Mortlach

Mortlach single malts are typical Speyside whiskies, with a twist. They perfectly combine floral, smoky, malty and fruity notes to create a whisky of a superior quality. Mortlach is unique however and characterized by its almost meaty, sulpher notes which add another dimensional to the otherwise malts round, sweet and mellow malts of the region. The Flora and Fauna edition is one to try, and a number of OB and independant offerings are also available.

Mortlach Distillery

Mortlach is the oldest (legal) whisky distillery in the town of Dufftown in the Speyside and one of the famous 7 distilleries that gave rise to the phrase: “Rome was built on seven hills, and Dufftown on seven stills”. The town of Dufftown itself was founded by James Duff, 4th Earl of Fife in 1817, and whisky distillery was esablished a mere 6 years later. Today the city has around 1,500 inhabitants.

There are several possible orgins for the name Mortlach though the most likely appears to be either the Gaelic for “Bowl-shaped Valley” or perhaps “Big Green Hill”.

House Style

A Mortlach Single Malt is a typical Speysider, it combines flowery, delicate-smoky, malty and fruity notes in a perfect arrangement with sulfur aromas. While this is sometimes considered a bad thing, copper stills are actually used because they remove sulphers, these sulfer notes can add a musty almost meaty aroma.

Too many sulfer compounds can of course ruin a whisky; the whisky will shows notes of rubber or burnt plastic, but with the right amount they can add depth to the complexity of the bouquet. Mortlach is very careful crafted using easily the most complex combination of stills in the industry to deliver this sulpher balance. The Speyside distillery has turned the cultivation of sulfur aromas into an art form.

Before 2014, original Mortlach bottlings were only available in the Rare Malts Selection and the Flora & Fauna series from Diageo.

Production

Mortlach uses water from the Dykehead and Catscraig springs, barley from Glen Ord Maltings and leverages 6 wooden washbacks and 6 stills to produce 3,800,000 litres annually.

Although the Mortlach distillery, with two preserved kilns (no longer in operation), is extremely picturesque, it has been a highly modern and efficient distillery since extensive renovation. Distillation at Mortlach has been almost fully automated.

Mortlach takes its production water from the Dykehead and Catscraig springs in the Conval Hills. The original source “Highland John’s Well” has only historical value. The malt is obtained from the company’s own Glen Ord Maltings in Muir of Ord. In the Porteus Mill, installed in 1885, the malt is ground to grist before it is poured into the 12 ton, stainless steel, mash tun and mashed over 6 hours. The wort is mixed with distilling yeast in 6 Douglas Fir washbacks and fermented for about 58 hours. The wash obtained then has an alcohol content of about 8%.

The distillation at Mortlach is somewhat different than in most Scottish malt distilleries. They distill 2.5 or 2.7 or 3 times depending on the still in question. Diageo calls it the “Byzantine form of triple distillation”. The legend 2.81 times distilled was added to the new 2014 range by Diageo’s marketing department. Mortlach has a total of 6 stills, all 6 of different shapes and sizes (though all have the same angle of inclination of the Lyne Arms and all lead outside into the worm tubes). These stills opperate in pairs:

The first pair of stills operate inline with industry standard, wash is distilled in the first, then redistilled in the second. The second and third pairs operate unlike any others in the industry. The other stills produce on average 80% double distilled new make, and a further 20% which is quadruple distilled. To achieve this the wash stills carry out the first distillation as normal, 80% passes to a spirit still. Meanwhile, the remaining, rather weak 20% is then distilled three times in the final still, known as the ‘Wee Witchie’ in part due to its small size. This special combination of all three spirit streams, copper contact, worm tub condensors result in a surprisngly sulphery, supremely meaty spirit distilled 2.81 times.

At Mortlach, the distillate moves into the barrels with 68% ABV set with spring water. Filling and storage no longer takes place at Mortlach, but at the central Diageo facility near Edinburgh. The distillate is delivered there in tank trucks. The warehouses that are still on site are leased to independent bottlers.

Mortlach and the independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail traditionally maintain excellent relationships, which is why Mortlach single malts have primarily come from Gordon and MacPhail’s stocks. Other independent bottlers, such as Signatory, also have a Mortlach in their range from time to time.

Since 2014, Diageo has repositioned Mortlach as a super premium brand with corresponding prices. The whisky is offered in heavy, square decanters. Mortlach Rare Old (NAS), Special Strength, 18 years and 25 years are available.

History

Mortlach Distillery was founded in 1823 by James Findlater, Donald McIntosh and Alexander Gordon and received its official license to distill in the same year. Mortlach is almost as old as Dufftown itself established only 6 years before in 1817.

In 1831 the Mortlach distillery was sold to Auther & Thomas Gregory of Buchromb. In 1837, James and John Grant took over the facility, shut it down and dismantled for parts to support their other projects. The business was then suspended until 1851.

From 1851, John Gordon first brewed beer in the facilities, but then converted it again for the original purpose, the production of whisky. In 1853 George Cowie joined Mortlach Distillery and a short time later acquired the majority of the shares and also became the licensee. In 1867 John Gordon died and George Cowie became the sole owner of the distillery. William Grant, the later founder of the Glenfidich Distillery and the William Grant & Sons Company, started as an accountant at Mortlach and later became the manager of the distillery. In 1887 Mortlach become one of many visited by Alfred Barnard during his Whisky Distilleries of The United Kingdom tour.

Under the direction of George Cowie’s son, the distillery was first connected to the rail network in 1897, the number of stills was increased from three to six, and a year later the distillery was connected to the electricity network.

In 1923, the distillery was taken over by John Walker & Son, which merged with Distillers Company Limited only two years later. Through the further mergers of the DCL, it became the current owner Diageo. Mortlach was one of the few Scottish distilleries to be able to produce continuously during the Second World War, with only a brief exception during 1944. Today Mortlach is part of the Diageo Group.

Original bottlings only came onto the market in 1996 and 1998 as rare malts and in 2004 as special releases. The latter had a selling price of £ 160 and is currently selling for £ 500 at auctions. In 2014, four original bottlings were launched (Rare Old, Special Strength, 18 and 25 Year Old).

Distillery Factsheet

Name Pronounced AKA Region Country of Origin
Mortlach Speyside Scotland
Status Active Whisky Type Website Tours Available
Active 1823 - Present Malt Mortlach Not Available
Manager Distiller Blender Owned by Parent Group
Dr. Matthew Crow Diageo

Mortlach Timeline:

1823: James Findlater, Donald Mackintosh and Alex Gordon founded Mortlach

1824: Just a year after it was founded, James Findlater leaves the partnership

1831: John Robertson buys Mortlach for £ 270

1832: John Robertson sells the distillery to A&T Gregory a year later.

1837: The Grant brothers become partners in the Mortlach distillery and dismantle it.

1842: Revived by John Gordon as a brewery but then fitted with stills for distillation

1853: George Cowie becomes a shareholder

1867: George Cowie became sole owner after the death of Alexander Gordon

1895: George Cowie is joined by his son in George Cowie & Son Ltd.

1887: Glenfiddich is established by William Grant, ending Mortlachs reign as the only distillery in Dufftown

1897: Extended from three to six stills

1903: Distillery refurbished, Dr A.M. Cowie brought in by his father George Cowie

1923: Acquired by John Walker & Sons Ltd., Kilmarnock, who continued to trade as George Cowie & Son

1925: Passed to the Distillers Company Ltd. (DCL)

1930: Transferred to Scottish Malt Distillers Ltd. (SMD)

1964: The distillery undergoes a massive refurbishment

1968: Floor maltings are abandoned.

1971: Stills became steamheated

1992: Licensed to United Malt & Grain Distillers Ltd. (UMGD)

1999: Owned by United Distillers & Vintners (UDV)

2004: Owned by Diageo plc

2014: Diageos planned expansion is halted

Useful Mortlach links:

Mortlach at Scotch Whisky

Mortlach at Worm Tub

Mortlach at Malt Madness

Interesting Mortlach links:

Mortlach Expansion halted due to industry slowdown