<---Was it? Is it still?
As most of you well know, in late 2013 Diageo announced they would be expanding their portfolio and introducing four new Mortlach Single Malt Expressions. Let me remind you what those were: Rare Old, Special Strength, an 18 and 25 year old.
Ohhhh the buzz that created!!!! The #whiskyfabric came alive and social media exploded. Then in March of 2014 came the announcement of their size (500ml), cost (£55, £75, £180 & £600) and where they would be sold (targeted travel retail). The outcry, backlash and public outrage from people and some that I like to call "trolls" lasted for weeks, some going as far as personally attacking the newly appointed ambassador, Miss Georgie Bell. A few, and I'm quoting, felt it was their "mission to preach and warn whisky drinkers" of the impeding doom. The strings of "how dare they" tweets were endless and honestly after a few days (for me personally) became quite boring. Can you say "Lassie tuned out!" No mass whisky samples being mailed out, no race for bloggers to tweet about their latest "free" samples and how AMAZING they were. Not many people writing about them at all it seemed but LOTS of people screaming about the injustice of it all.
Not long after that, it was announced on the Spirit of Speyside site that Georgie would be hosting a Mortlach event at Drummuir Castle in Keith and I jumped at the opportunity. Why? Because I can afford it and I wanted to taste these 4 whiskies for myself - I'm a huge Mortlach fan. Cost for the event = £75. Let me share with you what followed:
- We were a group of 10-12 people and they provided a complimentary shuttle bus service (bonus - responsible event management). We arrived at the impressive Drummuir Castle at 12:30. It's a lovely example of Victorian style architecture and is quite a breathtaking setting. Georgie Bell greeted us at the door and ushered us into the lobby where we were told about the history of the castle as well as how it's been used by Diageo in the present day.
- The first part of the event was to introduce us to the four new whiskies. A little presentation, a little history and relevant stories about each whisky. Typical tasting format... LET ME TRY THE WHISKIES!!! (That was my inner voice of course). Then we were allowed to start.
Nose: I found this to be a typical Mortlach, full bodied, dark chocolate meets "meaty earthy" smell. Rich, so rich! Palate: Stewed prunes, baking spices and a bit of woody tannic feel. Finish: Bold, long, luscious!
Special Strength 49% ABV: This whisky uses the same types of casks as the Rare and Old but bottled it at a higher ABV.
Nose: Tropical fruit salad: Papaya, mangoes, coconut and lots of honey. I was stunned. THIS IS NOT the Mortlachs I am used to drinking... Palate: This is almost oily, syrupy in nature. Again, a bit taken aback. It was quite savoury but more sweet and tannic in nature. The finish was super drying and I swear I could taste a bit of chewing tobacco? What an enigma? Honestly, had someone given this whisky to me blind I doubt very much I could have identified it as a Mortlach. Very little of my "key indicators" were there?
18 Year Old 43.4% ABV: Combination of 1st fill European oak, American hogshead & refill European oak casks.
Nose: And back to Mortlach profile... (hehe) Meaty, earthy, a bit of tomato plant or tobacco leaves, sweetness at the back almost floral. Palate: SPICY! Fennel seeds (my favorite) followed by this lovely creamy silky butterscotch cream (Werthers Original Candy). Finish: A bit of Seville orange bitterness, but long and spicy.
25 Year Old 43.4% ABV: Matured solely in refill American Oak Barrels.
Nose: This was intoxicating. It reminded me of warm Indian spices and sandalwood scented candles. Some almond oil, "clean nutty". Became creamier in the glass with time - vanilla crème brulée'ish. Palate: Ripe red cherries dipped in milk chocolate followed by candied ginger, peppery but sweet. Finish: This stayed with me for a while. It was long, oily, tannic after taste but just lovely.
- Now that we had the chance to try them "naked" for the lack of a better term (the whiskies, not us... of course!), we were invited to move along to the next portion of our afternoon. The large group moved along to a lovely sitting room/parlor where we were given another dram of the Rare Old served with amazing spiced duck/walnut cheesecake bites and fennel beignets. I cannot begin to describe how well paired this whisky was. The meaty flavors of the whisky rounded the cheese and duck in a manner I did not expect. If you dared pop a fennel beignet in your mouth and drink a bit of the Rare Old, there was a flavor explosion of licorice. Not a word was spoken, but the look on people's faces were priceless. The Special Strength was then brought out for our second round of enjoyment and paired with mini bread & butter puddings and Badentoy blue cheese on gingerbread. Again, the room looked stunned as they drank the whisky and popped the culinary creations. I heard one man say: "I've never enjoyed whisky like this before". That about summed up the sitting room experience in my opinion. Little was I to know what was coming next.
- We then followed Georgie down to the wine cellar, which was lit with long tapered candles and had an ambiance of the days of yesteryear. A round table was placed in the middle with the bottle of the 25 year old. More drams poured ( a full ounce!) and then the food pairings arrived: A caramelized butternut squash soup drizzled in pumpkin seed oil, served in an exquisite crystal shot glass. The second appetizer: Rolled crepes stuffed with fresh crab. When we were upstairs, the room was quiet, this was completely the opposite. People began to talk and moan loudly with pleasure. Again, my mind was exploding with thoughts as my mouth tried to keep up with the flavors being released!
- We didn't want to leave but reluctantly we moved along to the next whisky and room. On to the games room for yet another dram, the 18 year old. Georgie placed two chocolates: An orange & clove velvet truffle as well as a coconut dusted velvet truffle. Again, the room was opulent to say the least. The billiards table was bigger than my first car! The chocolates were of the highest quality I recall ever tasting. The chef and people who put this day together were brilliant. The setting, the food, the whiskies and the presentation screamed LUXURIOUS and I felt absolute giddiness.
- And... seriously, that's when it hit me. These whiskies are meant to exude luxury and richness. The event was perfect, for me... they gave me exactly what they said they would... a full day of being treated, pampered and catered too in the one of the most luxurious of settings I have ever experienced.
My favorite (combining affordability/flavor profiles) was the Special Strength only because it was so different and refreshing. Then the Rare Old, 18 and last 25 year old. Don't get me wrong the 25 was perfection in a glass but even with my disposable income not in my price range. I'd have to come into a small windfall or save my $$ for that one. (If you are in Canada, Rare Old is available at the Kensington Wine Market in Calgary for $105.00)
My thoughts are simple on this matter: I am a huge Mortlach fan, I have tasted the 4 whiskies and if/when they become available in Canada or if I'm travelling (I already bought the Rare Old) I will buy them. Not because they are really expensive or collectible.
No... I will buy them because they are good whiskies and I can afford most of them. I'd put them in the same category as my Karuizawa or other "special" drams that I take out from time to time to drink and share with good friends.
The part I'm still not sure how to address is the fact that so many people caused havoc on this subject in March yet if you look a month later or even today, nobody says anything about Mortlach anymore other than it's a cracker of a whisky if you can find/afford it. Like all other crazy moments on social media these days, the hype died down and the trolls moved on to the next topic of misery. No surprise I suppose.
I for one, can say I paid my four bits to go and see the high diving act and I am extremely glad I didn't listen to the opinions of the preachers. If you are really a die hard Mortlach fan and get a chance to sample these, please do and make an opinion for yourself. If ever you are in my neighborhood, I'll pour you a few drams guaranteed because good whisky is meant to be shared, not insulted.
Hype...? No hype... These whiskies are exactly what they were designed to be, key word: DESIGNED.
Luxury, Special, Unique and MOST Enjoyable.