Worth the Wait: 1991 Mortlach 20yo Cask-Strength (Signatory)

Music: The Tragically Hip, “Long Time Running”

I have definitely been waiting way too long for this one. I purchased this bottle, and had it imported by a friend in early December of 2011 when he came to stay with us for part of the winter break. Over a year later, a meeting with my two dearest friends finally permits it to be opened. I’ve met with them a few times each, separately, in the last year, but geography and time has kept the entire group apart all year. At the first opening, the bottle was a bit oaky and a tad sulphury, but once the bottle had settled down, it was a true winner. I also had the pleasure of introducing someone to a whisky that was distilled before they were born. A young lass of about 23, she was born about 9 months after this whisky was casked.

As it goes, I am sitting here on a wonderful February evening, enjoying a sliver of this wonderful stuff. With the bottle half gone, it’s almost saddening to know that the worldwide stocks of this wonderful cask (577 bottles) will be ever closer to depletion. It has already disappeared from most, if not all shop shelves that I am aware of.

Calibrator Malt: Robert Burns Single Malt (Arran)

Nose: Age, if you can say you can smell age. It’s rich, and has a complexity of years spent contemplating its existence in a barrel. Toffee and brown sugar, and malt all over. Bread and olive oil, like the the 19yo un-chillfiltered of yesteryear. A wee bit of sweet corn relish and brine. Slight peat and sherry, and a little bit of hickory. Comparatively, when you think that a decent entry-level malt like the Robbie has a nice strong malty nose, you are immediately set back by the unbelievable complexity and weight of the Mortlach. Going back, the Arran seems mild and thin. It’s not that the Arran is bad, it’s that the Mortlach is just that good.

Palate: (undiluted) Sweet and tangy. Oak, raisins, rubber bands (in a strange, but good way). Water it down, about five drops, and the tangy melts to sweet. This is a real malt. What I mean is that the notes at the forefront are a rich, soft, malted barley and oak. In that way, it is remarkable. A malt that tastes exactly what you’d expect a malt would taste like, unaltered by finishes and gimmicks. The re-fill sherry butt means the sherry isn’t as present, and that’s a good thing. Raisins, espresso, bright chocolate, and fresh cut grass. Truffle salt. The alcohol wears away, and though you’d expect the velvetly mouthfeel would disappear, it really doesn’t. Sure, it softens, but it really gets into every crevace of your mouth.

Finish: Malt, bittersweet chocolate and black pepper. A bit of menthol, and then a really brilliant watermelon note on the end that lasts forever. It’s a really deep, complete warming, and that’s saying something: it’s -20C tonight.

Grade: A+

This. Is. Amazing. You really feel this whisky in your chest. It’s hefty, and entirely complete. Not a dram for “newbies”, though. Many interesting notes in this one that don’t immediately lend themselves to the popular notion of sherried whisky. The best whisky I’ve had to date, and it made me re-evaluate my ranking system. Because I’m so coarse in my grading, the A+ isn’t equivalenty to say, a 100/100 on ATW or at ralfy.com. It is simply the grade that says, “that’s it, folks. I can’t think of anything better they could have done with this whisky.” I love the Ardbeg line-up, but having had this Mortlach, it makes me wonder if they could bring some more maturity and balance to the Corryvreckan and the Uigeadail. They’re still stellar, but this whisky, in all its brilliance, makes me see the cracks in the mortar with my favourite ‘A’ whiskies.

And that, my friends, is what makes an A+ here at “Whisky, Empirically”.

“It’s been a long, long, long time running… it’s well worth the wait.”

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Review Stub: BenRiach 20

This is review #4 from my BenRiach distillery collection taster pack (HoS, 12, 16, 20). This is where age makes a difference.

Nose: The nose is fat and buttery. Buttered bread with some vanilla and other sweets. Peaches and a bit lighter on the apple. Malty, and oddly, a little celery in the background. A tad bit of furniture polish, but in an “Oh, that’s cool!” way. A surprisingly powerful nose for 43%, and damn if it isn’t very pleasant.

Palate: Medium oily, savoury and buttery. More of that olive oil on french or italian bread. The second wave is malty with graham crackers, then it comes in slightly fruity with peaches, apple, brown sugar and cinnamon. Much less jagged than the 16 by a long shot.

Finish: Long, mostly sugar and vanilla sweetness. Terribly pleasant.

Grade: B+

This dram makes the tasting pack worth it. The HoS was a pleasant surprise for something so inexpensive, while the middle of the range (12, 16) were rather muted or lifeless. The 20 is something BenRiach can be proud of, though they get more whisky out there faster if they could do more at the younger years. I’d love to try this at 46%, too.

While the HoS, 12, and 16 are very similar, and not all that inspiring, the 20yo takes BenRiach to a whole new level. Perhaps they need some work with their maturation process, because they could really do better work at the younger ages, and go for pure quality instead of this high quality-to-price ratio. An $80 bottle of 20yo whisky is a steal, yes, but I’d pay $80 for a really good 16yo bottle, too.