of this cask would lay undisturbed as 70 years of tumultuous world history unfolded, only to become history itself.  In spectacular tribute and to celebrate this whisky’s 70th birthday, it was decanted into 54 70cl bottles and 162 20 cl bottles.  As you can imagine, these are available at somewhat of a premium on the market.  This history-making botting was done under the Gordon & MacPhail Generations line.  The idea behind ‘Generations’ is to release whisky laid down by one generation and bottled by its successor.  In the case of the Mortlach 70, this whisky actually spans three generations.

Detailed history of this G&M Mortlach has been available far and wide for some time now (including a great video here, and an ATW feature inthe works) so we’ll cut it a little short and share a few notes on ATW’s personal impressions, ’cause let’s face it…sadly there are not likely to be too many people writing up tasting notes on this one.

The nose:

Simply unbelievable.  Never in a million years (or maybe just 70) would I ever guess this whisky to be the age it boasts.  While mature in every manner expected, it sparkles with vibrancy and life.  Think of films you’ve seen where make-up is used to age a character, but the youthful eyes are always a dead give-away in spite of the costumer’s best efforts.  Mellow…but dynamic.

The oak, which one would expect to not only dominate at this age but absolutely decimate the other notes, is certainly a defining character, but in an elegant and refined way.  The biggest surprise was how gorgeously smoky this whisky is.  Not the peat smoke we’ve come to recognize; instead more like tendrils of rich camp fire smoke.  The fruits are ancient and fruitcake-like in their bold intensity.  Mostly prune or fig.  The other standard fruitcake notes are omnipresent as well; caramelized sugars bring a rum-like edge and are topped with an almond/marzipan creaminess.  Finally, there is a rubbery or waxy note which is an absolute defining character of this Mortlach.

The palate:

Again the oak arrives with an understated smokiness and a dusty maturity.  Sweet caramels and mild vanilla are the initial charm, while the more seductive dry figgyness (could that be a word?) sneaks all over the place leaving its mark.  God…I salivate at the memory.  When the glass is finally dry (and your eyes moist, knowing you’ll likely never taste it again), the finish fades, warm and familiar.  All pleasant but not overly long.  Well…not long enough anyway.  You simply won’t want to let it go.

Sigh.  Gone.  It is staggering that this whisky is so perfectly intact after 70 years.  I’m truly in awe.  Is it the best whisky I’ve tasted?  No.  Not quite.  One of them?  You bet.  These flavors may never be duplicated, and to have sampled this whisky is a fulfillment I can hardly explain.

You simply could not ask more of a 70 year old whisky.

Keep checking the site here.  I am waiting on a few more details, at which point ATW will post a lengthier piece on Gordon & MacPhail’s legendary Mortlach.

One final word…thanks again, Andy.  This is one of those things I’ll remember for a lifetime.  You gave that to me.  Slainte.


– Reviewed by:  Curt

– Photo:  Curt