Mortlach Rare Old & 2.81 Distillation Process with Georgie Bell

Following from its preview at the Diageo Whisky Club early in the year, Mortlach Rare Old officially launched at Victor Churchill in Woollahra with visiting Global Ambassador, Georgie Bell.

Photography © by Kevin Burke for Gourmantic – Copyright: All rights reserved.

Castle in the Air cocktail was served on arrival, a mix of Mortlach Rare Old, Poire Eau de Vie, Olive Oil and Lemon Bitters highlighting the versatility of using the single malt whisky in a cocktail.

Mortlach Rare Old

Mortlach was founded in 1823 and is the first legal distillery in Speyside’s Dufftown. Known as the “beast of Dufftown” by David Broom, Mortlach is said to defy what Speyside whiskies are known for. It is thick, rich, muscular, meaty, umami-led and savoury. The character comes from 2.81 distillation process which started in 1896 and the process is still in use at the distillery today.

Mortlach Rare Old is aged in 4 different casks types: first fill bourbon barrels that bring vanilla, toffee crème brulee notes, first fill sherry butts with Christmas spice and the dark stone fruits, refilled casks for that orange blossom note and worn rejuvenated casks that bring that spicy rye notes.

Staying true to its meaty and muscular character, Mortlach Rare Old is viscous in the glass, clinging to the sides like a golden syrup. The nose brings salted caramel notes, rich vanilla cream, a little burnt orange, Christmas spices and a little milk chocolate. The palate is thick and rich with vanilla cream, the orange rind notes, Christmas spices and then underneath it all is a marked savoury note. The finish is chewy, and long lasting.

The official tasting concluded with a tasting of Mortlach 18 yo and Mortlach 25 yo.

Mortlach 2.81 Distillation Explained

After the formalities ended, Georgie Bell spoke to Gourmantic about the 2.81 distillation process.

The 2.81 distillation process was put in place in 1896 by Alexander Cowie. He worked at Charles Doig at the time who created the Doig Ventilator which is the pagoda rooftop that changed the way Mortlach and other distilleries malted their barley.

Every single part of the production process at the distillery is tailored and calibrated to create that robust, savoury, muscular style. From the short fermentation times of 53 to 58 hours through to the still house and the condensers, Mortlach use worm tub condensers which are only found in fourteen distilleries across Scotland.

Mortlach distillery has 6 stills, 3 wash stills and 3 spirit stills and what sets them apart is that all of their stills are different shapes and sizes and they all work pretty much independently from one another. They don’t work in perfect pairs but create three different spirit characters from the three spirit stills which are then blended to create the house style.

“It’s like having three distilleries at the one still house”, Georgie Bell explains.

The first of these is the pairing of wash still 3 and spirit still 3 to create a malty distillate. Wash stills 1 and 2 work as a pair, which is unusual. We then take everything that has run through and split it into half, the heads and the tails. The first half from wash stills 1 and 2, the low wines the lighter half, are run through spirit still number 2 which creates a lighter floral distillate.

The heavier half of wash stills 1 and 2 is run that through spirit still number 2 once but no cuts are taken. Everything that has run through is run through a second time but with the tails from wash stills 1 and 2. The richer half and the richer half gets even further richer and viscous.

If spirit still number 1 is small, and its filled high, then it’s a bit of a copper contact. So taking it around twice is not really cleaning it to that same effect, so no cuts are taken. Everything that has gone around that second time is run through a third time with the set of heads from wash stills 1 and 2 because by this point, it has become way too thick and way too viscous. A spirit cut is taken from that.

A spirit cut is taken from spirit still number 1 from every third run. Mortlach use worm tub condensers and the water is cold at 10 degrees, which means as soon as that vapour hits the copper, it turns back into liquid. So when the spirit is in liquid form, the copper cannot do its work, so every part of the production process is calibrated to create this character, and this has been calculated to be 2.81.

“I know it is nearer to three than to two,” Georgie Bell adds. “Usually when you say triple distilled, you think of a lighter spirit. The 2.81 actually stands for the precision in the way that it has been distilled.”

Mortlach Rare Old is now available nationwide in Australia at a RRP $110.00 AUD.

About the author

Corinne Mossati

Corinne Mossati is a drinks writer, author of GROW YOUR OWN COCKTAIL GARDEN, SHRUBS & BOTANICAL SODAS and founder/editor of Gourmantic, Cocktails & Bars and The Gourmantic Garden. She has been writing extensively about spirits, cocktails, bars and cocktail gardening in more recent years. She is a spirits and cocktail competition judge, Icons of Whisky Australia nominee, contributor to Diageo Bar Academy, cocktail developer and is named in Australian Bartender Magazine's Top 100 Most Influential List. Her cocktail garden was featured on ABC TV’s Gardening Australia and has won several awards. She is a contributor to Real World Gardener radio program and is featured in several publications including Pip Magazine, Organic Gardener, Australian Bartender and Breathe (UK). Read the full bio here.

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