Chieftain’s 1995 Mortlach 15 Year Old – Review

*Thanks to the good folks at Impex Beverages for the sample.

There’s a saying about Speyside’s  Dufftown that goes “Rome was built on seven hills but Dufftown stands on seven stills.” Even though I’ve never visited Dufftown, I’m pretty sure the differences don’t stop there. Rome, for example, does not focus much on booze and booze-making in its Chamber of Commerce and Tourist Bureau literature…maybe the odd mention of Cesanese or Est! Est! Est!…but otherwise not much. Likewise, Dufftown does not house an internationally recognized, overly pious guy in a funny hat, at least, not as far I know. There may be plenty of funny hats in Dufftown, but none so blindly revered or tall as the one in Rome’s Papal state. On the other hand, both regions seem to have a predilection for cured fish, so go figure.

I digress. Dufftown’s seven stills refer to the original seven distilleries (Mortlach, Glenfiddich, Balvenie, Convalmore, Parkmore, Dufftown, and Glendullan) built there during the 1800’s. Mortlach was the first, built in 1923, though after going through many owners and false starts, it didn’t really settle in to a groove until the 1850’s when it was taken over by George Cowie in partnership with previous owner John Alexander Gordon. With more stills in place than most distilleries of the time, and a railway siding to boot, Mortlach remained successful over the years and was eventually bought by John Walker & Sons in 1923. It’s remained part of the John Walker/Distillers Company Limited/Diageo group ever since and today is a key component in Johnny Walker Black. Sadly, distillery bottlings pop up infrequently from Mortlach, the occasional Floral & Fauna/Rare Malts/Special Release are the only one’s Diageo offers up, no yearly bottling at the moment. This wonderful 625 bottle expression from Ian Macleod’s Chieftain’s range was matured in a sherry butt and bottled non chill-filtered at cask strength.

The Nose:  Huge, wonderful, sherried nose. Rich chocolate brownies, Pedro Ximenez Jerez Dulce, Juicy stewed raisins, sweetened fig spread, thick malt. More subtle notes of blackberry compote, marzipan, and “library notes”, that is, polished oak and worn leather. With a bit of water,  more floral notes emerge and the thick, sherried sweetness is softened a bit.

The Palate:  A desert wine sweetness to start, vin santo and rum-raisin cake, which is quickly swept away by a huge, spicy wave of semi-sweet chocolate and bold malt. The palate is just full of earthy, round spice; clove, nutmeg, star anise and black pepper, but it’s balanced by the ever-present, lush sherried sweetness. A tickle of peat smoke towards the end lends a nice counterpoint. A bit of water calms the spice down and deepens the sweetened grain quality.

The Finish:  A few more drying tannins appear as this finishes. The sherry sweetness and spicyness continues, more black pepper, clove and nutmeg along with that faint hint of peat smoke.

Thoughts:  Now that I’ve picked my jaw up off the floor, I can tell you that this is one of the best whiskies I’ve tried all year. A great progression with an incredibly delicious nose that leads deftly into a powerful palate, both filled with pronounced, complex flavors. The spirit has made excellent use of the wood here and Ian Macleod’s timed the bottling just right. I’ve always heard great things about Mortlach’s malt, and this one did not disappoint. Beautiful stuff, highly recommended.

Chieftain’s 1995 Mortlach 15 Year Old, Speyside

55.2% ABV, Cask strength, non chill-filtered

Score:  92

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