Review: Mortlach 12 Years Old, 16 Years Old, and 20 Years Old
In 2014, Diageo gave its storied Mortlach Distillery a big boost, relaunching its whiskies with three new expressions — a NAS release, an 18 year old, and a 25 year old, all beautiful monsters worth of Mortlach’s moniker, “The Beast of Dufftown.”
And then they kind of disappeared. The promised increase in production never quite panned out, and Mortlach has remained uncommonly hard to get. (The 25 year old regularly sells for over $1000 a bottle now.)
At last Mortlach owner Diageo has relented and pushed three new Mortlach expressions into the market (these formally replace the aforementioned whiskies as well as the duty-free Special Strength bottling). And here’s the twist, while these releases retain the distillery’s famed “2.81 distillation process,” which involves a mostly complete third distillation, the whiskies, for the first time since the distillery was built in 1823, do not incorporate any amount of peat in the spirit.
Three new whiskies are on tap, all with age statements and aged in a combination of bourbon and sherry casks. Does stripping the peat from the spirit also take the magic of Mortlach with it? Let’s find out. (Spoiler: It’s still great and you should go buy it now.)
All are 86.8 proof.
Mortlach 12 Years Old Wee Witchie – Young Mortlach really resonates with me, and this 12 year old is a well-rounded beauty from first pour. The nose is toasty with wood but soulful, with notes of nougat, caramel, and hints of banana and a light dusting of spice. On the palate, that bold Mortlach mouthfeel coats the palate, pushing out notes of coconut, more banana, honey, and a stronger spice element. Aggressively creamy, the finish is long and lingering, chewy with just a hint of chocolate. Beautiful stuff that drinks well above its weight (and price) class. A / $50
Mortlach 16 Years Old Distiller’s Dram – The sherry impact is more evident here, with citrus and old wine notes prominent on the nose. The sherry punch robs this expression of some of the Mortlach magic, with the sherry really dominating the bulk of the experience. The palate is downright heavy on the stuff, winey, woody, and long in the tooth. There are vegetal, almost seaweed-like, notes in the mix here, which don’t mingle perfectly with the notes of hefty barrel char and dusky spices, plus hints of jasmine and dried mushroom. The finish manages to coalesce some of this into a clearer and more cohesive whole, but it’s an awful long time coming. B / $100
Mortlach 20 Years Old Cowie’s Blue Seal – A mellower sherry note kicks things off on this 20 year old, with a nose that is very nutty and lightly spiced, with notes of mint and a hint of furniture polish. The palate is much more balanced than the 16 year old, showcasing notes of nougat, fresh oranges, and a ton of walnut and almond notes. The finish is somewhat sharp, with lingering notes of orange oil and malty cereal hanging on for the ride. It manages to come across as rather youthful, a whisky that surprisingly still has room to grow. A- / $200