The Highlander Inn in Craiagellachie is run by whisky master Tatsuya Minagawa, who was born in Japan, but a resident in Speyside for many years. Tatsuya worked in the Highlander from 2005 – 2012, having previous been at the neighbouring Quaich Bar housed in the Craigellachie Hotel. But, it wasn’t long until the Highlander called him once again, and he returned in 2015, only this time as the owner. He bought the famous whisky ‘hotspot’ from Duncan Elphick who was previously the General Manager of the Craigellachie Hotel (the two venues seem tied by more than just their proximity), making it his own, but maintaining its ambience as a home away from home.
Today finds The Dramble team ensconced into the Highlander in one of its quieter alcoves exploring Tatsuya’s deep and varied whisky list – with many more bottlings (including a wealth of gems, surely never to be opened – a set of Easter Elchies and more than a few of Hanyu’s legendary playing card series) adorning the shelfs of the Inn than can be found listed in the extensive regionally divided menu. There’s always quality to be found here – and Tatsu is more than willing to share his knowledge and recommendations. It’s only the start of our week of reporting from Speyside, but already we’ve found several noteworthy tasty things….here’s one of them
This Mortlach was distilled in July of 1995 and matured in a hogshead (number 4122) for 21 years before being bottled in April of last year. The cask produced a total of 243 bottles. Sold out with the big retailers, but you might still see this around (and it’s certainly worth keeping an eye out if you can find it for close to its original retail price of £125.
Nose: Already you can tell that this whisky will have body and depth further down the line – oil, waxiness and a slug of brass polish. Stone fruits (peaches and apricots) are well integrated with an assortments of baked good – croissants, brioche and puff pastry. These sit extremely well across a bed of earthiness and – dunnage warehouses, damp old wood and mushrooms. Licks of lemon peels and bright grapefruit provide some liveliness. The addition of water brings out nuttiness of almonds (at times almost marzipan) as well as sweetening the citric notes more towards oranges and clementine’s.
Taste: Texture and weight as expected – quite waxy (though I’d not say ‘meaty’ as one might have previous associated with the ‘Beast of Dufftown’) and moat coating, with an immediate delivery of pronounced fruitiness – tangerines and blood orange, with sherbet-dipped lemon zest providing quite a zing. Less earthy on the palate, (but still some mosses and fungus lurking in there), gentle grassiness – freshly cut stems, reeds and flax are supported by very light, tingly pepper. A few drops of water brings forward the bakery flavours detected on the nose – pastries and nutty biscuits. All completely delicious.
Finish: Medium to long with both salt and pepper and a slight oak astringency in the tail.
Less of a beast, more of a cuddle – but nevertheless this is a lovely ‘modern’ Mortlach. Fruits are pronounced and well defined, and the cask has been used to emphasise, rather than lead. Balance levels are exceedingly high, and only a slight bitterness in the finish prevents this for being truly outstanding. But, it’s fairly close – yes, this is excellent – I’ll go ask Tatsu for another.