Mortlach 1990 “Chieftan’s” (K&L Selection) Scotch Review

IMG_0920Type: Single Malt Scotch

Age: 22 Years Old

ABV: 58.1%

Price: $169.00

The color of this Mortlach, aged in barrels that previously held sherry, is absolutely striking.  If red velvet cake were a liquid, it’d look like this stuff.  Visually, this has to be one of the most inviting bottles of whiskey I’ve ever seen.  In general, I’m not a huge fan of heavily sherried scotch, often finding it excessively sweet, but the instant I had this baby out in the light I was pawing at the cork like Ray Milland in The Lost Weekend.  It was undignified.

Ray Milland, acting real casual-like

The nose, assuming you like red velvet cake, is equally inviting, and smells of red berries – raspberries, in particular.  All of these aromas are very sweet and rich, even at full strength.

This Mortlach is a bit less welcoming – and vastly more frustrating – on the tongue.  Overall, I like its taste quite a lot.   Its dominant flavors are of the red fruits that first appeared on the nose, followed by a very sweet combination of prunes and raisins.  What’s odd is that I don’t much care for prunes and I can’t stand raisins, yet I keep coming back to this bottle of whiskey.  Much of that can be chalked up to its color, nose, and great mouthfeel.  It’s really oily, which is one of my favorite characteristics in a whiskey.  Plus, it just looks delicious (or, like flat Dr. Pepper, depending on one’s perspective).

But there are a couple of factors making it tough to really savor this Mortlach.  The first is an ever-present harshness, whether taken neat or with water.  I’ve tried it with water, with ice, with water and ice – I just can’t dull the edge off this stuff.  The second is a dry, ashy note that really detracts from the overall sweetness of the whiskey.

I’ve read reviews of heavily-sherried whiskies that refer to a “sulphurous” or “phenolic note” associated with long periods of time spent aging in sherry-soaked wood.  Now, even I, a massive nerd, have encountered the word “phenolic” just once outside the world of whiskey writing.  When I was thirteen, I uttered the following phrase, with a regrettably straight face, while clutching a copy of Bass Player magazine: “Mom, for my thirteenth birthday, can you give me $200 towards the purchase of a used Modulus bass guitar with a phenolic fretboard?  It’s just like the one Flea plays!”  That said, I’ve never smelled or tasted phenolic (or touched it, sadly, as my birthday request was rejected with a laugh).  So, perhaps the dry, ashy taste I pick up in this Mortlach is what others refer to as “sulphurous” or “phenolic”?  The flavor reminds me of nothing more than burnt garlic.  It has the off-putting, bitter notes of garlic that’s been left in the pan for just a few moments too long.

To be clear, this remains a very enjoyable whiskey.  The nose, the mouthfeel, the taste and the overall sense of richness absolutely agree with me.  But there’s no avoiding the very bitter, dry flavors or the extremely hot, harsh backbone running throughout this whiskey, from start to finish.  It certainly doesn’t make it impossible for me to enjoy this Mortlach.  Indeed, I think it’s very good — as well it should be at over $150 per bottle. But if the ashy, bitter note could be eliminated, this whiskey would be a smash.

Posted in Single Malt Scotch Reviews