...where distraction is the main attraction.

Sunday, July 14, 2024

Mortlach 25 year old 1994 Gordon & MacPhail, cask 8181

One last Mortlach. Literally, this is the last Mortlach sample in the stash. I've never sought out Mortlach samples, not because of my feelings towards the whisky, but some residue still clings from Diageo's infamous attempt to rebrand Mortlach as an ultra-premium whisky a decade ago. Though the move was ultimately a complete branding fail, it outed many many many allegedly-independent whisky writers as full-tilt Industry Apologists, becoming one of the stupidest — and truest — things I've witnessed in my 20+ years of whisky fandom. Also, the "Rare Old" was crap.

I do like many independently-bottled Mortlachs, especially the fruity bourbon casks. Until today's whisky, I appreciated modern sherry cask Mortlachs without ever loving one. SPOILER ALERT: I 🩶 heart this one.

Distillery: Mortlach
Owner: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Independent Bottler: Gordon & MacPhail
Range: Connoisseurs Choice Cask Strength
Age: 25.9918 years (31 August 1994 - 28 August 2020)
Maturation: first-fill sherry butt
Cask#: 8181
Outturn: 606 bottles
Alcohol by Volume: 52.8%
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

The nose says, Figs and cloves and black walnuts and baked peaches oh my. Quieter notes of toasty oak and old parmesan linger in the background. The flavorful palate starts with dates, plums, mulled wine, and a touch of bitter tobacco. Dried blueberries fill the middle, and a yuzu-like tartness highlights the edges. It finishes with the plums, yuzus, and dried blueberries, with a hint of a spicy cigar.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Now the nose offers a little bit of malt to go with the toasted oak. Roasted almonds, brine, dry sherry, and hay. Tar, anise, and a few flowers appear later. The palate has gotten prettier. More fresh fruit (red plum, lychee, and lemon) and more dried figs! It's not that sweet, and a good dose of sea salt helps it out. The finish offers all the palate's fresh fruits with a zing of ginger in the back.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

While the distillery's storied heavy spirit is mostly absent from the whisky, the notes of fresh and dried fruits, along with the salt and possible smoke, keep this from becoming an all-cask Mortlach. But this was a damned fine butt. The whisky is a bit of a fighter at full strength then relaxes once diluted, probably all due to the oak. It may be more of a thinker than a drinker, but it's certainly not the average sherried beast. FWIW, a decent sample size of the Whiskybase community seems quite fond of it as well.

Availability - Secondary market
Pricing - ???
Rating - 89

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Mortlach 21 year old 1990 Signatory, cask 6073 for Binny's

Okay, I'm done with my 2023 Diageo Special Releases reviews, but I'm not done with Mortlach! In fact, all three of this week's Morts were sampled side-by-side for maximum 'lach. It's probably not fair to yesterday's NAS critter that its competitors were two 20+ year old single sherry butts. Alas, shed not a tear for Diageo things.

Today's Mortlach comes from back in the days when Binny's had single cask whiskies for stunning prices, whiskies that they would ship to my home. Sometimes I think it was just a dream. Or is today just a dream? Was I, Michael K., dreaming I was a butterfly or am I now really a butterfly dreaming that I am Michael K.? And who was the dead moth that my cat just ate off the window sill?

While I seek the answers to those questions, I'll turn my attention to this whisky. Mr. Opinions purchased this particular bottle back in 2012, then opened it in 2021, sending me a French square sample of it soon after. Thank you, sir.

Distillery: Mortlach
Owner: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Independent Bottler: Signatory
Age: 21.9754 years (17 September 1990 - 8 September 2012)
Maturation: Sherry Butt
Cask#: 6073
Outturn: 516 bottles
Exclusive to: Binny's
Alcohol by Volume: 52.8%
(sample from My Annoying Opinions)

NEAT

Brazil nuts, marzipan, black walnuts and brine fill the nose, with subtler notes of nectarines, mint, and ginger offering background highlights. The palate holds more fruits than nuts; more dried cherries and tart peaches than almond extract. It's lightly sweet and slightly floral, with a wee savory note offering more complexity and carrying into the finish, where it's met by dried cherries, cherry candy, and toasty oak.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or < 1 tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose grows! More nuts. Some rye? Oranges, actual Oloroso, and a hint of dunnage. The palate gets tarter, bitterer, fiercer, and fun(ner), with all sorts of citrus fruits and even a hint of coal smoke. The finish follows suit.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Though the cask does most of the work here, it seems like a 2nd fill. The oak, its vanillins and tannins, never overwhelm. Instead the vessel and its spirit interact peacefully. Not much of this cask sings "Mortlach", which may be an issue for Mortie fans, but I didn't mind it this time because the whisky was very good. I'd even consider buying a bottle (for $99!) were this written twelve years ago.

Availability - Buh-bye
Pricing - $99 (yah)
Rating - 87

Wednesday, July 10, 2024

Mortlach NAS, Diageo Special Releases 2023

Sometimes cask combinations sound so silly that they become intriguing. For instance, the folks behind Barrell's North American whiskies are clearly trying to create flavors and scents never before experienced by bourbon drinkers, via blending cask types. I reviewed a slew of said products last summer. None were horrible, and at least a one actually worked.

And then there is last year's Mortlach Special Release, a single malt which Diageo elected to finish in both Kanosuke Japanese whisky casks AND pinot noir casks. I'm not sure I understand why they did the former (other than to add a samurai to the label), though I can somewhat process the latter. Kanosuke produces VERY young Japanese single malt that is, in this reviewer's opinion, not fully baked. Meanwhile the non-age-stated Mortlach being poured into these Kanosuke casks is also quite young. Young malt whisky being finished in another young malt whisky's cask is.......probably something that requires a little something extra. In this case: red wine. And of course the resulting product needs to be priced much higher than many of the age-stated whiskies in this range.

Commentary over, for the moment. Must try the liquid.

Distillery: Mortlach
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottling year: 2023
Maturation: First round: ???; Second round: ex-Kanosuke Japanese whisky casks and former pinot noir casks
Outturn: ?????
Alcohol by Volume: 58.0%
Chillfiltered? no
e150a? probably not
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

The nose starts off plain and spirity. Butter, paper, and plums arrive first, with a stale/gassy/farty undercurrent. Then it picks up Nillas, cardamom, orange slice candy, and more butter. The first sip is REALLY hot, so the palate requires even more breathing time than the nose. It's sweet and tart, with apricots and limes and (actual) sour grapes. Paper, tannin, and confectioner's sugar fill the background. It finishes with paper and pepper, with sweet and tart apricots arriving later.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The nose pulls together better at this strength. Salt, stones, and minerals up front, grapefruit and fig in the back. A better, cleareer palate offers dried apricots, raw walnuts, circus peanuts, sour grapes, and dried grasses. It gets sweeter on the finish, while holding onto those grapes.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Though I can't grasp why this whisky was part of the Special Releases (other than to exploit Japanese culture in order to capture more revenue), it's not a disastrous drink. In fact, it's not bad once diluted. It requires lots of air, and perhaps even more water than I added. I'm not too sure where each of the characteristics come from, so perhaps that signals some good blending. As much as I'm not a fan of wineskies, I would've preferred an age-stated Mortlach finished in refill pinot noir casks, without any ex-Kanosuke stuff. Hopefully this was a one-time experiment, but at least it's less awkward and fractured than this range's Talisker.

Availability - Still available in Europe
Pricing - $225-$325
Rating - 81 (diluted only)

Saturday, July 6, 2024

Talisker NAS, Diageo Special Releases 2023

All four of the preceding Diageo Special Release reviews were of age-stated whiskies. Sadly, this Talisker was not given an age by its parent company, so one can only assume it's a wee babe. A wee babe finished in white, tawny, and ruby port casks. 😐

Between the Skye, Storm, and Port Ruighe, Diageo seems committed to ruining one of their best distillery's whisky. On the other hand, I've always enjoyed the Distillers Editions. So, I'll give this creation a try...

Distillery: Talisker
Ownership: Diageo
Region: Isle of Skye
Age: minimum 3 years
Bottling year: 2023
Maturation: First round: ???; Second round: white, tawny, and ruby port casks
Outturn: ?????
Alcohol by Volume: 59.7%
Chillfiltered? probably not
e150a? probably not
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

An aggressive perfume-y soap note floods the nose. Behind that? Blue raspberry candy, fig jam, and dark chocolate. It gets more coastal with time, but the perfume note never fully dissipates. It's a young mezcal-ish Talisker on the palate, but it's more complex than the average baby Tali. It's mossy and salty with hints of orange, lime, and tart berries. Not too hot and no perfume. It finishes salty, mossy, acidic, and peppery.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or 1¾ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The perfume-y soap remains in the nose, albeit in the midground. Peat lives up front. With vanilla, ginger ale, and mezcal in the back. The palate feels simple but focused. Sooty, vegetal mezcal with salt and pepper. It finishes salty, peppery, and sooty.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

The nose is a problem, but the palate is not. It's still very young, but better than all those immature single cask mezcals Taliskers, so the casks did their work without turning it syrupy sweet. Perhaps the winter would have been a better time to try this peaty critter. If you don't trust this particular sample, please see see Mr. Opinions's and Mr. Fun's reviews for different takes.

Availability - Still available in Europe
Pricing - $125-$175
Rating - 79

Thursday, July 4, 2024

Oban 11 year old, Diageo Special Releases 2023

I'm always interested in more Oban options, but they need to be good whiskies, not just NAS portfolio expansions, so when Diageo plops one into the annual Special Releases outturn, they successfully secure my attention. Though the 2023 release might not match the quality of the terrific 2013 offering (which was 21 years old and bereft of a "Caribbean Pot Still Rum Cask Finish"), it's still an age-stated Oban single malt, so I am holding onto cautious hope.

Distillery: Oban
Owner: Diageo
Region: Western Highlands
Age: minimum 11 years
Bottling year: 2023
Maturation: First round: ???; Second round: Caribbean pot still rum casks
Outturn: ?????
Alcohol by Volume: 58%
Chillfiltered? probably not
e150a? not much if any
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

Crazy nose alert! Ready? Apples, sugary rum, Malort (bruh), yeast, lemons, skunk, and ocean brine. Much less rum on the palate, yay! It's salty, almost savory, with mild sweetness, and a hint of wood smoke. Some wasabi bitterness crashes in at the ~30-minute mark. It does get sweeter with time. The somewhat short finish is bitter and salty with a touch of quirky Jamaican rum funk.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or 1½ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Better assembled, this nose is full of citrus (peels and blossoms), less sugar, and more funk on the rum. It also picks up a pretty apricot note after a while. The palate has better mouthfeel and a bright tangy stone fruit note. A slight bitterness mixes with a olive + mild funk note of LROK Hampden. The finish gets a bit wilder with briny olives, limes, cayenne, and herbal bitterness.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Though I had a crispy optimistic crust, the center was all chewy cynicism. The whisky is better than expected. When the rum-inspired notes tilt towards Jamaica, the whole picture improves. Water is required. As usual, the nose has the most fun and the palate is jealous, but they're close. (I'm not sure if that makes any sense.) I'd still prefer the standard 14yo or the ol' Distillers Edition, but the rum finish doesn't wreck this Oban, which is good news for us all.

Availability - Still available in Europe
Pricing - $125-$175 (same as the Roseisle)
Rating - 84 (must add water)

Friday, June 28, 2024

Roseisle 12 year old, Diageo Special Releases 2023

In what may be a shoutout to us whisky geeks, Diageo has brought an official Roseisle single malt into the world. I'm a bit curious which Roseisle we're getting. Much like Yamazaki and Loch Lomond (how about that duo!), Roseisle Distillery was designed to produce different whiskies for different products. And though it was a Death Star-sized monstrosity when it opened in 2009, Roseisle's annual production is no longer shocking. Glenfiddich, Glenlivet, and Macallan each produces more spirit. Meanwhile Alisa Bay and Diageo's own Glen Ord have almost the same annual output as Roseisle, as of this year.

In any case, this actual special release was matured with minimal cask tinkering, so hopefully it will highlight the spirit (whatever type it may be) produced at this big baby production facility.

Distillery: Roseisle
Owner: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Moray)
Age: minimum 12 years
Bottling year: 2023
Maturation: first-fill bourbon casks and "refill" casks
Outturn: ?????
Alcohol by Volume: 56.5%
Chillfiltered? ???
e150a? ???
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

It starts off mild and grassy on the nose, with small notes of lemons, apricots, and wet stones. Anise, cardamom, and vanilla sugar wafers arrive next. The fresh apricot note grows with time, while a few digestive biscuits join in. Dried apricot is the loudest note in the very sweet palate, with orange candy, lemon candy, a bit of barley in the background. May I repeat, this is very sweet. It finishes with orange liqueur and hints of milk chocolate and lemon juice.

DILUTED to 46%abv, or 1⅓ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

The fresh apricot note remains in the nose's foreground, with orange blossoms, and apple peels filling in the rest. Meanwhile, the palate and finish feel oakier, saltier, harsher, and hotter, as the tannins start to rumble.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

Diageo was successful, this does indeed taste like a decent Speyside-ish malt that could brighten up many a blend. I like all the apricots, though the palate gets too sugary for this curmudgeon. With some good blending, this could easily take on Glens Fiddich's and Livet's 12 year olds without a problem, though that's no longer much of a feat. It's a casual drink, in fact I need my written notes because I've mostly forgotten the palate, less than an hour later, though I remember it doesn't swim well. Yet the apricots...

Availability - Still available in North America and Europe
Pricing - $125-$175
Rating - 82 (neat only)

Wednesday, June 26, 2024

The Singleton of Glendullan 14 year old, Diageo Special Releases 2023

If there is a Diageo distillery towards which I have as little curiosity in as Glenkinchie, it would be Glendullan. Even among the "Singleton" distilleries, it places last. Its single malt always tastes like a blend to my palate, and not one of the good blends. Perhaps one of Ye Olde Rare Malts will change my mind someday, but right now all I have is this 2023 Diageo Special Release.

The good news is that the whisky has an age statement. The bad news is that it has a wine cask finish. The better-than-bad news is that the wine was a Chardonnay from Burgundy. The vins blancs from Bourgogne are among my favorite grape products in the world. Can the vin salvage the usquebaugh???

Distillery: Glendullan
Owner: Diageo
Region: Speyside (Dufftown)
Age: minimum 14 years
Bottling year: 2023
Maturation: Unknown primary maturation, though probably some sort of American oak vessel. Finished in Chardonnay de Bourgogne French oak casks.
Outturn: ?????
Alcohol by Volume: 55.0%
Chillfiltered? No
e150a? No
(from a bottle split)

NEAT

The nose is all over the place. Oddly, the first note is not French Chardonnay, but ultra-buttery American Chardonnay, a thing I avoid like......well......Glendullan. Green herbs, mint leaves. angel food cake, and plaster arrive next. After 20+ minutes it de-ages, reading like new make, kirschwasser, pears, and a sprinkle of yeast. The palate fares better, starting with oranges, fresh ginger, and toasted almonds, with cotton candy and plastic bottle brandy in the background. It finishes sweeter with apples, pears, ginger powder, and brown sugar.

DILUTED to ~46%abv, or 1¼ tsp of water per 30mL whisky

Different nose now: anise + fennel seed + oregano + caramel. The palate has become VERY sweet, like ginger candy, ginger ale, and lemon candy. It finishes with ginger candy and dried apricots.

WORDS WORDS WORDS

This is best Glendullan I've tried, but then again all the others were C-grade and D-grade malts. The nose is strange, but sometimes in a good way. The palate is more reliable, but only when neat. Overall, it reads younger than its age statement, and its incongruous casketry doesn't do it too many favors. But, still, it tastes good, and that counts for something. (For another take, Mr. Opinions liked this much more than I did. Our samples came from the same bottle split, so perhaps something went slightly sideways with my pour?)

Availability - 
Still available, at least in Europe

Pricing - $120-$200
Rating - 80 (neat only)