Review: Mortlach Rare Old

Tuesday, September 30, 2014


In a galaxy far far away, the premiumisation of Mortlach was revealed to much dismay and horror. That reaction sparked in 2013 seems like a long time ago now partially because we've been waiting, and waiting, for these releases. Originally scheduled on retailers lists for July 2014 the 4 new Mortlach's have been noticeably missing in action until now.

I've been on the lookout and the first time I did actually see 1 of these illusive bottlings was at Whisky and Wine in Edinburgh. Setting a new level of Tourist Pricing for the capital, they were asking a ridiculous £70.99 for a 50cl bottle of Mortlach Rare Old. Maybe they only charge 70cl prices? Thankfully I managed to stumble across a bottle in a Whisky Shop outlet for £49.50, which includes my 10% members discount. It says something when the Whisky Shop is the cheapest outlet in Edinburgh! Now that is honestly a rarity in itself.

I've already written about the premiumisation of Mortlach right here. It's an interesting tactic from Diageo to not only challenge the blue chip distilleries such as Dalmore and Macallan, but address the growing issue of low volumes of aged stock. When all 4 expressions arrive at retail it'll be fascinating to see how this rebranding is received.


Here we're dealing specifically with the whisky itself. I do want to mention these dubious 50cl bottles for a moment. Those devious design bods at Diageo have created a grand illusion and stretched the traditionally dumpy 50cl bottles. Instead what we have now is an elongated and stylish vessel complete with a solid stopper pretending to be a 70cl container. It'll certainly enjoy a new lease of life once emptied in the Whisky Rover household. Interestingly just like the Haig Club there is no packaging or literature included; you simply receive the bottle.  

It's a missed opportunity to educate the consumer as to why this whisky should be regarded as 'rare' or 'old', or just what '2.81 distilled' actually entails. I still prefer the Haig Club bottle overall in terms of design, but here's hoping that the Mortlach contents aren't as lacklustre as the Beckham grain.

Distillery: Mortlach
Age: A no age statement whisky so forget your 'old' and 'rare' honestly
Strength: 43.4%
Casks: a mixture of sherry and bourbon
Price: £55 for a reduced 50cl bottle

Colour: fudge

Nose: I've had to leave this sitting for a while as its a very shy, restrained nose lacking the real sherry meaty notes of the F&F Mortlach we're so used to. Instead its Mortlach-lite with a faint residue of orange peel, pepper, definitely cinnamon spicing making it very inoffensive. It is a little dull if I cast back to other Mortlach's over the years, but this is the new way, so lets move on.

Adding a dash of water here to see if more depths are revealed as traditionally Mortlach's are challenging to nose and pin down. More sweetness arriving now in the form of honey and what I can best describe as sugar coated pecan nuts. The sherry influence is lacking suggesting either a new approach to cask management or the result of taking this down to a weakened strength of 43.4%. 

We have to be realistic as this is the entry level release in this series so it will be the most approachable or mundane of the quartet depending on your point of view. 

Taste: Ooh what I can only summarise as a little Strathisla roughness! Lets try again; much better on the palate and more reminiscent of Mortlach that we all know and love. Dark chocolate and cinnamon; kinda a bizarre bar that a local chocolaterie might come up with. More of the bourbon vanilla notes coming through now followed by the faint echo of raisins, nutmeg and leather. Beneath all of this is an autumnal essence with vegetative notes desperately trying to break free of the restrains of the blended recipe. The classic Mortlach meaty ham characteristic has been reduced to a Bernard Matthews equivalent.

This Mortlach Rare Old is frankly solid but nothing exceptional. Those hoping for a new take on the F&F formula will be disappointed whereas I'm comparing what other bottles cost £55 and deliver a better experience. Actually, that should be £70.71 when we upscale the cost to a 70cl size bottle and I don't need to spend too long to nail down better alternatives.

I'm looking forward to pitting this against the stronger duty free expression when it is released, which I expect will demonstrate more character. Otherwise this tastes like a cleverly concocted blend that is a little rough around the edges. I recently reviewed the Johnnie Walker Explorers' Club Spice Road (forthcoming) which retails for around £26 for a litre.  I'd place this Mortlach just slightly ahead of that blend and much more suited to a £30-£35 price point for a 70cl bottle. I guess this is the price of progress.

If I was new to Mortlach and this was my first experience of the distillery then I'd be intrigued what else was out there. On the other hand if you're already a fan of the distillery this expression will be lacking character and depth.

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