Macallan. The heaviest hitting distillery of them all? Certainly the one that consistently pushes out increasingly old, limited and expensive releases, and one with an extensive and well-funded fan base and unbelievable auction results. Brilliantly marketed to the public, the distillery increasingly seems to suffer from an image problem amongst whisky aficionados who scoff at the pricing, the generally low ABVs, the lavish marketing, the design of the new distillery and just about anything else they can.

Mortlach. The “beast” of Dufftown, a Speysider with pretensions of taking Macallan’s throne, with a recently refreshed core range and an increased marketing push from owners Diageo, a unique 2.81 distillation process and a “meaty” spirit. The success of the Flora & Fauna bottling and numerous well-regarded independent bottlings over the years have meant an increasing amount of the spirit has been going into single malts and some fantastic older official bottlings including a 47-year-old single cask released earlier this year (which was just absolute magic to taste).

So, 2 (normally) well-sherried, big-hitters from Speyside up against each other. Who would come out on top of the slugging match?

This was a bit of a different evening to the norm, and not just because there were only 10 of us, meaning that we all feasted on steak prior to the tasting starting, which was paired by many of us with the Bowmore 19 French Oak barrique which CJ generously brought and poured out. No, the main reason was this was a blind tasting (upping the pressure on me identifying my own bottle).

The (impressive indeed) line-up consisted of the following:

  • Mortlach SMWS 76.142 15yo
  • Adelpi Mortlach cask 4493 1993 25yo
  • Mortlach 16 Flora and Fauna
  • Macallan 18 (2016 release) sherry cask
  • Macallan Classic cut 2017
  • Macallan Edition 4
  • Speymalt from Macallan 1974 42yo

Of course a number of other bottles snuck in, including a 2007 Signatory Mortlach and Macallan edition 2, but those 7 were the ones voted on.

With a relatively small group and blind tasting, the conversation around the room really opened up as we tried to guess the different drams and talk about the flavours we were identifying. It was genuinely difficult to judge, especially as the only dram given away by colour was the 1974 Speymalt. Unsurprisingly, this was a beautifully elegant sherried old malt, but being opened on the night probably needed a little more time and air to have really shown off its full range of flavours and aromas. Even with that in mind, it was still a superb dram and incredibly generous of CJ to have shared it.

Frankly, choosing between them all (we were asked to only give a top 3) was difficult, as there wasn’t really anything disappointing in the lineup. I would say that in my scoring, and especially with hindsight, the Mortlach 16 F&F and Macallan 18 were probably significantly disadvantaged by being 43%, although the Macallan generally was rated outside the top 3 by everyone. A big surprise? To me, it tasted like what someone might expect an expensive scotch to taste like, very “smooth” and able to be downed in large quantities over the rocks when you want to pretend to be 007 or Don Draper. I’ll take 3 Glendronach 18 Allardice anyday instead thanks.

First of all came the big reveal of the drams, and surprise, surprise, I completely failed to recognise my own bottle, the Adelphi Mortlach, which I’d deliberately not had any from since the event was announced. Then came the ratings. What was a surprise is how highly Macallan rated, not just by myself, but the rest of the club members too, with the Speymalt, Edition 4 and Classic Cut all rating highly, followed by the trio of Mortlachs and the Mac 18 bringing up the rear.

It was great to welcome a couple of new faces to the club too, and with the conversation and drams flowing, it was a most enjoyable evening with a twist, and one that certainly changed my impressions and expectations around Macallan too.

Ian Robinson


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