Mortlach is a storied named in malt whisky production. It is one of the classic malt distilleries owned by Diageo – where it feeds their Scotch blend empire. It produces a very distinctive characteristic malt, with a high degree of “meatiness” (which as I describe here, is likely due to a relatively high presence of sulphur compounds in the whisky). This also makes the relatively rare independent bottlings of Mortlach highly popular and sought after.
So there was a lot of enthusiasm when Diageo announced in early 2014 that they were going to release a number of official bottlings under Mortlach’s own name. That enthusiasm quickly soured when enthusiasts saw the price lists, bottling strengths, and general lack of age statements. Mortlach 18 year old is one of the higher-end options.
Here is how they compare in my Meta-Critic Database, relative to a few independent bottlings:
Mortlach 15yo (Gordon & MacPhail): 8.67 ± 0.35 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Mortlach 16yo (F&F): 8.68 ± 0.29 on 9 reviews ($$$$$)
Mortlach 18yo: 8.70 ± 0.60 on 10 reviews ($$$$$+)
Mortlach Rare Old: 8.42 ± 0.46 on 12 reviews ($$$$)
Mortlach Special Strength: 8.72 ± 0.61 on 5 reviews ($$$$$)
This review is the last one from a group of malts that I sampled over multiple nights at the Dr Jekyll’s bar in Oslo, Norway. As the bottle was nearly empty, the bar had it in their heavily discounted section – it was 128 NOK for a standard 4 cl pour (1.35 oz). That works out to about $20 CAD, which seems pretty reasonable given that a full bottle currently goes for ~$400 CAD (it was originally $300 when the LCBO carried it).
I had previously reviewed the Mortlach Rare Old, which is still available in Ontario for the original $100 CAD price. So I was naturally curious to see how this defined age statement bottling compares.
Mortlach 18 yo is bottled at 43.4% ABV. The whisky was matured in a combination of Sherry and refill American oak casks. It also comes in a very fancy bottle, with metal framework at the base of the glass bottle.
Here is what I find in the glass:
Nose: Surprisingly subdued. Crisp green apples, some citrus (lemon) and maybe a bit of cherry (which I oddly get from Mortlach). Nutty. Classic baking spices, cinnamon in particular. Touch of dry glue, like old book bindings. A relatively closed nose, and water was of no help in opening it up.
Palate: A bit better than expected from the nose, but still rather light in flavours. Slightly sweet, with a simple syrup quality. Not very fruity – seems more like unripened fruit. That cinnamon note is quite prominent, and adds some much needed warmth. Some vanilla. The nutty notes from nose are still there, and merge into a more earthy characteristic now, with some tobacco and ginger. No ethanol burn. Seems too light in flavour, and could really have used a higher ABV in my view. Water adds more sweetness and cinnamon – might as well go for it, since not much else is going on here.
Finish: Fairly short. Baking spice kick lasts to the end, along with that simple syrup. But that’s about it really.
Frankly, this was a let-down – it seems far too “closed” for its age and style. It is not bad by any means, just not very interesting. No amount of time in the glass (or water) helped in opening it up. Personally, I find that it doesn’t have any more character than the Rare Old I previously reviewed – and given that it costs between 3-4 times as much, I’d recommend you stick with Rare Old. I haven’t had the Special Strength edition yet, but I’m thinking that might be your best bet for some flavour (thanks the higher ABV).
I personally feel that the Meta-Critic average score for Rare Old is fair, and the 18 yo is overly generous. Personally, I would score then equally, at a slightly below average score (i.e., 8.4). I doubt there was any age/storage issue with my sample, as Dr Jekyll’s move through inventory quickly (and so, this wouldn’t have sat on the shelf for long).
Most reviewers who have tried both expressions have typically preferred the 18yo. Check out for example Dave of Whisky Advocate, Patrick of Quebec Whisky and Serge of Whisky Fun for very positive reviews. Moderately positive reviews come from and Ruben of Whisky Notes and Andre of Quebec Whisky. My own assessment is more line with Oliver of Dramming – who, along with Kurt of Whiskey Reviewer – also ranked this expression lower than Rare Old. The most negative review I’ve seen for this whisky comes from Jim Murray (who is quite scathing of this whole series).