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The Small Matter of a Mortlach

 

Do not miss this shop if you are anywhere near north east Scotland. It is relatively accessible (between May and November!) and contains malts and people unlike any others.

Do not miss this shop if you are anywhere near north east Scotland. It is relatively accessible (between May and November!) and contains malts and people unlike any others.

Re-visit Glen Garioch: check; dine at Sandy’s: check – I had been very efficient in my completion of whisky-related objectives so far on my Scotch Odyssey plenary, and with the previous night’s Speyside Platter still handsomely fueling my faculties, we made the journey into the Cairngorms to Tomintoul for my third mission.

As far as whisky emporia which I encountered over the course of my tour, none could match the Drury’s Whisky Castle. For the two days I enjoyed Tomintoul as my base camp, I spent a good deal of time in the shop and not nearly enough money. Mike and Cathy are passionate, generous, and often outspoken, but in the main fabulous ambassadors for whisky – although I don’t expect The Macallan or The Glenlivet to be employing Mike as sales director any time soon, but more of that later.

A sample of the varied bottlings to be found here.

A sample of the varied bottlings to be found here.

Where else could I have gone to purchase a most significant bottle? Who else could more instructively and entertainingly me guide me through the plethora of independent expressions available inside? Mike was my man for Mortlach.

He did not at first understand why I should be so determined to limit myself within the biodiverse jungle of his shop to one species of distillery alone. I had to explain that Mortlach was a special place for me, producing a special dram appreciated by special people. He grabbed a 12-year-old Provenance from the phalanx of sample bottles behind the till and tipped some into the bulbous Whisky Castle tumblers, which worked well for the tasting. I sensed conifer branches and burnt toffee, with plenty of phenolic character. Rich oak and sweet barley sugar emerged, too, along with a little shortbread. It was a clean nose, leading into a big, sulphury palate which filled the mouth with sweetness and a hint of peat smoke. A worthy start, but it hadn’t the guts at 46% ABV that I was really seeking.

This was a thoroughly pleasant way of spending a Thursday morning. I mean afternoon...

This was a thoroughly pleasant way of spending a Thursday morning. I mean afternoon...

Mike’s next suggestion was a Douglas Laing of the same age as the Provenance. At 50% ABV it was approaching the heady heights of raw whisky and certainly propounded plenty of oaky flavours on the nose: vanilla, new oak and a dry sweetness, extra rounded stewed fruit notes appearing after a time with greener fruits behind them. Toffee was present in the mouth, as well as more oak. Chewy and fruity, this reminded me quite a lot more of the 16-year-old official expression, one of my very favourites.

As I was nosing, scribbling and pondering, people were continually being sucked through the door. Whisky drinkers are chatty people – even at 11AM – and what was as a harmless remark on the part of one couple that they had visited The Glenlivet the previous day caught Mike’s attention. Yes, he said, The Glenlivet was a nice place to visit, it wasn’t really very good. He had plenty of malts which could kick the standard bottlings into touch.

‘I’d like to see you prove that,’ was the retort, and while he poured me further Mortlachs, he attended to these new customers and, I rather fancy, he did.

It is Mike’s policy to slyly rub you up the wrong way: juxtaposing your apprehension of the industry with that of his. His experience informs what can come across as incendiary – even sacrilegious – remarks about the state of the industry at present, and such disappointment is derived from his knowledge of better, more exciting days of flavour and distinction; these, he says, are behind us. His argument is that single malt whisky in its readily available, big-brand form, is dull. Not bad, he says, just consistent; uniform. He hurls his invective on chill-filtration and 40% ABV bottlings, claiming it sucks the life out of a once idiosyncratic spirit. He takes issue with the scale of the industry, too, bemoaning the lack of really good wood and this is where the Macallan comes in. The husband of the couple, when asked by Mike what he normally drank so that a suitable challenger could be selected, nominated the Speyside megastar. Mike argued that their wood management, whilst extensive and sophisticated, was dealing fundamentally with a threatened, finite resource and the resulting whisky was not a patch on that being bottled fifteen or twenty years ago. The Fine Oak range was a prime example of how the paucity of good Sherry casks was afflicting the X-factor of the output of distinguished malts today.

With the aid of a single cask 18-year-old Longmorn, the lack of protest from his patrons would suggest that he had made his point.

Meanwhile I had been savouring an Adelphi which Mike had put in front of me which, in his opinion, was a Mortlach. Technically, it proceeded under the rubric solely of ‘Breath of Speyside’ but his suspicion was that it was Dufftownian in origin. Single cask, cask strength (57.9% ABV): this was what I was here for. On the nose, sweet and powerful oak flavours dominated with plenty of toffee and a resinous character. Smooth and chocolatey, its dark richness put me in mind of dunnage warehouses – an instant hit for any whisky. Lightly charred notes came forward, with thick vanilla. Barley sweetness, like with the Provenance, appeared, too, with caramel shortbread. The palate was epically enthralling, evocative of the majestic Flora and Fauna bottling so rich, dark and fruity was it. The presence of more chocolate and toffee made this just the decadent example of Speyside I am particularly partial to.

The A D Rattray 16-year-old could not quite measure up to this delightfully rich mystery dram. Whilst being deeper and fuller, with more resinous dark fruits, it was a little too musty for my liking – very drying indeed. Caramel toffee and orange teased the nose, with some honey and rich barley. Those phenolic notes appeared on the palate with more fruit and vanilla. Nuts and sugar presented an authentic Mortlach experience.

It had to be the rich, sweet, oaky power of the Adelphi, though. Its spirited dynamic exhibition of the best of Sherry cask maturation ensured I would be taking this back home to Northumberland.

Requiring a walk to clear the old head of whisky vapour, my Dad and I wandered in the Glenlivet Estate, the same route we took, in fact, the day immediately prior to stumbling into the eponymous distillery. The weather, just as it had been three years ago, was as delicious as the malts I had been quaffing, and as the track took us beyond the tree line we could appreciate the rugged isolation of the Cairngorms and Tomintoul tucked within them. Scanning the valley bottom, I found the road which I had agonisingly toiled along only five months earlier: blizzard-blasted and hamstrung. All that came after had its steel, optimism and endeavour rooted in that day. My reward then had been an hour in The Whisky Castle, with a super meal at the Clockhouse Restaurant. It was there that we reconvened with my Mother and Aunt for another extraordinary feast.

Tomintoul

« Adelphi Tasting – On the Roof of Whiskyland »

Author:
saxon
Date:
October 20, 2010 um 1:27 pm
Category:
Odyssey Plenary,Tastings
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