The Nature of the Beast

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If you like tasty savoury Scotch, whiskies with power and depth look no further than Mortlach – The Beast of Dufftown.    This will change any notions you have of there being a ‘Speyside’ flavour.  Mortlach brings weight and substance to Speyside and epitomises texture in Scotch.

Mortlach was a lesser known distillery until relatively recently.  Independents started to bottle it as a single malt and it soon achieved a cult following which Diageo capitalised on to meet customer demand.

It is the main player in one of Diageo’s 14 key tasting group.  Producing a meaty flavour useful for blending.

This is achieved by a unique distillation routine which focusses on producing, retaining and developing the ‘good’ sulphur compounds, while eliminating the bad ones, throughout the process.


These compounds originate in the shorter fermentations although Mortlach also run longer fermentations as well.  Small stills and a fast distillation carefully control the spirit copper interface and reflux.  A combination of different routings from wash stills to spirit still coupled with several dry runs in the final Wee Witchy still take the spirit to worm tubs carefully temperature controlled to deliver a substantial spirit ripe for maturation and development to deliver both the classic meaty taste with a great mouthfeel and strong fruity elements.

A real multi-layered spirit which delivers more and more in the cask.  I will not go into the complexity of still routing but it combines to deliver 2.81 distillations as Mortlach has from day one in 1823!

The complexity of the flavour profile means that this is a whisky to take your time over.  It develops in the glass, it merits slow drinking and the aromas and flavours go on and on so not one to rush.  Here are my tasting notes on The Whisky Exchange Mortlach Tasting set  for the Virtual Whisky Show this year.

Mortlach 12 yo – The Wee Witchie 43.4%


image courtesy of Mortlach

A smooth mouthfeel slightly oily with good thick legs.  It has added colour and is chill filtered.  Why?  I get the added colour for consistent  appearance and the chill filtration again for appearance but personally I feel it might benefit from being non chill filtered.

Nose:  Appears more alcoholic on the nose than it is. Very giving of its aromas big open dram nice big complex cereal notes, aromas of leather an earthy barley tinge, toffee, a nutty maybe hazelnut note, hints of orange and there sherry.  This is a  lovely nose which meets long exploration as it develops.

My kinda nose the heavy end of the whisky spectrum yet balanced with some lighter notes.

Palate: Smooth mouthfeel nicely oily delivering oak, meaty savoury note, dried fruit, olive oil, berry jam,  complex peppery spice on the tongue sweet toffee , vanilla.   Water helps reveal more complexity but  not too much.

A truly great dram, texture is everything,- oily, meaty, and bold.

Finish:  Long and spicy, meaty and yet sweet

5 minutes after draining the glencairn I am still adding notes on the finish as the nose evolved

This is a 12 year old of considerable substance a real whisky.

You will gather that this is one of my favourite styles of whisky.  It is a whisky that gets mixed reviews but I suspect it is often not given the time to deliver what it can offer.

Mortlach 15yo 46% (Game of Thrones)

image courtesy of Mortlach

Matured in first fill sherry casks finished in Bourbon casks.   I assume again colour added and chill filtered – why?  I guess that this range was originally targeted at a hopefully new and younger market so such niceties were largely driven by marketing needs. Fair enough, the whisky is good.

The GoT collaboration between HBO and Diageo allowed the Menstrie team to investigate their 10 million barrel stock to deliver some different single malts.   These 6 men and 6 women are unsung heroes of the whisky world with exceptional dedication and talent and experience of more individual casks than anyone else could even dream of.  I have drunk many of these Got expressions (and not collected any) and have enjoyed them all as exceptional examples of the distillery so it was exciting when the entire range was finished off with this 15 year old Mortlach.

Nose: Leather, deeper cereal notes, meaty, full lovely aromatic spicy notes, the spirit is well to the fore, crisp and powerful.

Palate: Nutty, mouth coating, oily as well, smooth mellow good core spirit taste well enhanced by the barrels rounded off nicely by the fruitiness. Meaty and salty like the lid fell off the salt cellar onto a piece of steak!

I love the way this is blended a spirit to the front with the maturity flavour giving a great balanced dram with spicy, freshness and complexity I can see why this was chosen as the GoT curtain call!

Finish: Spicy, smooth, creamy butter scotch the sulphur completely removed and expertly developed,

Somehow livelier than the core range 16.   

Mortlach 16 year old 46.3%


image courtesy of Mortlach

Matured in sherry casks.  No mention of colour or filtration.  As with the 12 and the 20 these core range single malts were first released in 2018.

Nose:  Meaty, leathery, big and round fresh top end slightly floral, ginger, soft spicing, nutmeg and cinnamon then white pepper on the tongue.

Palate: Mature oak , joined by prune, clove, a hint of nuttiness and a slight earthy meaty, leathery note

A lovely Mortlach with lots to offer.  This is now part of the core range, so always available.    

Mortlach 16yo flora & fauna 43.4%


image courtesy of The whisky Exchange

Flora and Fauna is another range showcasing some of the best casks from the Diageo warehouses.  I have hugely enjoyed several of these and was looking forward to the Mortlach.  This 15-16 year old point works really well on the spirit.

Beautiful bright copper colour

Nose: Amazing complex floral, herbal multi-dimensional like an expensive Japanese whisky plus cloves, meaty note and fruity spangles.

Palate:  Creamy Toffos, chocolate then pepper and cinnamon with dried fruit, complex with depth.

More savoury than the core 16  but a lovely example offering something different better for me but it is entirely personal preference.

Next the Rare Old.  This expression was promoted in the core range in a 50ml bottle size which brought some criticism.  Despite this it was a favourite amongst Mortlach fans and Diageo staff alike.  The 12 year old has replaced it in the core range.  Let’s see how it rates.

Mortlach Rare Old  43.4%


image courtesy of The Whisky Exchange

A non age statement malt with both dark and bright notes hinting at a range of maturity. Nice heavy legs the weight of the spirit disguises any youth. There is plenty of barrel influence but as they say the spirit is strong and to the fore.

It is matured in both sherry and bourbon casks.  Colour added, chill filtered.

Nose: Nutty, leather, cereal,  butter biscuits,  green apples in spring, hint of cloves on caramelised ham, cinnamon and vanilla the nose goes on and expands better and better. 15 mins later the nose keep developing revealing older notes plus caramel.  The fudge end of the Mortlach spectrum which I enjoy.

Palate: Initial bright creamy note in the mouth then spices both pepper and cinnamon, sweet oak, vanilla and jammy fruits

Wonderful mouthfeel between waxy and olive oil

Finish: Long and luscious with darkening complexity, liquorice and more meaty notes yet drifting to fruit Opal fruits and dried fruit.  Love the balance between savoury and fruit.

This is a serious grown up dram. A contender for my XMas dram going on and on and on the depth  and intensity of flavour is incredible.

I would not have called it rare old. I would have called it youth and experience a lovely counterpart which with time reveals real depth.  I guess there are many different ages of casks in this dram.  NAS allows the Menstrie team to use their extraordinary blending skills on a single malt and this is the result that I would expect from them.  This is a favourite of mine.

Mortlach 20 year old 43.4%

image courtesy of Mortlach

What is it about 43.4% I guess the dream team from Menstrie feels it sits best there . I won’t add water as this would change it!

Nose:  Aged leather, old books, cherry boilings hints of menthol and eucalyptus, oak, liquorice ,treacle big sherry note intense and sweet to the finish which is so long great heavy legs.

Palate: More treacle, malt, liquorice, caramelised steak, a touch of vintage balsamic lots of good sherry – an aged one, smooth sweet caramel that fig hint great mouthfeel olive oil subtle spicing and oak ,root ginger, cinnamon and pepper multi-facetted an explosion of flavour in the mouth!

This dram is the definition of texture in a whisky . Great European Oak influences

Wow such a complex layered dram!

The Beast of Dufftown is worthy of its name and reputation. Of course the 20 was sensational, such a spirit deserves time in the cask. The 12 is a great introduction. I like the 15 GoT the 16s didn’t quite hit the same mark for my taste although an excellent whisky, I will certainly enjoy in the future. The Rare Old captured many of the notes of the 20. I will buy the GoT and ignore the marketing hype.

To be  clear, I bought the tasting pack, the 12, the GoT and the Rare Old.  They are not cheap whiskies but pound for pound they last much longer and deliver more flavour.  The perfect whisky for a long contemplate in front of the fireside.   These are grown up whiskies which merit patience and time.  Perfect Christmas drinking.  They will not be for everyone I concede but that is the joy of whisky.  Its is all in the differences.

All of these expressions and the tasting pack can be purchased from The Whisky Exchange.