Scotland has its fair share of beasties and monsters. Like another well known leviathan Mortlach is more famous for its elusiveness and shadowy profile rather than its ability to make waves in plain view.
One of the world’s largest private distilleries, Mortlach has been avariciously retained by a coven of Scotland’s master blenders for their own cauldrons. Now, following a £1 billion investment in the Scotch whisky industry, Diageo are hoping to open the cage and unleash ‘The Beast of Dufftown’ on the marketplace.
Despite its presence at the heart of Speyside this whisky’s full body masks the delicate, more floral attributes traditionally associated with the area. The ‘Beast of Dufftown’ nickname alludes to the full and heavier body of the whisky that creates a smooth and alluring finish, truly distinctive and special.
Ahead of the official launch later this summer, Mortlach held a tasting of their four new single malts atop London’s centre point, where the impressive view of the metropolis contrasts sharply with the whisky itself, which is altogether subtler and smoother than the raw bustle below.
The Mortlach Rare Old is a good single malt that would complement any good bar. Fruity with an offsetting dryness that leads to an intriguing august smoothness, there are welcome crass hints at the treasure that might lie in the older malts. The glint in the eye of the Rare Old is real, the eighteen-year-old is described as ‘muscular’ and it’s certainly true there is a robustness of flavour and body, but this is an elegant animal. Containing hints of sandalwood and nutmeg, it is exotic but disarming in a smoothness that makes it seem as familiar as worn armchair.
The dram cleansed mind puts such whiskies on the mantelpiece above a roaring fire in a cottage; a homely fortress against the cold mists of the glen and, although £600 would probably be better spent on heating said cottage, the twenty-five-year-old fits perfectly into this picture. Rich and deeply complex, this is almost sweet by texture alone. The fruits are more autumnal jams and there is a strong bass note of toffee and a sense of polished oak panels slumbering in a candlelit library. It’s a potent creation that makes one wonder what other wonders the master blenders are hoarding, and in how many blended malts you might have previously tasted this whisky.
There is another trick up Mortlach’s sleeve with the tasting of the Special Strength. The same whisky as the Rare Old but 5.6 percent stronger, it is a compelling suggestion of the sorcery taking place at the home of the Beast of Dufftown. Thick to the point of being caramelised, this is a gloriously decadent drink, a dark nectar reminiscent of sticky toffee pudding and the sort of gâteau that leaves you full after one spoonful but no less hungry.
Georgie Bell, global ambassador for Mortlach, suggests trying Special Strength with a hefty lump of ice to bring out the more subtle flavours. I would question this; the quality of this whisky is its surprisingly soft velvet texture and the thick creaminess that makes it unique – ice and water rob it of these attributes.
Despite the insipid font on the bottle the whisky inside is full of character with plenty to bring the drinker back time and time again, they are deep, accomplished single malts, free from the heavy smoke of Islay or the more delicate tastes found in the highlands. Bemusingly big for Speyside, there is certainly something mysterious about Mortlach. Having been a palimpsest for the blends for too long, it is now rightly being celebrated on the market as its own single malt. That may shatter the illusion but will do little to dispel the myth of the beast.