A Trio of Scotches from Mortlach

The oldest Scotch whisky ever released (70 years) is a hard act to follow but Mortlach, the venerable Speyside distillery in Dufftown, has done an admirable job with its newest special releases that top out with the comparatively spritely sounding 25 Year Old.

Mortlach—founded in 1823, the year that whisky taxes eased in Scotland—is known for meaty malts made in an area that usually creates whispery whisky. And this trio embraces that anomaly with finesse. The other two releases are the no-age-statement Rare Old and 18 Year Old.

If you're familiar with the name, you have probably experienced the taste. The malt is an important component in the well-known Johnnie Walker blend.

The bold flavor of what has been called the "Beast of Dufftown" is most often laid to its unique distillation method, which utilizes six stills of varying sizes and shapes. Stillmen describe the whisky as having been distilled 2.81 times. Eighty percent of the still runs are distilled a full three times and the weaker shots (20 percent) from the first run are held over for the third run, which occurs in a contraption named the Wee Witchie.

While the reasoning beyond the arcane method is lost to time and the process is hard to explain, the results are undeniably good.

 

Mortlach Rare Old (86.8 proof, or 43.4 percent alcohol by volume; no age statement; $130 per 750 ml bottle)

APPEARANCE: Light amber color, a bit of brass. Thick, quick legs.

NOSE: A lush honey bouquet with strong, meaty fruit notes (pear) and a bit of caramel. Closes with a hint of cheese.

PALATE: Tropical fruit and hard candy meet a fascinating nuttiness that gives it its sublime structure. The fruit fills out with berries and snaps of ginger and cinnamon.

FINISH: Opens up with cocoa and some oiliness on the finish with a fruit encore.

Mortlach 18 Years Old (86.8 proof, or 43.4 percent alcohol by volume; 18 years old; $300 per 750 ml bottle)

APPEARANCE: Richer, darker amber than the above and more reluctant to give up its legs.

NOSE: Rich honey (similar to the Rare) with berries and banana as well as a crème brulee influence. Some graham cracker with a touch of spice and cheese.

PALATE: A big fruit flavor from the outset is gradually integrated with toast and the slightest hint of campfire. There's a big honey quotient as well. The fruit has meaty savoriness as well as oregano.

FINISH: Quiets a bit on the finish, but the nuts hold on. A few minutes into it comes an encore of spice and a kind of vinaigrette quality.

Mortlach 25 Years Old (86.8 proof, or 43.4 percent alcohol by volume; 25 years old; $1,000 per 750 ml bottle)

APPEARANCE: Very similar color to the 18, with slightly slower legs.

NOSE: Very rich fruit with cinnamon graham cracker and nutmeg. Once again honey, as well as some cherry notes.

PALATE: A flavor safari with penetrating fruits (especially tangerine and pears) moves on to become spicy with cinnamon and licorice and then meaty and savory with vanilla and saffron.

FINISH: A finish that will keep you up at night. All of the above repeats itself-with a bonus of mint. You want more, then think of the price and kick yourself for having blown your paycheck on the mortgage.

CIGAR PAIRING: Punch Punch—Cuba (5 3/8 inches by 46 ring gauge, £16.12, Box Code: June 2013, 91 points, December 2014 Cigar Aficionado) The firm draw of this thick corona opens up to show a floral, cocoa character before a toasted almond and marzipan sweetness. A complex cigar.

With Rare Old

We were drawn to this cigar in hopes its floral character would spark something in the Mortlach. Deep within the fruity charms of this whisky, the cigar finds a rich, toasted woodiness that gives it added dimension. The Rare Old, in turn, seeks out the spice and marzipan on the Punch and bumps that up a few notches. A brown sugar sweetness also pops up on the cigar in the latter stages.

With the 18 Year Old

Once again the cigar draws out toast on the whisky, but now it seems to be lending its floral character and bringing that out from the malt as well. The Mortlach has a more profound effect on the cigar, giving it great depth and heartier flavors as well as spice (toasted cinnamon). There is also a rich cedar note that is hard to assign to either element, but makes the combination a well-rounded taste experience.

With the 25 Year Old

An even richer, rounder, spicy cedar appears on the cigar with this whisky, and the 25 Year gets a divine creaminess not apparent earlier. The marzipan/spice effect of the Punch is a doubled here, just as the fruit of the Mortlach intensifies. Vanilla is even more in evidence on the whisky as well. And, as a topper, subtly sweet woodiness comes out on the Punch to match the aforementioned cream. What must be noted in all three partnerships is the superb balance achieved by all.