Mortlach; not only a great Bond villain, but also my favorite distillery.* Founded in 1823, Mortlach was the first distillery in Dufftown, Banffshire. It was built around a well that had historically been used as the water source for production of illicit whisky. Forty years later, a Mortlach employee named William Grant left to build his own distillery; Glenfiddich.
Not content with two fine distilleries, the thirsty folks of Dufftown later built Balvenie, Kininvie, Pittyvaich, Dufftown, Convalmore and Glendullan. In 1964 Mortlach was rebuilt, leaving only its original exterior intact. Unfortunately, in 1971 direct firing of the stills was abandoned in favour of steam heating (giving longer still life and less maintenance at the expense of flavour). Mortlach still relies on its traditional dunnage warehouses however, as well as traditional worm tubs. These are basically large tubs full of big fat worms, that eat all the nasty sulfur like compounds naturally present in barley:
Or they could be coiled copper tubes, immersed in water, used to condense vapour from the still back into liquid. Whisky condensed in worm tubs has a distinct character as the worm tub is actually a less efficient method of removing elements like sulphur from the new make spirit than shell and tube condensers:
These consist of a copper shell containing dozens of small copper tubes. The greater surface area of copper in these condensers is better at removing heavy elements, more of which escape a worm tub to give a beefier flavour profile. At least that's what we hope will happen. If you have ever tried Johnnie Walker Black Label, you have tried Mortlach, which is a keystone of Black Label's flavour profile.
Colour: Deep gold.
Nose: Rich chocolate, dates, figs, musty, damp hessian, caramel, maple syrup and old, sweet, sherry. A counterpoint of ripe orange zest and maraschino cherry. Superb.
Palate: Big, fat, chewy. Enters like Seal Team Six. Ka-Boom; flavour,flavour,flavour. Dark chocolate, malt, maple, caramel and delicately aged sherry. Dates, sweet raisins and Turkish Delight in a finish that will bring tears to your eyes, particularly if this is your last dram. A big, beefy, characterful malt with terroir so distinctive it could have come from nowhere else but Mortlach.
* One of these statements is true.
My first experience with G&M Mortlach 15 was early in my whisky infatuation and it likely played a big part in furthering that infatuation. What I can say with certainty, is that I didn’t fully appreciate it. My Uncle had purchased a bottle of this unique Speyside whisky from Dan Murphy for the hefty sum of $39. He was hesitant to buy a bottle due to comments on their website such as “Worst whisky I’ve ever tasted” and “sits on my shelf as an example of truly terrible whisky” Maybe these poor folks were sitting at the dinner table and mixed up their glass of whisky with a candle or a bottle of Windex. Maybe they were just terribly unlucky and got shafted with a contaminated bottle or a poor cask. So what’s my take? Does it taste like the tears of a disappointed whisky enthusiast or something far less depressing?
This whisky comes from independent bottlers Gordon & MacPhail. What does that mean? Independent bottlers buy whisky from distilleries and bottle and/or age them themselves. Gordon & MacPhail purchase about 95% of their whisky as new make spirit and age it themselves, in their own warehouses. They have been doing this since 1895 and they’ve yet to disappoint me.
Mortlach has a distinctive character due to its unique distillation process and the use of ‘Worm Tubs’. A “primitive” form of condensing whisky vapour into liquid, these small copper tubes have been replaced by modern condensers and, although worm tubs are outdated, they impart a very desirable character on whisky; a thick, meaty texture. Several distilleries still use worm tubs, including Edradour and Craigellachie. (You won’t find a single worm tub on Islay!). Mortlach will tell you their whisky is distilled 2.5 times. Confusing? Do they have an Irish and a Scottish distiller who can’t agree on whether to double or triple distil? No. What they mean by this is that one of the spirit stills, known as “Wee Witchie” distills the ‘charge’ twice. Resulting in a rich, robust and pungent spirit.
Enough about what happens before it gets into your glass, if you’re not nerding out about the process and just want to know if it’s any good or not, the short answer is yes. Thanks for coming.
Continue reading for the long answer. The colour is a rich amber in the glass and although they don’t claim it on the bottle, I don’t believe it is coloured. It has a bigger nose than Barbra Streisand, with notes of delicate sherry, sweet malt, hard candy, fig, dates, fruit cake, wet carpet and orange rind. The mouthfeel is superb, the worm tubs have done their job making this a thick, oily, mouth coating dram. On the palate, it’s surprisingly light and easy to drink but full of robust flavours of peach and nectarines up front, flowing into a little sweetness of vanilla and obvious sherry, soft oak and caramel. The finish has an oaky spice and tropical fruit flavours that mesh with typical sherry notes of toffee and dates ending with a very light aniseed influence. On paper it sounds like a strange glass of confusion but it works, fantastically.
This is a beautiful whisky in every way. To me, this is what a Speyside should be. From start to finish, it is an exemplary whisky. It’s thick and velvety and has big, rich, complex flavours with an approachable sweetness, and more finish than Helsinki. This is a beautiful whisky that has no let downs. The price has more than tripled, from $39 to $120. But it is still a gem at this price.