Things like this aren’t supposed to happen. Not here. Not to me.
Last week a serendipitous meeting with Andy Dunn, representing Gordon & MacPhail, led to a series of conversations regarding the possibility of a feature article on the already legendary Mortlach 70 year old. I was hoping to take some photos, put together some details and let the Great Northwest know that Calgary was now in possession of the world’s oldest bottled whisky. In all honesty, I was also hoping to be able to nose this revered old chap and write up a partial review (partial, as I had no expectations of actually tasting it), as I mentioned to Andy. Brazen to even ask, I suppose. Andy not only graciously agreed to the shoot and nosing, he said something that sounded conspicuously like “I’ll let you taste it”. My stunned ears could not quite comprehend this, and my belief was held in suspense ’til the following day.
Fast forward several hours and I found myself in a back room of one of my favorite whisky shops in the company of this wizened old dram, snapping photos and being…well…stunned, to be frank.
All Things Whisky is both proud and humbled to be able to offer up tasting notes on the world’s oldest whisky.
In a further nod to the fates…this 70 year old whisky is ATW’s 70th review.
On October 15th, 1938 a first fill sherry hogshead, cask number 2656, was filled at the Mortlach distillery in Dufftown. I don’t think anyone could have possibly imagined the contents of this cask would lay undisturbed as 70 years of tumultuous world history unfolded, only to become history itself. In spectacular tribute and to celebrate this whisky’s 70th birthday, it was decanted into 54 70cl bottles and 162 20 cl bottles. As you can imagine, these are available at somewhat of a premium on the market. This history-making botting was done under the Gordon & MacPhail Generations line. The idea behind ‘Generations’ is to release whisky laid down by one generation and bottled by its successor. In the case of the Mortlach 70, this whisky actually spans three generations.
Detailed history of this G&M Mortlach has been available far and wide for some time now (including a great video here, and an ATW feature inthe works) so we’ll cut it a little short and share a few notes on ATW’s personal impressions, ’cause let’s face it…sadly there are not likely to be too many people writing up tasting notes on this one.
Simply unbelievable. Never in a million years (or maybe just 70) would I ever guess this whisky to be the age it boasts. While mature in every manner expected, it sparkles with vibrancy and life. Think of films you’ve seen where make-up is used to age a character, but the youthful eyes are always a dead give-away in spite of the costumer’s best efforts. Mellow…but dynamic.
The oak, which one would expect to not only dominate at this age but absolutely decimate the other notes, is certainly a defining character, but in an elegant and refined way. The biggest surprise was how gorgeously smoky this whisky is. Not the peat smoke we’ve come to recognize; instead more like tendrils of rich camp fire smoke. The fruits are ancient and fruitcake-like in their bold intensity. Mostly prune or fig. The other standard fruitcake notes are omnipresent as well; caramelized sugars bring a rum-like edge and are topped with an almond/marzipan creaminess. Finally, there is a rubbery or waxy note which is an absolute defining character of this Mortlach.
Again the oak arrives with an understated smokiness and a dusty maturity. Sweet caramels and mild vanilla are the initial charm, while the more seductive dry figgyness (could that be a word?) sneaks all over the place leaving its mark. God…I salivate at the memory. When the glass is finally dry (and your eyes moist, knowing you’ll likely never taste it again), the finish fades, warm and familiar. All pleasant but not overly long. Well…not long enough anyway. You simply won’t want to let it go.
Sigh. Gone. It is staggering that this whisky is so perfectly intact after 70 years. I’m truly in awe. Is it the best whisky I’ve tasted? No. Not quite. One of them? You bet. These flavors may never be duplicated, and to have sampled this whisky is a fulfillment I can hardly explain.
You simply could not ask more of a 70 year old whisky.
Keep checking the site here. I am waiting on a few more details, at which point ATW will post a lengthier piece on Gordon & MacPhail’s legendary Mortlach.
One final word…thanks again, Andy. This is one of those things I’ll remember for a lifetime. You gave that to me. Slainte.
– Reviewed by: Curt
– Photo: Curt