Sunday, July 22, 2012

Mortlach 22 yo Gordon & MacPhail for Sestante: time traveling to 1971 or before.

Mortlach is one of the oldest distilleries in Speyside, founded in 1823 (the same year as Glenlivet) in Dufftown.  It has a fascinating history (which I recommend you read on the excellent Malt Madness site here).  Mortlach is yet another of those distilleries that you mainly find in independent bottler editions. It rarely appears in its own label.  Most of its output ends up in Johnny Walker Black Label (yes, another whole distillery poured into the vast sea of square black bottles).  Have I mentioned that I really like Johnny Walker Black Label?  The essential feature for me in this history is that floor maltings continued through 1968 and direct fired stills were in operation through 1971.  This means that distillates prior to 1969 should be made in the old traditional Speyside manner - before mechanization and the homogenization that Oliver Klimek describes so elegantly in his though provoking article "Has Whisky Become Better, Worse or Just Different"  That 1971-1968 period feels so close - so in reach.

That's why I stopped when I saw this listing in the Whisky Samples web site:

Image of Mortlach 22yo (40%, Gordon&MacPhail, 75cl, Sestante Import, bottled before 1993)Mortlach 22yo (40%, Gordon&MacPhail, 75cl, Sestante Import, bottled before 1993)

This should have been bottled pré 1993 as the 75cl bottle is sealed by an Italian tax label in red/orange with 2 stars. 

http://whiskysamples.flyingcart.com/index.php?p=detail&pid=802&cat_id=

"Well," I thought, "that's distilled in 1971 at the latest - the era of direct fired stills.  If it's even a few years older than that, it might be the real deal."  Plus it had the allure of the "Sestante" name.  Allure?  Yes, I'm fascinated by the defunct independent bottler Sestante.  It might be silly to be enamored of obscure Italian independent bottlers, but this one isn't around any more, so it's yet another layer of unobtanium.  I couldn't resist.  What was I hoping for?  A taste of a vanished world, with complexity, sweetness & oak and whiff of smoke and maybe even a distant taste of peat, like the Dylan Thomas poem "A Child's Christmas in Wales" takes you back to a vanished world.  I was looking to time travel with this dram.  But it wasn't a sure thing.

Mortlach 22 yo Gordon & MacPhail Sestante bottled prior to 1993. 40% abv


Color: very dark amber w/coppery tints - like old bourbon.

Nose: A rapid evolution from sweet cherry bubble gum at first pour to, as it opens up, big intense dried figs, honey, dark old rum, cherry preserves, ripe persimmons, old oak drawers, dust, and old parchment. A huge august mature sherry bomb aroma.

The entry is robust sherry, a firm oloroso note with jammy raisin, plum, and maraschino notes giving way to sharp tannic bite.  With extra air time citrus flavors and sharp citric acids emerge through the dark chocolate dank prune. The mid palate is spicy with sandalwood incense resiny oak essence and a hint of distant smoke. There is a big tannic pucker at the finish and some dank oak bitterness to go with it. This is a hyper mature sherry bomb with a dense old time feel - like antique whisky - which in a sense it might really be.  The current dilution to 40% renders mouth feel light & silky, sadly, not honey thick like it should be. I didn't dare add water.

Ultimately it's a big and luscious dram but a tad unbalanced in the direction of dark and tannic.  Yet that somehow suited my fantasy.  The flavor signature reminded me, yet again (as many of these old Spey and Highland drams do) of a formative experience with a whole bottle of 1980s Balvenie coat of arms flagon no age statement back in my early days with Scotch.  It had an over-oaked intensity and a complex and almost noble rot quality that feels like "antique".  Indeed it smells a bit like an antique furniture shop or a visit to an old European palace.  Bottom line, this one took me there and I was reveling in the wild progression of a rainbow of old oak flavors and scents melded to big old sherry.  Not the last word is deliciousness, perhaps, but a fine choice to transport you to another time.

















FYI - in looking over where I had been I came across Ruben's notes for an old Sestante labelled bottle of Mortlach 20 from the 1980s that would certainly have been made in the floor malting days.  His tasting notes are an eerie twin to mine.  This helps confirm my impression that this was similar stuff:

"Nose: old-style sherry with a thick liqueur-like character. Lots of old polished oak and leather. Old books and incense. A very soft smokiness too. Raisins, a hint of caramel maybe. Also a sweet beefy note and burnt fruit cake. Mouth: dry, pretty oaky (a tad too much for my taste). There’s still an underlying dark sweetness of sultanas, but it grows resinous and herbal as well, with a slight sourness. Again some smoke in the distance. Feels nicely old but maybe a bit past its prime. Finish: long, dry, still some herbal notes, oak and smoke.
A nice experience but you’ll have to stand some old oak and herbs. It’s closer to a Mortlach 1936 for example than to recent expressions."
http://www.whiskynotes.be/2012/mortlach/mortlach-20-years-sestante/


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  4. Woah, what happened to all the comments?

    I went ahead and opened my Mortlach 22 yo Alchemist bottling and it wasn't what I was expecting. Being entirely matured in an ex-bourbon cask means that the character is entirely different. This Mortlach is now a gentle Speyside whisky with more green fruit (apple) notes mingling with vanilla. If I were tasting this blind I might have said Glenlivet instead of Mortlach.

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    1. Granted an old Glenlivet with a hint of smoke at the back. I'm going to work on this Mortlach some more but right now I think I quite like it even though it's not a sherry bomb.

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