The all new super-mega-ultra-premium Mortlach series

Mortlach Bottles

A few years ago when I was first broadening my whisky horizon, I was introduced to a bottle of Mortlach Flora and Fauna 16yo. I can still remember that moment to this day; I tried it at the Scotch Whisky Experience with a couple of friends, then immediately phoned my mum and sobbed down the line that a big bully had roughed me up and called me names. This was the first time I’d had a proper ‘sherry monster’, and I don’t mean the richly fruity, ‘tastes like Christmas cake’ Glenfarclases and Dalmores. This was more of an MMA fighter with an attitude problem, who’d not just knock you out and win the fight but proceed to rearrange your facial features just for fun. And you know what, I liked it. A lot. I liked it so much that I bought a bottle with my next pay check despite my mother warning me that it’d only end in tears. As it turns out, she was right.

The much loved Mortlach F&F 16yo has been discontinued and to fill this considerable void a new series of Mortlachs have been unveiled. At first I was drooling uncontrollably and dry humping sofa cushions like a small Yorkshire Terrier on heat – after all, Diageo had only recently announced a multi-million pound investment to substantially increase production at Mortlach. They’re assigning more spirit to the single malt category, I thought. Hurrah. Let’s all hold hands and sing Kumbaya. However, my inner zen was shattered when I read the press release.

Dalmore and Glenfarclas vs Mortlach. Sort of.

£55 for an NAS. £180 for an 18yo. £600 for a 25yo. All in 50cl bottles. Fuck. Off.

50cl bottles might not be new, what with Nikka From The Barrel, Elements of Islay, Edradour Straight from the Cask, and Mackmyra et al all being sold at that volume. Hell, even our own That Boutique-y Whisky Company bottling comes in a 50cl bottle. But those are 50cl bottlings sold at 50cl prices. Apparently these new Mortlachs are being sold in 50cl bottles due to “the very limited supplies of this unique liquid”. If you say so. The liquid itself, apart from the Travel Retail Only ‘Special Strength’ bottling, will be sold at 43.4% ABV. Hardly turbo-charged rocket fuel. I was also amused/staggered to read that the design of these bottles is “a celebration of those audacious thinkers who shape and make today’s world, just as their forefathers did in the era in which Mortlach was born.” Really? Wow. Ok. So I guess it’s ok to give me 200ml less whisky than usual and charge me twice the price because the bottles are pretty and kinda have a backstory? Hmmm… I might have to take a rain check on that one.

It’s clear that Diageo are positioning Mortlach as a no holds barred luxury brand. “This range is all about redefining luxury in single malt whisky”, said Dr Nick Morgan, head of whisky outreach at Diageo, with these whiskies targeting the “luxury connoisseur market”. That’s great, I like their conviction, but why alienate the vast majority of drinkers who have enjoyed the F&F 16yo for years by asking them to pay £55 for the ‘Rare Old’? Indeed, if it’s actually that old and rare, why not put an age statement on it so people know exactly what they’re getting? Diageo might argue that replacing the F&F with the Rare Old is a like for like substitution, akin to replacing your Ford Fiesta with a Volkswagen Golf. I see it more like replacing Cristiano Ronaldo with Jamie Carragher – sure, they’re both footballers but Carragher couldn’t score in a brothel. But then again, I might just be being cynical.

Artist’s impression of Mortlach 25yo tasting notes.

Perhaps the liquid will indeed smell like rainbows and Miranda Kerr, and taste like mermaids’ tears mixed with fairy dust, but I’ll probably never find out. In all honesty, I’m not sure how many people will – I can think of many other 18yo and 25yo whiskies I’d rather spend (significantly less) money on. These Mortlachs might be bought more as works of art to be admired in a cabinet or on a mantelpiece, and I suppose they embody everything I dislike about the ‘luxury’ malt whisky market. Lots of fanfare and penis waving for all to see, but nobody to really drink the fucking stuff.

Tiger

 

Comments

  1. Nailed it.

    Dalmore #1

  2. Amen to that, luckily, there are still independent bottlers out there offering Mortlach

  3. Yes, exactly. Great post, thanks.

    The most galling about this whole super-duper-wow-don’t-look-now-premiumisation malarky is that ‘they’ (I don’t even know who I’m talking/writing about when I say/write ‘they’ – is it the money-(wo)men at Diageo/? Is it the evil, partially lobotimised, bent-on-revenge and/or world domination bonobo who heads up the marketing team? As I said, I really don’t know. Another commenter on another blog (I think Miss Whisky’s, but haven’t re-checked) called it/him/her ‘Colin Diageo’ which I think is as close as we’ll ever get to a positive ID) expect us to suddenly, against all physical and psychological imperatives, FORGET that Mortlach ever existed as anything other than this whiz-bang-FUCK-ME-IT’S-A-GREAT-FUCKING-DECANTER-premiumised-billionaire-at-the-airport status symbol/Scotch whisky.

    It’s this “Oh, those suckers wont know any better and those other suckers expect nothing less of us” mentality that I think pisses (some – I can’t of course speak for others) people off the most. The cynical “Hey, look over there!” cheap sleight of hand conjurers trick masquerading as innovation. It’s insulting, it’s deceitful and it’s a shame. A damn shame that from henceforward such a characterful spirit will effectively be off-limits to those who would otherwise most enjoy it.

    Thanks again for your post.
    Cheers.

  4. Lots of fanfare and penis waving for all to see, but nobody to really drink the fucking stuff.

    Love this line. it says it all. Man, you nailed it. that’s the essence. so fucking true.

    great post.

  5. I used to play online games when I was younger

    If someone annoyed me, I just added them to my ignore list

    I more or less use the same on my whiskyblog. You won’t see any posts about whiskies like this. Or at least I try to,

    Steffen

  6. As it is normally Lukas dropping the F-bombs on EWB, I think it emphasises just how riled up our Tiger is. And not without justification.

    What I can’t get over on this matter is how closely it resembles the Manager’s Choice bruhaha of a couple of years ago: taking not-that-old whisky, giving it a dedicated marketing campaign, stressing the collectability/rarity angle and – oh, yeah – charging obscene amounts of money. I wonder, as memories of many whisky shop browses resurface, how many Mortlachs will resemble these Manager’s Choise bottlings and remain pointedly, irremediably on the shelf.

    Diego’s comment must surely pick up on the cynicism at work here: Diageo, once again, are taking the single malt drinker for suckers, and suckers with seriously short memories, at that. Here in St Andrews I know a few people who became converts to whisky and grew misty-eyed over the Mortlach 16yo with its woody, meaty, nutty uniqueness. This is one more visceral whisky encounter Diageo are pricing people out of, offering stuff like the underpowered Talisker Storm and Port Ruighe instead.

    On a similar point, and to pick up on something you said, Tiger, ‘Rare Old’ compounds the problem of age statements covered on EWB recently and again demonstrates Diageo’s contempt for their customers: do they assume, with the explosion of whisky media available nowadays, that people won’t be at all interested in interrogating their claims? Or are they relying on those folk – so precious to the economic model put forward by the company – with more money than sense?

  7. I see you are still holding back Tiger.
    Tooooooo expensive for me. There are
    better independent bottling’s out there.

  8. I am as dismayed as anyone to see the f&f 16 yo disappear. I bought mine regularly from the shop on the square at Dufftown – the nice lady there said the Dailuaine f&f (15?) Was a reasonable replacement when the Mortlach 16 was in short supply. Cant find much of that either!

    However im sure im read somewhere that the replacement for the 16 was being bottled at 18yo. Do the bottlings in this article represent the WHOLE set of distillery bottlings or just the Premium end?

  9. This is what i read:

    http://www.masterofmalt.com/Blog/post/Diageo-Re-launches-Mortlach-Distillery-with-4-new-permanent-expressions.aspx

    Realisation has dawned. :-( I’m with Tiger. Ridiculous that the nearest equiv of the f and f 16 is 5-ish times the price.

    I managed to track down a bottle of my beloved f and f a few weeks ago and persuaded family it was a worthy birthday pressue for me, but now im not sure i’ll ever open it.

  10. But the Dalmore 25 yo is the same price?

  11. Thanks to everyone for their comments, particularly Diego and Scotch Cyclist who have raised a few additional points.

    You both raise a very good point about current Mortlach drinkers having memories longer than a goldfish who frequently drank it before it suddenly became superlatively luxurious. Dare I say it, these folks may even have helped give Mortlach the reputation it holds in small ‘geeky’ circles. I doubt all those drinkers are incredibly wealthy and so the vast majority of them will be priced out of the new range, a real shame indeed. Actually, I say ‘geeky’ because outside of a relatively small following, Mortlach isn’t particularly widely known. It doesn’t have as much brand equity as its well established single malt competitors (Macallan and Dalmore spring to mind) and therefore adds to my bewilderment at their bullishness.

    The labelling of the NAS expression as ‘Rare Old’ is also a bit of a bone of contention for me. The industry is now as transparent as ever, as people want to know what they’re spending their hard-earned money on. Consumer education in mature whisky markets and, particularly, a real thirst (excuse the pun) for education in emerging markets means more people are asking more questions about the spirit in their hand. And rightly so. I fear those who probe for the truth behind the liquid in the Rare Old expression will be sorely disappointed when they find out it’s probably not as old or as rare as they think it is.

    Mort Lach – there’s no disputing Mortlach 25yo is almost identically priced to Dalmore 25yo. However, with the Dalmore you’re getting 40% more liquid (500ml vs 700ml). No brainer if you ask me.

  12. All good posts. Strangely enough I “discovered” Mortlach just before this announcement came out. I’d bought a SMWS bottle for my brother and was interested in looking into it a bit further. Lots of great reviews of the F&F bottle online then somebody mentioned a new range coming, which I thought sounded exciting… but this move from Diageo just displays a breathtaking degree of brass neck.
    I can almost picture it sitting in it’s own stand in a whisky shop/airport looking super luxurious with an aura of ‘if it’s this expensive, it must be good’.
    Thing is, I don’t doubt that it is going to taste great but I worry that the message amongst bloggers that get chance to try it will be ‘Yes, it’s expensive but it tastes really good so it’s up to you’. But I can’t think of any justification for this price hike and that needs to be exposed.

    Two things by the by – regarding Dalmore their 18yo is £90 for 70cl and their 12yo is about £35.
    And has anyone tried the G&M 15 or 21 Mortlach bottlings? I’m tempted to try them particularly since the F&F bottles have all crept up in price (I can’t find one for less than £65).

  13. Another good post on this blog with comments to follow. Generally to whisky fans this news has gone down badly and I applaud EWB for actually saying what they believe is right. I still don’t think there is enough honesty from leading sites/commentators/blogs who seem afraid to bite the hand that feeds.

    I really doubt I will be buying any of the new Mortlachs and would encourage family/friends not to buy any either. The contents might be tremendous but more concerning if this launch proves a success, then Diageo will start to apply the most concerning aspects to other launches i.e. reduced sizes, misleading titles and excessive prices. None of these are good for the whisky consumer. It’s a real shame that Mortlach is being made the sacrificial malt.

  14. Hi there,

    it goes without saying that after the F&F 16yo will be gone soon that the stocks of Mortlach with the independent bottlers will be gone too, eventually.
    Or does anybody see Diageo contiunuing to feed blenders in order to find cheaper competition for their uberpremiumsuperduper Mortlachs in the end?

    Thought so.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  15. After reading another’s blog post on this matter I felt I needed to comment (but they had comments disabled). THEIR article felt like an utter shill piece. Well done for having the balls to be open and honest about it. Macallans recent range are a complete joke, and it is so sad to see Mortlach fall because of the same greed.

    Keep up the great work.

    Ross

  16. Ross – are you talking about the Caskstrength blog by any chance? I thought it would probably turn out that some bloggers that got chance to sample the new Mortlachs would trot out the line about judging the whisky purely on its merits and that’s what’s happened. But as I’ve said there’s no doubt the stuff in the bottle will taste just great, but there’s no justification for slapping a massive price tag on it and shrinking the bottle size and that needs pointed out again and again.
    Also for their Bob Dylan analogy to work properly it would need to be that not only does he switch to electric guitar but he also plays more or less the same songs, jacks up his ticket prices about sevenfold and shortens the length of his sets it might have worked better.

  17. Hi there,

    just read the caskstrength piece.

    The author is right in many things. And no doubt are the new Mortlach expressions very good to exceptional.
    I think that the analogies used are not really quite right.

    To my view there is no parallel to Macallan. Macallan is a victim of too much success for its own good and a victim of lack of character. Not willing to point out that there is only a limited supply even after years of expanding capacity the consequence of demand outgrowing supply further was sacrificing everything The Macallan was made of its fabric body and soul.

    That is not the case with Mortlach. Here caskstrength is right – only a few knew Mortlach and it can not be a case of demand outstripping supply…. not yet and the way they go at it I doubt it ever will.
    That Diageo wants a Speyside malt that can compete pricewise with The Macallan I readily believe. But Diageo never took the effort and pains to build one up to the clout power and standing this brand has invested into reaching over the years.
    Not by far.

    It seems a board of directors at a high level Diageo meeting decided that from now on Mortlach was a uberpremium hype malt under their roof and is to be treated accordingly. May seem to be good and sound decicion looking down from never-never land but here on earth it might look and turn out different.

    Greetings
    kallaskander

  18. Ross, Whisky Writer, Whisky Rover and Kallaskander – many thanks for all your comments.

    Kallaskander, I agree with your Macallan opinion – unfortunately Macallan’s sparkling reputation made it a victim of its own success and, as such, they’ve had to switch from solid age statements to underpowered NAS whiskies to keep up with current demand. Mortlach doesn’t find itself with this problem… after all, it didn’t really have a reputation of note outwith whisky enthusiast circles and, as has been pointed out, only 800-odd cases of the 16yo F&F were sold per year with the rest of the spirit going into blends. Hardly the sort of single malt demand which would cause supply problems (this also brings me back to the issue of a lack of brand equity and the extraordinary pricing considering no ‘luxury’ reputation in the wider consumer market).

    I also read Caskstrength’s article and have to agree with them on one thing – the liquid tastes great. I was invited to try the complete range this morning with Global Ambassador Georgie Bell and Diageo master blender Dr Matthew Crow. The liquid is indeed very very good (well it was never going to be shit was it?) but that still in-no-way-whatsoever justifies many of the issues I raised in my original post and those which have been discussed in this comments section.

    Thanks again for all your comments – it makes for a great discussion.

    Stay tuned for my follow up piece.

    Tiger

  19. Hi there,

    http://misswhisky.com/2014/03/28/mortlach-new-age/

    it is not what misswhisky is writing….

    it is the stance Dr Matthew Crow Georgie Bell and Dr Nick Morgan, head of whisky outrage are taking….

    Greetings
    kallaskander

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