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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)


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.


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)

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