Compared to The Maltman’s 19 year old Glenlossie that I reviewed a few days ago, this exquisite Mortlach is somehow less complex and yet at the same time more refined. Which is really saying something. Once again, this is as firm and well-made as any whisky out there – it presents itself to the nose and palate with the confidence of an archangel. You can taste the quality of the cask and of the patient, sophisticated hand of the master that guided its maturation in the solid structure this whisky exhibits, from the silken creamy texture and cool minty-peach-menthol center to the white-peppery dark coffee and nutmeg clove finish.
Surprisingly, there’s a slight suspicion of smoke in there, just the slightest wisp, as on a soft breeze coming in from a fire at a far distant candy store. The sweetness here is, in fact, what I’m having the most trouble identifying. It’s not honey. It’s not sugar, Demerara or otherwise. It’s reminiscent of a fructose of some sort, but also of those spongy orange circus peanut candies – and of candied orange and mango and lime. Malt sugars, I suppose. There’s a fruitiness, but it’s neither fresh nor dried. It’s almost the firm fruitiness of fresh cut cherrywood.
For all this talk of candies and sugars, there is nothing cloying about this whisky whatsoever.
Well-bred as an Olympian athlete, compelling as a Chaplin waif, yet as refined as the fingers of Alice Coltrane or Bill Evans. This stuff is Maria Callas singing an elegant, slow-burning Bellini aria. Add a drop of water and, well… If The Maltman’s Glenlossie Aged 19 Years was complex as the second great quintet of Miles Davis (with Hancock, Shorter, Carter and Williams), this 13 year old Mortlach is as simple, stirring and piquant as an earlier Davis, now soloing over Gil Evans’ orchestrations. Add another drop of water and it’s as if Davis has inserted his softly searing Harmon mute.
This is a fine – not a pungent nor especially powerful – but a fine, fine whisky. It’s both spellbinding and easy drinking, so, when pouring your own drams, be a bit more restrained than I have been tonight. I have several dozen open bottles of very good whisky not ten steps from where I’m sitting right now, but, drinking The Maltman’s Mortlach Aged 13 Years, all I want is more of the same. It’s that good.
I’m aware that I have not written this review out in the usual, speciously logical Nose then Palate then Finish manner. So be it. This whisky is an holistic experience. I’ve tried to communicate that.
For those of you who demand logic in your whisky reviews, there are clips of music attached below to give you a sonic sense of my experience with this whisky…
However, before closing, I must comment on a whisky tasting I attended a few evenings ago in Taunton, MA at Andy’s Market – that sparkling oasis in the midst of soot, skank and mill city squalor presided over by the very generous and civilized Bikram Singh. Every time I walk in there and scan the Scotch whisky selection, I simply can’t believe I am where I am.
In any case, on Friday, February 21, the global ambassador for The Maltman bottler, Meadowside Blending of Glasgow, Scotland, one Mister Andrew Hart, Keeper of the Quaich, and the very erudite Whisky Professor himself, Mister Brad Jarvis, presented a tasting of a range of bottlings from The Maltman to a dozen or so Tauntonian Scotch whisky dev-O-tays. The result was the best whisky tasting I have ever attended.
Most importantly, every The Maltman release presented, from the wondrously pungent Ledaig 8 year old to the exquisitely fulsome Glenlossie 19 year old, ten whiskies in all, was astoundingly good.
Just as importantly, Andrew Hart and Brad Jarvis know how to run a tasting for devoted Scotch drinkers, bypassing all of the “What is single malt whisky” and “What is peat” and “What does an age statement tell you” pablum that most ambassadors feel compelled to repeat again and again regardless of the sophistication of their audience. Rather, they focus, with humor and great detail, on the whiskies they’ve set out before us. Which is exactly what they ought to do.
Andrew Hart is soft spoken, humble and deeply knowledgeable of the whiskies he selects, matures and bottles in The Maltman series along with his dad, longtime whisky veteran Donald Hart. His explanations and descriptions of these single cask whiskies are so concise and well put that I’m tempted to suggest he may be the first truly poetic soul I have encountered among whisky ambassadors. It was a joy to be in the presence of such humble respect for the craft of making and maturing whisky.
Brad Jarvis is the perfect compliment to Andrew Hart. Jarvis is a man of sustained energy, deep knowledge, infectious enthusiasm and obvious, clear-eyed pride in the products he is pouring and representing.
What more is there to say? I’d go over the whiskies we sampled, but half of them are already sold out or will not be sold in the U.S. Were Brad and Andrew just teasing us? No, they were using what they had available to them to demonstrate the consistently very high quality of The Maltman’s releases. There was not a single whisky sampled that I would not have bought two bottles of on the spot if my budget were sufficiently flush. As it happened, the two releases available at Andy’s are already in my cabinet. But I can tell you this: There are releases from The Maltman series – from Linkwood, Tobermory, Ledaig, Ben Nevis, perhaps others – that will become available over the next few months and I will certainly be buying multiple bottles of those. For the foreseeable future, The Maltman is where my whisky budget will be spent. It is now my favorite independent bottler bar none.
And with a few drops of water…