An Alluring Blonde Among Swarthy Brunettes: The Classic Cask’s 2002 Mortlach 11 Year Old Single Cask Single Malt Scotch Whisky

CCMortlach11Compared to the richly multifaceted 40 year old blended Scotch whisky from The Classic Cask I had such a torrid olfactory affair with in the course of my last review, this much younger Mortlach, from the same bottler, is a relatively simple pleasure. Still, the high caliber of quality here is no less evident, which speaks volumes for Spirit Imports and it’s The Classic Cask line. Like Blackadder’s Raw Cask range or Meadowside Blending’s The Maltman series or The Creative Whisky Company’s The Exclusive Malts bottlings – and perhaps a few others – The Classic Cask line is, in my experience, consistent in quality from bottle to bottle and from one distillery to the next.

In fact, I contend that one of the distinctions that sets independent bottlers such as these apart from distillery brands is their ability to offer a very wide variety of whiskies that are of consistent high quality. Of course, yes, you can find a distillery – Lagavulin is a good example, Glenfarclas another – that offers consistent quality throughout their entire range. However, their entire range is limited to one distillery. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, but it is certainly confining.

With an independent bottler that offers reliable quality, such as those I’ve mentioned, the range of quality whiskies on offer may cover every Scotch region and a whole library of compelling taste profiles. Trusting Glenfarclas or Lagavulin to offer quality products across their ranges is one thing; trusting Blackadder or The Classic Cask or The Exclusive Malts or The Maltman to do so is quite another – because the range and variety they lay before us is so wide and so various by comparison. Long live the Independents, I say!

The Whisky

This is Spirit Imports’ bottling of an 11 year old Mortlach from its The Clasic Cask line. Like everything else I’ve had from this independent, this is very good whisky. And while I can’t say I’ve ever had a Mortlach I didn’t like, this bottling’s taste profile falls outside the usual Mortlach meatiness, heaviness and pungency. Distilled in 2002 and bottled at 46% ABV, unchillfiltered and untainted by the prevaricating E150a, this spirit is at once both rich and delicate, many-layered and fruity, a bit vegetal and even a little marine. Definitely Speyside, certainly very good, but captivatingly out of character for this distillery.

The Nose

As I said, this is not ‘meaty’ – as one often hears Mortlach described.

Rather, I get a lawn of sweet grass and star fruit.

It is tight and clean and relates the tale of an older (third fill?) but very firm and tight ex-bourbon cask.

While there may be a touch of oak in the nose, and some youthful spiritousness, that is not what this complex of aromas is about.

The aromatic sweetness here is that of confectionary sugar sprinkled on lemon drop cookies.

More citrus comes through – lime especially, but mango as well, and candied orange slices.

And still more fruit, but unfamiliar – maybe the aroma of cherry wood boards?

Beyond that, there is something vegetal and clean – like chopping rinsed heads of iceberg and Romaine lettuce together.

Another pass of the nose and this comes up: A dusting of sea salt on orchid petals by a white pepper mill.

While one often reads Mortlach described as ‘heavy,’ I would say this particular example of the juice is more ‘serious’ than ‘heavy’.

If this aroma were a color category, it would be strong, variegated pastels. 21/25

The Palate

A surprisingly silky, oily entry. Mouthwatering and sensual.

A blend of malt sugars with clove and vanilla.

The sweetness leads and coats the tongue like malted honey, then the various spices – ginger, cardamom, allspice – layer themselves in with casual patience. The slowness of the radiating spices here, broadening and developing slowly, is alluring.

The fruit presence is still strong but is now less citric. 22/25

The Finish

All of the above, slow and sweet and warming, leads into a drying, spicy finish that doesn’t quite embrace the chest but leaves the tongue and throat with a long, lingering, persuasive experience. 21/25

Balance/Structure

What we have here is the balance and structure of a well-selected elixir matured in a good, firm, somewhat spent cask – and by ‘spent’ I do not mean bad in any way, just not imparting as much wood influence as it might if it were a first or second fill. The delicacy and intricacy of the nose leads to a more direct, more sweet and more silky sensual palate, that then debouches in a very rich, spicy, long and lingering finish. So this doesn’t have the wonderful arc of, say, The Classic Cask’s 40 year old blend – but, then again, not much does. As an 11 year old single malt whisky that most Scotch lovers can afford, this is one fine specimen indeed. 22/25

To make a comparison…

The Maltman’s 13 year old Mortlach – I’m holding a Glencairned dram of it here in hand at the moment – is also bottled with a 46% ABV and has a more pungent, more vegetal and more commanding, but less delicate and layered and sweet, nose. On the palate, The Maltman’s dram is once again more commanding, perhaps richer and more various, but less sweet, less pleasant, less mouthwatering and alluring. The finish on The Maltman’s Mortlach is less spicy but less sensual and long. Is one of these potions better than the other? I honestly can’t say. And I know that, if I gave an answer to that question, I’d probably choose the other as best a day or two later. These are both very good whiskies and I’m very fortunate to have them both on my shelf.

Total Points for this whisky: 86

A very special thanks to Lauren Shayne Mayer and to Spirit Imports, Inc. for the samples.

Puissant Juice of Insouciance – The English Whisky Co.’s Classic Single Malt, Unpeated, Cask Strength

article-1231476-0760BC40000005DC-463_233x423A distillate of the sweat of Hercules – or, rather, of Geb, the Egyptian God of the Earth – or maybe it’s eau de Gaia, Goddess of the Earth – or, just as likely, a distillation of the Sirens’ song that nearly drove Ulysses out of his wits.

But perhaps it’s a distillation of the natural world itself, of that half that glows in sunlight.

This is a whisky of stunning amplitude and depth and, yes, undeniably, I am enthralled by it. Until now, all of the single malts I hold dear, those I go back to again and again, have been single malt Scotch whiskeys with a date or an age statement printed clearly on the label. This one has no age statement and it comes from, of all places, England, erstwhile scourge of the Scots, “Scotland’s Mexico” as I once heard a Bowmore distillery manager joke – and, surely not least among its many sins, the nation responsible for flooding the world with the gut-peeling, vile trepidations of gin.

Still, despite its provenance, let’s get in closer to what beckons from the glass: Hot smooth rocks along the banks of a tidal river; the sandy scent of old bleached bones long dried in the desert sun.

This is elemental stuff, earthy and mineral. Leaves in an overgrown hardwood forest that have fallen to the ground, before they rot. Dry bark; cereal grains; a smidgen of raw pollen. Dried wildflowers, pussy willows, cat ‘o nine tails…

Breathe it in undiluted and it’s almost indescribable, as if a new wet sponge had sopped up Autumn, a fermentation of the naked heat of time-smoothed river rocks drying in the sun.

A hint of camphor, perhaps? A whisper of organic solvents?

Take your time and more familiar elements arise. At this point, I have devoted nearly a week of nocturnal study to unraveling this libation’s recalcitrant code. The first night I spent with this spirituous soul-wash, the first thing I smelled was Dentyne Gum, the red version, in the old flat packs. And my second thought was: Rocket fuel! And yet, there are scents of malty sugars in there, and the brittle sweetness of ribbon candy.

Much more develops with the addition of water, but we should buck up and taste this muscular dram at its undiluted cask strength first.

That first night, I opened the bottle as soon as I got home from Andy’s and left the cork off for an hour or so before pouring a wee measure of its contents into my new Villeroy & Boch nosing glass. Enticing aromas filled the room.

Swirling it in the hand-blown glass, one thing struck me immediately. This whisky, a lucid gold in hue, does not form legs. As high up the sides as you get it, it simply and evenly coats the glass. After some time, small beads form and begin their very slow descent. And, night after night, it did exactly the same thing.

Cautiously, then, I bent my nose to the glass and inhaled its emanations for a good ten minutes. Finally, I poured it over my tongue.

This is indubitably powerful stuff, a fluid containment for a force of nature, the taste of the souls of mountain men, a distillate of nature untrammeled…

Still, there are real-world comparisons to be made. At full strength, this makes me think somewhat of the Caol Ila unpeated cask strength, but without the sherry mitigation of the newest edition of that dram. It also reminds me, just a bit, of the peated Connemara cask strength single malt from Cooley, despite this “Classic” being decidedly unpeated. I can’t explain that, I’m just reporting my experience…

My first note on that first night upon first tasting it: Red Hots candy, those compact little nuggets of concentrated cinnamon sweetness and heat. But I didn’t get that on subsequent nights nor even later that first night. More consistently, one gets a light, very pleasant oakiness in the taste, and drying woody tannins balanced against a sweetness that is neither sugar nor honey, but something in between.

ewc-245x300At 60.5% ABV, it’s more than recoil that counsels adding a bit of water to this. I did so using an eye-dropper, which is the best way to observe the mesmerizing viscimetric whorls that come alive when two liquids of different viscosity – water and cask strength whisky – mix. There used to be scientists called viscimetrists devoted to the study of this naturally occurring phenomenon, but they are long gone, disappeared with the likes of hepatomists and xylomancers into the opaque mists of time. Still, I highly recommend the essay “Awakening The Serpent” found in Charles MacLean’s compelling Miscellany of Whisky, which looks into this lost science at some length.

Adding water two eye-dropper measures at a time, I finally diluted this mighty distillation to what I imagine is its sweet spot, likely somewhere around 100 proof US. Thusly diluted, this is where the rose opens and unfolds above the thorns of this whisky’s formerly brawny bearing.

Where the undiluted nose was reminiscent of, among other things, a heady autumn day, adding water transforms the olfactory experience significantly and blows the calendar back to late spring, early summer.

Immediately, thin layers of raw green vegetables emerge, celery, crushed peas and their pods, iceberg lettuce. The smell of grass in the sun, wafting mint. A breeze coming through a small pear tree orchard. But also, surprisingly, way in the back, the scent of talcum powder. Weird, yes, but, in this particular aromatic context, not unpleasant. One of my notes adds an even more obscure reference: The smell of a fresh hide banjo skin! Still, in the mix, you find those river rocks drying in the hot sun and that unspecific but pleasurable sweetness.

The finish – even diluted – is long, very long, its sweet radiating burn embracing the heart. And it is sweet, malty, a bit nutty, full, with those woody tannins directing the experience to a drying and still pungent and delightful dissipation. But it never really ends. Never before have I drunk an unpeated whisky that still mingled on the taste buds the morning after, that remained ghostly in the nose while making the morning coffee and buttering the morning chiabatta toast. Octomore, yes, but an unpeated whisky? This is the first.

It took five long nights and more than half a 750ml bottle to get me this far in my assessment of this very special drink. And I’ve already bought a second bottle. And I am contemplating the purchase of a third. Evidently, only five six-packs of this unprecedented whisky were shipped to the U.S. and, if I could afford it, I would buy them all. This is something I want all of my friends and even a few of my enemies to experience.

Check out the distillery here: http://www.englishwhisky.co.uk

I don’t rate whiskeys, but, if I did, this unpeated Classic Single Malt from The English Whisky Company’s St. George’s Distillery, Roudham, Norfolk, England, would be the first non-Scottish single malt tipple to find its place in my top ten. This is the potent, burning side of glorious, and, every time I pour a glass, my estimation of it rises.

Here are a couple of music clips to accompany your ride through this whisky. First, something that, like this whisky, is young and indisputably amazing…

And second, something powerful, stunning, intoxicating and far from ordinary…