Whisky Advocate

Good News – and Bad – for Mortlach lovers

December 2nd, 2013

There is good news for lovers of Mortlach the distinctive, near-triple distilled Speyside single malt, renowned for its meaty full flavor, with the announcement by Diageo of four new expressions. And, I fear, bad.Ian Buxton

Due to be available mid-2014 in global markets, the range comprises Rare Old (43.4%, no age statement); Special Strength (49%, no age statement, non-chill filtered, Travel Retail exclusive); 18 Years Old and 25 Years Old (both 43.4%). Packaging details and prices have yet to be finalized, but I understand that the ‘new’ Mortlach will be positioned as a luxury brand, with the entry level Rare Old priced alongside Johnnie Walker Platinum, and other expressions higher still.

So the good news is tempered with a wealth warning, and the further disappointing

news that stocks of the current 16 Years Old Flora & Fauna expression will not be replaced; it has effectively been withdrawn. If this is a favorite, better lay in a bottle or two!

Current stillhouse

Current stillhouse

The move has been three years in the planning and follows the welcome announcement that production of Mortlach is to double beginning November 2015, with the opening of a new, purpose-built facility that replicates in every detail the current distillery, a process that a Diageo spokesman described as “idiosyncratic, not state of the art.”  Investment in the new plant exceeds £30 million ($48.5 million).

Diageo’s Dr. Nicholas Morgan, head of whisky outreach, described the move as the company’s most significant in single malt in the past decade, claiming that the new Mortlach brand will “define luxury for single malt [and] become the next great luxury brand.” Though specific competitors were not identified, this suggests that Diageo have category leaders Glenlivet and Macallan very much in their sights.

Based on a limited tasting of the new expressions, the distinctive meaty, sulfur-influenced taste of Mortlach, with heavy sherry notes, has been evolved to a more elegant and refined style, without compromising the signature power and weight beloved of fans.

Site manager Steve McGingle

Site manager Steve McGingle

These are complex, multi-layered whiskies with a considerable depth of flavor. While the beefy note has been muted (think roast pork and BBQ juices), the fruit and spice impact has been dialed up through a different balance of casks. Rare Old and Special Strength illustrate this in fascinating detail, being basically the same cask mix but presented at different strengths to draw out varying facets of spirit character. At 25 Years Old, Mortlach offers a dense, layered and extraordinarily rich taste that demands contemplation.

While lamenting the loss of the Flora & Fauna expressions, Mortlach drinkers will find much to enjoy in the new range, which will be available more readily, albeit at higher prices. Further details of the range will be announced in February next year with the products in market from the early summer.

20 Responses to “Good News – and Bad – for Mortlach lovers”

  1. Danny Maguire says:

    Thanks Ian, looks like Mortlach is now out of most peoples reach. Took a walk past the distillery when I was there in October, no sign of any work being done but they’ve still got time. It’ll be a few years before the new product will be available.

  2. B.J. Reed says:

    Mortlach is one of my favorites and I have lots of independent bottlings particularly by Signatory.

    I share John’s fear and while I love Mortlach I wonder whether the price point will once again dampen whatever good news comes from Diagio’s renewed interest in this under appreciated malt.

  3. B.J. Reed says:

    Mortlach is one of my favorites and I have lots of independent bottlings particularly by Signatory.

    I share Ian’s fear and while I love Mortlach I wonder whether the price point will once again dampen whatever good news comes from Diagio’s renewed interest in this under appreciated malt.

  4. Ragnhild says:

    “Rare Old (43.4%, no age statement)”

    An oxymoron if ever I saw one. How much whisky had they sampled before coming up with and approving that name?

  5. I tend to feel this is bad news – and more bad news. Out of the ashes of a quality whisky, will a marketing phoenix rise.

  6. Luke says:

    Bad News, Ian.

    After Lagavulin 16, Mortach becomes another malt I won’t pay Diageo a premium for debasing.

    On a similar, depressing, note Pernod Ricard have just hiked prices on Irish Distillers SPS products by €10.00-€20.00 in the last fortnight.

    This leaves a very bad taste in the mouth, and, believe me, I’m in no humour for puns.

  7. Ian Buxton says:

    I expect the prices of the new whiskies will be pretty high. This seems to be the world we are now living in- market forces trump all and whisky’s new found sexy status has driven up prices. However, as someone said to me the other day regarding all this incredible expansion (and look at what Macallan have just announced) – if the industry’s got it wrong there will be LOTS of cheap, very nice whisky in 10 years time!
    Meanwhile, we have to get used to it I fear.

  8. Chris L says:

    Ian, people have been saying the same thing about first-growth Bordeaux for the last 20+ years, look how that’s turned out. Prices simply don’t drop the way it seems most whisky fans seem to think will happen.

  9. Ian Buxton says:

    True, but 1st growth claret is tightly constrained by supply and the size of vineyards which can’t be expanded. Scotch Whisky distilleries are expanding as if there is almost no limit. My point was “IF” they’ve got it wrong…
    There have been many booms and busts in whisky’s history thus far.

  10. Dear Sir,
    We hope that the tradition continues Mortlach.
    If you change, change for the better, do not change only the cost of the bottles.
    Giorgio D’Ambrosio

  11. Louis says:

    So Diageo will competing against itself. Should be interesting to see how that plays out.

  12. Chris Miles says:

    Is this the same Morgan who said

    “Diageo is a blended whisky company. Diageo does not make single malts for me to enjoy. We do not make single malts for the aficionado to enjoy. We make single malts for our blending team”

    He has changed his tune.

  13. Danny Maguire says:

    I agree with him, Diageo IS a blended whisky company. Fully 90%, may even be 95%, of their whisky sales are blended, but they’ve realised there’s a growing market for premium malt whisky out there; and they want their share. Problem being they’re reducing the quality of the product to get it.

    • Ian Buxton says:

      Hi Danny, Unless you’ve tasted the new products I don’t think that’s fair. They have CHANGED but as I try to say the new expressions are very good, complex, deep whiskies, made with skill and care. They are different for sure but there’s no reduction in quality. There is going to be a hike in price though, for sure, and that is a problem. I don’t want my take on this to be misinterpreted. Great new drams at higher prices. Good news and bad.

  14. mark says:

    “Mortlach is… opening…a new, purpose-built facility….”

    Clynelish doesn’t taste like Brora.

    Buried somewhere behind a bunch of other stuff is the remains of a G&M Mortlach bottled in the ’90s. Tastes strongly of raspberries. Enjoy a dram most summers when an organic raspberry crop is in its ~3 hour window between completely ripe and spoiled. One of the very best.

    • Edward says:

      The Brora/Clynelish example is perhaps not the best one, as Brora was made in the original Clynelish distillery albeit with a completely different goal in mind (peat). Thus, benchmark Brora we’ve come to know was not reckoned to be a replacement of the original Clynelish flavor at all. I don’t have any way to know how close the current Clynelish is to the original (pre-1968), but there are many great tasting cask strength bottles of the newer stuff floating around, including the excellent bottles from Berry Bros. In my view, Clynelish is a semi-hidden gem that just doesn’t have the marketing weight of a better known brand.

      But at a fundamental level I do share your suspicion of what the profile will be like on the malt from the new “purpose built” facility.

  15. J. Avila says:

    I just hope they don’t shut down the Signatory line of cask strength mortlach as well. That would be the last straw especially if their cheapest new Mortlach bottles comes in at a higher price.

  16. Ed K says:

    Prices on whisky are not going to come down and the massive expansions will pay off handsomely. Look at the expansion of craft beer in the US, yet it only represents 6% of the market. As craft beer expands, this naturally leads to increasing interest in fine whisky. My advice is to buy stock in Diageo and use the dividends to buy whisky. You can drink now & retire later!

  17. Oli P says:

    Well, the new range has been launched:

    “Diageo’s RRP for the range is £55 for Rare Old, £180 for Mortlach 18 Year Old, £600 for Mortlach 25 Year Old and £75 for Special Strength, which will be a travel retail exclusive.”

    All 50cl bottles, except in the US where the 750ml bottles are yet to be priced up.

    In short, an utter farce. Anyone who buys into this is a chump! I would urge whisky lovers to give the cold shoulder to Diageo, they have betrayed the core of real fans who had a major hand in making the reputation of this malt what it is today. Shameful, shameful behaviour.

  18. Andrea says:

    This is indeed a sad development and I certainly won’t buy this whisky. And Diageo even has the nerve to call a NAS whisky “rare old”.
    Is this where things are going? And how long will it take until a Laphroaig or a Laddie 10 will be called “old”?

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