This was close to a blind purchase for me. Perhaps a one-eye-shut purchase would be more accurate. I had a wee sample of Mortlach 21 last winter and was suitably impressed. This, plus my fondness for the 15 yo (another Gordon & McPhail bottling), convinced me that this rather pricey IB would be a well-calculated risk. I can’t complain about any whisky to which I’d award a 91—but frankly, I prefer the 15 yo for its better balance and more articulate array of flavors.
The 15 yo, while soft and refined, is amazingly flavorful and layered for a 40% ABV whisky (and I didn’t notice until after purchasing that it wasn’t at 43% like most bottlings). The 21 yo, at 43%, is tamer, woodier, and packs less of the meaty oomph characteristic of Mortlach. I’ve also knocked a few points off its score as the bottle has settled and certain flavors that should have stayed in the background have become more dominant. But despite misgivings and shortcomings, it’s still a top-notch dram.
There are no dates or cask numbers to be found on the label, but my best guess is that this went into the barrel in 1990 and into the bottle in 2011. Bottle level is slightly above the halfway mark as of this neat tasting.
Nose: Sherry casks at work here. Sticky dried fruit that reminds me of the last time I bought a box of prunes (and please don’t ask why I needed the prunes). Apples and vanilla, certainly. The malt, so dominant in the 15 yo, is there, but now a supporting player. The nose also reminds me of the wonderful mishmash of aromas at the Albanese Candy Factory here in Indiana, where they make everything from chocolate delights to gooey gummies on-site.
It’s certainly a gutsier nose than the 15 yo, and nearly as pleasant in its own way, but the 21 screams, whereas the 15 seduces. I like it very much, but I miss the overriding layer of malt that helped maintain better balance in the 15.
Palate: Rich, oily, and very satisfying. More sherry and prunes, their sticky sweetness now balanced by the appearance of oak and fresh-cut grass. The finish is reasonably long and complex, with some newfound floral notes added to all of the aforementioned sweet elements. It’s a wee bit clipped and drying at the very end, but not enough to gripe and grumble about.
Any minor quibbles I have with the 21 yo are mainly the result of comparing it to the wow-inducing 15 yo. It’s an excellent dram, and I regard it as money well-spent. But if you’ve never sampled a Mortlach, I’d suggest saving about 40 bucks and opting for its younger sibling.
For those interested, I dug up WhiskyBee's whopping 95 rating of the Mortlach 15. Suffice it to say, he loved the stuff. Here is his review:
"One of the most well-balanced whiskies I've tasted, Mortlach 15 yo (Gordon & MacPhail bottling) is kind enough for the novice, yet full-bodied and layered enough for the most demanding anorak. From nose to finish, it's a winner in every department.
Nose: Very malty at every stage, whether straight from the bottle or after 30 minutes of opening up. Also plenty of sherry, apples, sour citrus, vanilla, cake, and tiny dashes of just about everything on the spice rack. The only slight negative in the entire experience is a teensy trace of dust that emerges from time to time. But it's usually well-hidden by the many other delights.
Taste: Delicate -- almost fragile, in fact, as it opens up -- but so well-rounded and layered. Nothing screams; everything is whispered, yet there's so much going on that the total effect is as rich as it is cloud-light. Malt, sherry, vanilla, toasted wood, caramel, raisins, slight meat notes, a hint of milk chocolate, and I think I get a touch of spearmint in the finish. The arrival is a bit neutral, but the development reveals countless delights the longer you chew it. Finish is as smooth as butter on silk, and as satisfying as Grandma's Christmas dinner.
I've rated only two other whiskies in my cabinet as high as this one, and I would have awarded this an extra point or two were it not for one puzzling factor: why is my bottle at 40% ABV when it seems to be widely available at 43%? (I might have scored it even higher had it been at least 46%!)"
@systemdown - I can't see either in my bottle. There's nothing but a series of Morse code-like dots around the bottom, and there's certainly nothing on the inside of either the front or back label. I wanted to provide some information before I wrote the review, but I examined it closely and found nothing.
@rigmorole - I bought both bottles at Binny's in Chicago last year, and paid $70 for the 15 and $110 for the 21. Since then, prices have gone up by 10 and 20 dollars, respectively.
I'm not aware of any OBs of the 15. I've seen only G&M bottlings of Mortlach on store shelves, although there are other IB's available. Serge Valentin lists only six OB Mortlach expressions on his site, and they seem to be old and obscure.