Diageo has really thrown down the gauntlet with this year’s rebranding of the Mortlach range. Their challenge, it would seem, is against all reason and common sense. Sounds like a harsh criticism, I know. But as many of you will be well aware, what they’ve done, in essence, is (seemingly) arbitrarily premiumized a brand that has never – up ’til now – been known as a premium whisky. In fact…until the last decade or so, it was almost exclusively a blending whisky, only really ever seen as a single malt in independent bottlings.
So how did they do it? The answer is…through silence. They haven’t spoken up to justify the outrageous new pricing strategy. They haven’t explained the use of ‘rare’ in their naming conventions (considering the distillery’s capacity is nearly three million litres per annum). The haven’t told us why they’re leaning to 50cl (500ml) bottles in most markets (and dumb, perfume-esque ones, at that). And most importantly, they haven’t told us what changed to suddenly warrant escalating this distillery into the ‘premium’ whisky category.
Let’s be blunt. I want to hate the new Mortlach. If not for all I just said, then at least for being yet another brand leading the foray into the whole NAS camp and cost-jacking the consumer, while blurring the lines of trust between producer and consumer. And I do hate them for all of this. At the same time, it is simply foolish to not concede that the whisky is actually quite decent. Or this particular one is, at least.
Mortlach Rare Old is the ‘entry level’ expression in the new range. ‘Entry level’ being relative, as it will run you over $100 in local markets (Canada). From here things get even more ludicrous in terms of price positioning and assumed value. As of now, I’ve yet to experience the entire new ‘core’ range from Mortlach, but irrespective of hijinx and shenanigans, I am still curious to do so.
I will never get behind the concepts employed here (the same malarkey embraced by Dalmore, Macallan, etc), but at the end of the day, good whisky is good whisky, and needs to be assessed as such. Is the Mortlach Rare Old great? Nope. Is it good? Absolutely. While I remain skeptical of the both the ‘rare’ and ‘old’ descriptors in the appellation of this one, I am at least pleased to say that the malt itself is much better than my early preconceptions allowed me to fathom.
Nose: Little bit of apple and pear…and orange. Touch of pepper. Notes of cranberry, in its slight tartness. Very nice clean oak. Ginger and cinnamon. Vanilla custard. A sweet ju-jube kind of candy note. Vague hint of banana. There’s something like wet rock here too. Not quite flinty, but…not sure. Not unpleasant though.
Palate: Wood. Delivery is a lot more restrained than the nose belies, but is pleasant enough, if a little one-dimensional up front. Apple skins. Gentle cherry candy notes. Faint fennel. Cinnamon raisin cookies. Hmmm…maybe leather?
Thoughts: Tasted blind. I said maybe a mid-ager (12-15 years). Said it seemed Speyside-ish in the vein of ‘Livet or ‘Fiddich, but with a litte more personality. After the reveal, I admitted that I’d never have pegged this as a Mortlach. Seems devoid of all the meatier notes I associate with the distillery. Good, solid dram either way, though could definitely benefit from a couple extra abv percentage points. Also…while I concede it’s a decent malt (proven by blind tasting), it was somewhat disappointing to find out this was Mortlach. Lacks all the character I previously loved in the distillery.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt