Gordon & MacPhail seemingly have near endless stocks of Mortlach in their warehouse – they’ve released 22 expressions in the last 3 years alone, and somewhere around 170 in total (or at least since Internet records began). Included in this haul are some seriously old whiskies – 70 and 75 year olds from their ‘Generations’ crystal decanter series (a snip at a little under £30K a bottle!). Mortlach is one of only a few whiskies that can subjected to an incredibly long maturation regime and still live to tell the tale – there are not many spirits robust enough in character and composition to stand up to such a long time in a barrel without becoming little more than oak juice.
Our G&M Mortlach is not quite in the same league as the price of a new Audi A4 – but it’s still rather old all the same. Distilled in 1976, and bottled 36 years later in 2012, this expression is described as an ‘assemblage of sherry hogsheads’. It’s comes bottled at 43% ABV.
Nose: Attention-grabbing! I’m not sure how it’s possible to make Wrigley’s mint chewing gum, polished lemons and pipe tobacco all work together – but this somehow does. There’s no doubt about age here with plenty of leather, dusty old wood, polish and raisins so dried they seem almost petrified. Straddling the nose – pears, mandarins, herbal (almost vegetal) honey and a touch of forest – pine needles and camphory wood. A few drops of water (there’s not much ABV to play with here sadly) brings out floral notes of candy canes and Turkish delight.
Taste: Why do they do this? 38 year old Mortlach and it’s delivered thinly – such a shame. Aside from this tragedy, everything else is pretty perfect here – oranges and lemons – bright, juicy and still surprisingly young at heart. Woodiness runs throughout, but is in no way overwrought – steeped tea, vanilla and a sprinkle of black peppery alongside refined lacquered mahogany. The mid-palate adds sweetness with chocolate, cookie dough, flan bases and apple turnovers, whereas the back-palate brings out leather, tobacco and a building sense of dryness. Dilution (which feels like a sin in this case) emphasises the citrus elements with grapefruit and pomelo – it’s not needed, nor an overall improvement.
Finish: Medium with cocoa powder, pepper and woody dryness.
Mention 70’s Mortlach and many folks will immediately conjure descriptions of a bold and muscular heavy distillate (the Beast of Dufftown right?), but this is far from an inevitability with all bottlings. The robust spirit is well suited to longer maturation in sherry casks such as in this 1976 G&M expression – but, rather than meatiness, here, Mortlach shows a softer and fruitier side. There’s oodles of character (that you’d certainly not pin as typical for Speyside), high levels of complexity and plenty of balance – but perhaps its biggest strength is in being able to deliver aged-malt flavour without an overabundance of wood and tannins. Alas, the ABV does result in a skinny arrival with less mouthfeel than you’d hope for – 46% could have pushed this one into a different league. However, it’s certainly quite excellent all the same. Still available from a few retailer and, as you’d expect from a whisky of this age and pedigree, not cheap – expect to pay £500.