Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Mortlach event & new whisky review - Is it really worth the $$?

<---Was it? Is it still? 

As most of you well know, in late 2013 Diageo announced they would be expanding their portfolio and introducing four new Mortlach Single Malt Expressions. Let me remind you what those were: Rare Old, Special Strength, an 18 and 25 year old. 
Ohhhh the buzz that created!!!! The #whiskyfabric came alive and social media exploded. Then in March of 2014 came the announcement of their size (500ml), cost (£55, £75, £180 & £600) and where they would be sold (targeted travel retail). The outcry, backlash and public outrage from people and some that I like to call "trolls" lasted for weeks, some going as far as personally attacking the newly appointed ambassador, Miss Georgie Bell. A few, and I'm quoting, felt it was their "mission to preach and warn whisky drinkers" of the impeding doom. The strings of "how dare they" tweets were endless and honestly after a few days (for me personally) became quite boring. Can you say "Lassie tuned out!" No mass whisky samples being mailed out, no race for bloggers to tweet about their latest "free" samples and how AMAZING they were. Not many people writing about them at all it seemed but LOTS of people screaming about the injustice of it all.

Not long after that, it was announced on the Spirit of Speyside site that Georgie would be hosting a Mortlach event at Drummuir Castle in Keith and I jumped at the opportunity. Why? Because I can afford it and I wanted to taste these 4 whiskies for myself - I'm a huge Mortlach fan. Cost for the event = £75. Let me share with you what followed:

  • We were a group of 10-12 people and they provided a complimentary shuttle bus service (bonus - responsible event management). We arrived at the impressive Drummuir Castle at 12:30. It's a lovely example of Victorian style architecture and is quite a breathtaking setting. Georgie Bell greeted us at the door and ushered us into the lobby where we were told about the history of the castle as well as how it's been used by Diageo in the present day.
  • The first part of the event was to introduce us to the four new whiskies. A little presentation, a little history and relevant stories about each whisky. Typical tasting format... LET ME TRY THE WHISKIES!!! (That was my inner voice of course). Then we were allowed to start.
Rare Old up first 43.4% ABV: This whisky is created by using several different casks: Some were 1st fill ex-bourbon, refill ex-bourbon, ex-sherry as well as few heavily charred casks.

Nose: I found this to be a typical Mortlach, full bodied, dark chocolate meets "meaty earthy" smell. Rich, so rich! Palate: Stewed prunes, baking spices and a bit of woody tannic feel. Finish: Bold, long, luscious!  

Special Strength 49% ABV: This whisky uses the same types of casks as the Rare and Old but bottled it at a higher ABV.

Nose: Tropical fruit salad: Papaya, mangoes, coconut and lots of honey. I was stunned. THIS IS NOT the Mortlachs I am used to drinking... Palate: This is almost oily, syrupy in nature. Again, a bit taken aback. It was quite savoury but more sweet and tannic in nature. The finish was super drying and I swear I could taste a bit of chewing tobacco? What an enigma? Honestly, had someone given this whisky to me blind I doubt very much I could have identified it as a Mortlach. Very little of my "key indicators" were there?

18 Year Old 43.4% ABV: Combination of 1st fill European oak, American hogshead & refill European oak casks.

Nose: And back to Mortlach profile... (hehe) Meaty, earthy, a bit of tomato plant or tobacco leaves, sweetness at the back almost floral. Palate: SPICY! Fennel seeds (my favorite) followed by this lovely creamy silky butterscotch cream (Werthers Original Candy). Finish: A bit of Seville orange bitterness, but long and spicy.

25 Year Old 43.4% ABV: Matured solely in refill American Oak Barrels.

Nose: This was intoxicating. It reminded me of warm Indian spices and sandalwood scented candles. Some almond oil, "clean nutty". Became creamier in the glass with time - vanilla crème brulée'ish. Palate: Ripe red cherries dipped in milk chocolate followed by candied ginger, peppery but sweet. Finish: This stayed with me for a while. It was long, oily, tannic after taste but just lovely.

  • Now that we had the chance to try them "naked" for the lack of a better term (the whiskies, not us... of course!), we were invited to move along to the next portion of our afternoon. The large group moved along to a lovely sitting room/parlor where we were given another dram of the Rare Old served with amazing spiced duck/walnut cheesecake bites and fennel beignets. I cannot begin to describe how well paired this whisky was. The meaty flavors of the whisky rounded the cheese and duck in a manner I did not expect. If you dared pop a fennel beignet in your mouth and drink a bit of the Rare Old, there was a flavor explosion of licorice. Not a word was spoken, but the look on people's faces were priceless. The Special Strength was then brought out for our second round of enjoyment and paired with mini bread & butter puddings and Badentoy blue cheese on gingerbread. Again, the room looked stunned as they drank the whisky and popped the culinary creations. I heard one man say: "I've never enjoyed whisky like this before". That about summed up the sitting room experience in my opinion. Little was I to know what was coming next.
  • We then followed Georgie down to the wine cellar, which was lit with long tapered candles and had an ambiance of the days of yesteryear. A round table was placed in the middle with the bottle of the 25 year old. More drams poured ( a full ounce!) and then the food pairings arrived: A caramelized butternut squash soup drizzled in pumpkin seed oil, served in an exquisite crystal shot glass. The second appetizer: Rolled crepes stuffed with fresh crab. When we were upstairs, the room was quiet, this was completely the opposite. People began to talk and moan loudly with pleasure. Again, my mind was exploding with thoughts as my mouth tried to keep up with the flavors being released!

  • We didn't want to leave but reluctantly we moved along to the next whisky and room. On to the games room for yet another dram, the 18 year old. Georgie placed two chocolates: An orange & clove velvet truffle as well as a coconut dusted velvet truffle. Again, the room was opulent to say the least. The billiards table was bigger than my first car! The chocolates were of the highest quality I recall ever tasting. The chef and people who put this day together were brilliant. The setting, the food, the whiskies and the presentation screamed LUXURIOUS and I felt absolute giddiness.
  • And... seriously, that's when it hit me. These whiskies are meant to exude luxury and richness. The event was perfect, for me... they gave me exactly what they said they would... a full day of being treated, pampered and catered too in the one of the most luxurious of settings I have ever experienced. 
But wait, the day didn't end there. We were summoned outside where we went for a walk around the grounds and ended up sitting in a small cottage, enjoying another whisky in a large tumbler with a carved ice ball. We had the opportunity to talk to Georgie one on one and finished the afternoon off relaxing in big comfortable chairs. On the chauffeured drive home as I was hugging the care package we took with us (valued at £25) I started thinking immediately as to what type of blog I was going to write. What would I say? How would I address my day, the whiskies, the cost, the size and I simply stopped thinking for a moment. I had the most fabulous of days that day. I had climbed the rugged face of Benrinnes that morning and spent the afternoon drinking Mortlachs, eating deliciously sinful foods and enjoying the company of many people. It was the best day of the Sprits of Speyside festival.

My favorite (combining affordability/flavor profiles) was the Special Strength only because it was so different and refreshing. Then the Rare Old, 18 and last 25 year old. Don't get me wrong the 25 was perfection in a glass but even with my disposable income not in my price range. I'd have to come into a small windfall or save my $$ for that one. (If you are in Canada, Rare Old is available at the Kensington Wine Market in Calgary for $105.00)

My thoughts are simple on this matter: I am a huge Mortlach fan, I have tasted the 4 whiskies and if/when they become available in Canada or if I'm travelling (I already bought the Rare Old) I will buy them. Not because they are really expensive or collectible. 

No... I will buy them because they are good whiskies and I can afford most of them. I'd put them in the same category as my Karuizawa or other "special" drams that I take out from time to time to drink and share with good friends.

The part I'm still not sure how to address is the fact that so many people caused havoc on this subject in March yet if you look a month later or even today, nobody says anything about Mortlach anymore other than it's a cracker of a whisky if you can find/afford it. Like all other crazy moments on social media these days, the hype died down and the trolls moved on to the next topic of misery. No surprise I suppose.

I for one, can say I paid my four bits to go and see the high diving act and I am extremely glad I didn't listen to the opinions of the preachers. If you are really a die hard Mortlach fan and get a chance to sample these, please do and make an opinion for yourself. If ever you are in my neighborhood, I'll pour you a few drams guaranteed because good whisky is meant to be shared, not insulted. 

Hype...?  No hype... These whiskies are exactly what they were designed to be, key word: DESIGNED.

Luxury, Special, Unique and MOST Enjoyable. 


1 comment:

  1. Hi Johanne,

    I missed this article at the time but reading it now it brought an indignant and ironic smile to my face. The frenzy of the 'whisky fabric' may have turned from anger to apathy long ago but I'm sorry to say this article stirred anew the remaining rancour that lurked in me. So, roll your eyes and say 'move on' but I can't let it slide without riposte, though more for any who arrive here seeking informed debate. We have to have both sides represented!

    This release stuck out like a sore thumb in many ways, which is why there was so much reaction, but we see the ripples of it seemingly every week now in the single malt market (Longmorn being the latest example at time of writing). The opulence of Drummuir and the day you treated yourself to there sounds like a wonderful experience, I would have loved to go myself. But I can't help thinking that your report plays like an apology for Diageo and for the 'premiumisation' of whisky generally. You 'paid your four bits' and sampled the lifestyle of the kind of people Diageo would like to sell these whiskies to, the kind of people who don't mind paying 5 times the value of an article because it is exclusive and they have so much money they don't have to mind. You rented that lifestyle for a day, which would be fine, but without acknowledging what it represents: the fact that many seasoned whisky lovers will never again be able to comfortably afford the little bit of appropriately priced luxury that was a well aged Mortlach. That privilege has been wrenched from their hands and used by Diageo as a vehicle to compete with Dalmore and Macallan for nouveau riche Renminbi.

    It is dismissive to ascribe the furore around the release of these whiskies to 'trolling'. Saying "I can afford most of them" is a bit of a Marie Antoinette comment that reads like a snub to those who can't. And the assertion that the prices are justified as they "are good whiskies" is unsubstantiated other than a blithe acceptance of Diageo's marketing. In actual fact Mortlach is not exclusive, 5m litres are produced each year, and this was slated to be doubled until Diageo cut back their investments due to the downturn in global whisky sales. The Old and Rare is neither and the bottles are 50cl making the entry level NAS £77 per 70cl, far more even than their cheekily priced counterparts such as the execrable Glenlivet Founders Reserve or Talisker Storm. The nearest equivalent to the old F&F 16 is the 18 which is effectively £252 in real bottle prices! And on the subject of bottles...

    "Nick Morgan, head of whisky outreach at Diageo, said: “The bottles are strikingly different and I would call them decanters, not bottles. This range is all about redefining luxury in single malt whisky. The design and the size is part of all that intake.”"

    Decanters? Intake? [Sigh] I don't need to say anything, he does all that for me.

    The current trends put me in mind of Toy Story 2. The villainous collecter is only interested in the price of his 'toys', not in having kids play with them. Today much of the best whisky ever produced will never be drunk, it will be sold and resold as an investment. The rest will be mixed with Sprite in tumblers by the Rich Kids of Instagram. It may be inevitable, we may have to move on to 'the next topic of misery' but some of us feel entitled to moan because we can't afford to keep up. Moaning is all we have left, beside the memories.

    Enjoy your Mortlach, when you want to replace it I hope you can still afford it.