The Mortlach distillery is in the heart of the Speyside region of Scotland. It is located in the whisky town of Dufftown and was the first of the famous seven distilleries in the town, having been founded in 1823. Mortlach remained the only distillery in Dufftown until Glenfiddich was built over 60 years later. The current owners are Diageo and the distillery has an annual production capacity of three million litres. Mortlach whisky has traditionally been popular with the blending companies and today the majority goes towards Diageo's famous Johnnie Walker blended range. Mortlach is considered to be the 'heart of Johnnie Walker' and as a result little is left to be released as single malt.
This 16 years old single malt is sporadically released as and when stock levels dictate. It forms part of Diageo's Flora & Fauna range, which showcases single malts from some of the lesser known distilleries in their portfolio. The 16 years old is occasionally joined by limited edition special releases, although Mortlach is popular with the independent bottling companies.
Mortlach is well reknowned for its use of quality sherry casks during maturation but also for its robust, rich spirit. This combination is what makes it so desirable to blending companies. The spirit is produced in one of the most idiosyncratic stillrooms in Scotland - it houses six stills but each is a different shape and size, having been installed at different times during the distillery's history. One of the stills, named 'Wee Witchie', is particularly unique in that it is a short, fat, odd shape and the spirit gets distilled three times through it. This is compared to the regular double distillation that takes place in the majority of Scotland and the other stills at Mortlach.
The colour of this 16 years old is a dark golden brown and the nose is packed with rich sherry cask influenced aromas. There is an immediate hit of sugary, almost burnt, caramel and through this comes dried fruit (think of raisins and candied orange peel especially), a warm spiciness (imagine cinnamon and nutmeg) and hints of dark chocolate and espresso coffee. On the palate, this is rich, full bodied and viscous, coating the inside of your mouth. It is heavy and intense with sherry cask influence - lots of the dried fruit, spices and those darker chocolate and coffee notes - but these are joined by a dark and sugary element (think of black treacle), some malted barley, as well as a hint of something meaty and savoury (this may sound weird but the nearest reference that we could think of was gravy). The finish is long with the dried fruits and treacle elements particularly prominent. An interesting slight whiff of coal smoke also appears close to the end.
This is one robust and intense dram that is extremely complex, dark and enjoyable. It may not be to everyone's taste as it does have a heavy sherry cask influence but it is easy to see why Mortlach is considered the backbone to so many top blended whiskies. As mentioned earlier, this 16 years old is released sporadically so if you see a bottle then grab it! It will be found in specialist whisky retailers only for approximately £45-50 a bottle. Beautiful stuff.