Is Mortlach another style?


I was tasting a Planeta Sicilian Red Wine cask finish of Mortlach the other day, and it got me to thinking. When I am describing Scotch single malt whisky, particularly to someone new to the subject, I will describe it by listing the flavour styles they fall into. Whether that is honey, vanilla, pears and apples (ex bourbon casks) or raisins, plums, earthy notes and spice (ex sherry casks) or oily/briney and a touch of smoke (Campbeltown, Highland Park) or very peaty (Islay malts, Talisker, Ben Riach heavy peat). There will always be exceptions and limited editions that cross all the boundaries, but to someone who is new to the topic, the flavour categorisation makes life easier. It breaks a huge topic down into manageable chunks for people to understand.

When I was enjoying this big beefy Mortlach, I realised that there is one flavour section that is quite neglected. Big, meaty, full bodied (not sulphury) beasts. Mortlach, Benrinnes and the sadly closed Pittyvaich all have these characteristics  They are hidden gems. An under promoted terroir. My best (and semi informed) guess to why this is, is that blenders quite like this big beefy style. It provides body and depth to their blend. Particularly Johnny Walker, Chivas & Bells. They all have this weight behind them, which really comes from these malts. This means that these types of whiskies don’t make it onto the market (as single malts). Some may argue that they are too specific to have mass market appeal, but look at malts like Laphroaig. That is a very extreme smoky beast, and yet there is a huge market for it.

The weight and meatiness of these malts will really come from the distillation process. The shape of the stills, the amount of copper contact, how it is condensed and where they make the cut can make the difference between a light, fragrant, fruity spirit and a big, beefy, meal in a dram whisky. This type of spirit will normally be filled into sherry casks, as sherry casks have the strength of flavour as not to be over powered by the spirit. I have found this style ages brilliantly, the most extreme example being Gordon & Macphail’s Mortlach 70 .

The true gem for me in this style category is Mortlach. The 16 year old is balanced brilliantly, so that it’s not over the top. But that is the only bottling they do. Every other dram I have tried has been an independent bottling. So I plea to Diageo, release more bottlings of Mortlach. Or to any billionaires reading this, buy Mortlach from Diageo. It’s a cracking wee whisky, with lots of potential. Marketing people could have a field day with its history (oldest licensed distillery in Dufftown/William Grant was one of their distillery managers) and I bet the warehouses are filled with some absolute beauties. Also, if someone would get behind it, they could take advantage of the tourism that they could pull in by encouraging people to journey to Dufftown and visit its magnificent collection of distilleries (Balvenie, Glenfiddich, Glendullan, Dufftown, Kininvie).

I will put up notes of the Mortlach Planeta Cask and a lovely Pittyvaich 18 soon, to show off the style I have been waxing lyrical about.

Chris Hoban


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