Scotland’s Speyside region on the northern tip of the mainland has long been famous for its velvety smooth Single Malt Scotches, which are among the best-known Whiskies in the world—The Macallan, The Glenlivet, and Balvenie.
But there are many other outstanding distilleries near the River Spey that produce legendary Whiskies. And in the small but famous Whisky-making village of Dufftown (home to Balvenie, Glenfiddich, and several other distilleries), you will find a nearly 200-year-old distillery that deserves to be hailed for its understated Single Malt Scotches—Mortlach.
Mortlach is an incredibly special Single Malt Scotch Whisky, known as the Beast of Dufftown
And thankfully, in recent years, more Single Malt Scotches have consistently become available from this distillery nicknamed the “Beast of Dufftown.” Below, you’ll find tasting notes for six different Mortlach Whiskies, including its signature Rare Old, 18 Year Old, 25 Year Old, and three other Single Malt Whiskies aged 23 and 26 years.
Mortlach’s Rich History
Founded by James Findlater in 1823 (when the Excise Act of 1823 was passed and dramatically reduced the taxes levied on the sale of Whisky), Mortlach was the first legal distillery in Dufftown. (An illegal distillery was previously located at the same site.) The distillery changed hands several times the first few years and was also briefly used as a brewery and a church in the 1840s. Then in 1853, railway surveyor George Cowie took over Mortlach, who brought a precise approach toward making Whisky, according to Donald Colville, Mortlach’s Global Malts Ambassador.
“Mortlach is an incredibly special Single Malt Scotch Whisky, known as the Beast of Dufftown due to its powerful, meaty, vicious character,” Colville said. “This is all down to the fact that it has arguably the most complex Whisky-making process in the world, 2.81 times distilled. This was inspired by the scientific and curious mind of visionary doctor turned distiller, Dr. Alexander Cowie.”
Alexander was George’s son and he began working at Mortlach in 1896 after George died at the age of 80 years old. Dr. Alexander Cowie perfected Mortlach’s distillation process and increased the number of stills from four to six. Mortlach’s scientific approach to making Whiskies famous for their flora and fauna notes explains why Mortlach continues to be so popular around the world more than a century later.
“No other distillery in Scotland or, in fact, around the world has a distillation process which is so complex,” Colville said. “Mortlach, nothing simple about it. Mortlach defies the typical honey, vanilla, and apple notes of Speyside. Its Whisky harkens back to a time when Scotch was bigger, bolder, darker. Now the liquid has been reborn, bringing to life the primal essence of Speyside that once was.”
While Mortlach has become famous again in recent years for its Single Malt Whiskies, the distillery has also produced Whisky used in several blended Scotches, including serving as the primary Whisky used in many Johnnie Walker blended Whiskies. Mortlach’s connection with Johnnie Walker dates back to 1923 when John Walker & Sons purchased the distillery. John Walker & Sons is one of many companies that eventually became Diageo, the British-based multinational company which launched the Mortlach range in 2014. Along with Mortlach, Diageo owns many other distilleries, including Dalwhinnie, Lagavulin, and Oban.
No other distillery in Scotland or, in fact, around the world has a distillation process which is so complex
“Mortlach is perfect for Whisky blenders as it adds backbone, body, and character to Whiskies, with its muscular flavor that intensifies Whisky blends demonstrating that no other spirit offers the same breadth and depth of flavors as Scotch, and certainly no other liquid is as versatile and has always been a key malt for use in the Johnnie Walker blended Scotches,” Colville said.
And while Mortlach sells well around the world, it’s especially popular in the United States, Europe, and parts of Asia, Colville said. “Due to how well known and loved it is as a Single Malt Scotch Whisky you tend to find the true adorers of Mortlach in the countries where Single Malts are really established such as the U.S., Northern Europe, the UK, and Taiwan and Japan,” Colville said.
Colville added that Mortlach pairs well with a wide range of foods, from grilled steaks to many different desserts. “Due to the rich intensity and complex flavors of Mortlach, it pairs beautifully with dark chocolate either in its most basic form or as a dessert like a soufflé,” Colville said. “For a more savory match, red meats such as venison or good-quality beef steaks are also an incredible combination.”
“Mortlach for me personifies why Scotch is the world’s favorite Whisky,” Colville said. “The incredible depth of flavor offered by Mortlach makes it an incredibly versatile Scotch, whether it be served neat in its purest form or in a late night Old Fashioned or pre-dinner Rob Roy.”
Mortlach Rare Old
Alcohol by Volume – 43.4 percent
Aging – Unknown aged in sherry and bourbon casks.
Aroma – Dried flowers, hay, other floral notes.
Tasting Notes – Mortlach’s signature Whisky has a clear, bright color and a clean, refreshing taste. This smooth, complex Whisky also clearly illustrates why Mortlach is famous for its floral-tasting Whiskies. Slightly spicy at first, this Whisky’s flavors soon exhibit notes of licorice and roasted vanilla, along with a tangy, citrus-like aftertaste. A truly outstanding Whisky and a great value.
Mortlach 18 Year Old
Alcohol by Volume – 43.4 percent
Aging – 18 years in Sherry and American oak casks.
Aroma – Lighter on the nose than the Rare Old, this Mortlach produces an aroma reminiscent of lilies shortly before they bloom.
Tasting Notes – Slightly sweet with hints of toasted caramel, this clean, refreshing Single Malt has a long, clean finish. Other prominent flavors include espresso and dried oranges.
Mortlach 23 Year Old 1991 (cask 5887) – Mackillop’s Choice
Alcohol by Volume – 56.6 percent
Aging – 23 years in a Sherry cask.
Aroma – Much spicier than other Mortlachs. Peppery nose.
Tasting Notes – You’ll need to add a bit of water to this powerful, intense 23-Year-Old Single Malt. On its own, this Single Malt has a fiery finish with notes of cherry and chestnuts. But even without water, this Single Malt smoothes out quite nicely after a minute or so. With a few drops of water, this Single Malt takes on a tangy, orange-peel-like aftertaste. Definitely a Single Malt for fans of big, bold Whiskies.
Mortlach 25 Year Old
Alcohol by Volume – 43.4 percent
Aging – 25 years in American oak casks.
Aroma – Slate, roasted chestnuts, orange, mango.
Tasting Notes – This outstanding Single Malt sets the bar high for velvety smooth Speyside Whiskies. Not a trace of burn from start to finish, this clean, vibrant Whisky tastes warm going down and has a long, delightful aftertaste. Dominant flavors include licorice, Scottish heather, plums, and clementines. Absolutely stunning.
Mortlach 26 Year Old 1989 (cask 10774) – Xtra Old Particular (Douglas Laing)
Alcohol by Volume – 57.8 percent
Aging – 26 years in single refill hogshead.
Aroma – Cedar, iodine.
Tasting Notes – Distilled in April 1989 and bottled in June 2015, this intense Single Malt Whisky is not for the faint of heart. Extremely powerful on its own, cedar flavors race to the forefront and linger for nearly a minute. With a few drops of water added, this Single Malt still has a powerful, intense, woodsy finish. This is the Scotch you would want on a cold winter’s night.
Mortlach 26 Year Old 1987 – Single Cask
Alcohol by Volume – 57 percent
Aging – 26 years in a single hogshead.
Aroma – Walnuts, oranges, and other citrus notes.
Tasting Notes – Distilled in September 1987 and bottled in September 2014, this intense Single Malt tastes great on its own and even more spectacular with a few drops of water. On its own, this Single Malt has an apricot-like taste, with hints of walnuts and oranges. With a few drops of water, the orange flavors become more prominent and the overall taste significantly smoothes out. Well worth searching for this distinct Single Malt.
Photo credit: Diageo / Mortlach via Story Pr / Whisky Exchange