Well, I'm on a roll tonight. My friend was sick so my going-out plans turned into staying-in plans. So I'm on my third review tonight, burning through some samples that I have on hand. The last two were both matured in what I am sure are second- and third-fill bourbon casks, so I'm changing it up with this sherried classic: the 16 Year Old Flora & Fauna Mortlach (which I've never tried before). This sample came to me courtesy of Richard Culver.
James Findlater became the first licensed distiller in Dufftown in 1823. Of course, many more distilleries popped up in Dufftown, and in Speyside as a whole, over the course of the next hundred-or-so years. It is used a lot in Johnnie Walker (having been owned by Diageo since 1925, when they were called DCL), which you can tell right off the bat when you sample it - hence the few single malt bottlings available. In fact, would you believe that the first single malt bottling was not until 1995 (Rare Malt 22 Year Old)?
One of the unique features of the distillery is that 1/5 of the spirit is triple-distilled in an intermediate still called "Wee Witchie" (I see a whisky-horror-movie script in the making...) This, combined with the traditional worm tub condensers and the sherry cask influence, creates a very old-fashioned style of whisky.
The colour is ruby copper, as befits the cask; the nose is faintly herbal, with more subtlety than I was expecting: stewed prunes, raspberries, red wine (I don't know enough about wine to be more specific) - nicely sherried. A trace of sulphur which, on the nose, isn't too bad. A little water brings out some raisin and brown sugar - sort of like a sugar pie.
The palate is less subtle: rich, meaty, berries (blueberries, strawberries, raspberries), more oak than on the nose. Savoury herbs like oregano and thyme. Very rich mouthfeel. More sulphur here...but water brings out the cinnamon, allspice and baked apple. Powerful and filling - very big, chocolatey and bursting with flavour...almost too much flavour...
The finish is long but not overpowering, with red liquorice and some oakiness. A little mouthdrying. This is an iconic whisky, to be sure, perfectly capturing that old-style sherried character. I understand why Mortlach fanatics are Mortlach fanatics - if it is not fully to my taste, then that speaks more to the versatility of whisky and the various styles and attractions, than anything else - and the Mortlach style is not one I gravitate to. But I definitely appreciate it - and this one is better than the independent bottlings I've had before. But this will never be a go-to distillery for me. Which hasn't stopped me from pouring myself a second dram...
I remember the first time I tried this bottling in '02. Back when there was a fairly standard selection of whiskies in most bars. It really did blow me away and would have easily been a 90+ for me then. Times have changed and we are most definitely spoilt for choice, even in the supermarkets let alone specialist bottle shops, so I guess 100 is a little high with that in mind.
That said out of the hundred odd people I have given a dram of this to behind the bar over the years it has never failed to impress expert and novice alike it contains so much yet is incredibly approachable.
It's a real shame the new Rare old and 18 distillery bottlings don't deliver the same great taste experience in my opinion.