The Beast of Dufftown
by Ann Tsang / Images: Courtesy of Moët Hennessy Diageo and A-Vibe
The world of malt whiskies is dominated by brands that try to ‘outcraft’ each other, talking complex processes and finishes; double, triple, quadruple...It has become a landscape of lengthy stories for generic flavour profiles that are either vanilla dominated or challengingly smoky. There is one brand however, that through its unique 2.81 distillation process, stands apart from the crowd.
The Big Three: Arnold Palmer, Jack Nicklaus and Gary Player
In 1896 in the tiny community of Dufftown, Speyside in the northeast of Scotland, a certain Dr. Alexander Cowie used his scientific acumen to create a completely unique and extremely complex process to produce his very first spirit distillation.
Cowie was not a distiller by trade and had recently returned from a posting in the exotic climes of Hong Kong, where he spent five years practising medicine. Following the untimely death of his older brother, he returned to run Dufftown’s oldest distillery with his father George who, before becoming the owner of the Mortlach distillery and learning the craft of distilling, was an engineer carving the great Scottish railways into the rugged landscape.
George bestowed it all to Alexander when he died, and Alexander doubled the stills that his father left him.
Since 1896, Mortlach whiskies have been uniquely 2.81 times distilled. The whiskies criss-cross between six copper stills of varying silhouettes 0.81 more times than is standard for Scotch. Since it was first forged more than 120 years ago, the distillery has fastidiously ensured that every dent and detail of the stills remains unchanged, because within this copper chamber the specific richness which has earned Mortlach its reputation as ‘The Beast of Dufftown’ is manifested.
The spirit drifts through a tangle of copper pipes and the six stills in a Byzantine configuration. It is cut, recut, blended, distilled and distilled again. It is refined over and over until the primal and elemental character of the Scottish water and malt is revealed. A character that is dark and earthy, complex and rich.
“Mortlach is ‘The Beast of Dufftown’. Its character harks back to a time when whiskies were bigger, bolder, darker,” says whisky writer Dave Broom. “It is the earthy, meaty roots of Speyside. Its flavour is not what people expect from Speyside, but it is a flavour which is gaining in popularity – and is rarely found. At the foundation of many famous blends is this throwback to the old days, to days before Dufftown even existed. It is the dark reduction of whisky to some primal essence.”
THE ‘WEE WITCHIE’ – AGED 12 YEARS
Named after the smallest of Mortlach’s stills, the 12 year-old ‘Wee Witchie’ is matured in both European and American oak to enhance the distinctively rich and robust character that makes Mortlach whiskies legendary.
Rich, fruity and vibrant with hints of umami, light spice, dark chocolate and cherries, the ‘Wee Witchie’ leads to a smooth yet dry finish.
‘THE BEAST OF DUFFTOWN’ DISTILLER’S DRAM – AGED 16 YEARS
For 70 years, Mortlach was the best-kept secret in the world of whisky. During this time, it was almost exclusively used as the cornerstone of the 20th Century’s most iconic blended Scotch whiskies. Even the brand’s distillers, coopers and labourers could only enjoy their creation layered amongst other whiskies of Scotland.
Finally, in 1992, the distillery decided it was time to unleash ‘The Beast of Dufftown’, releasing an elegant 16 year-old to a fortunate few, including its workers, could truly experience the uniquely complex character of Mortlach.
This Single Malt Scotch Whisky is inspired by the iconic and rewarding first bottling of the 16 year-old release.
It is matured in only sherry casks to impart spicy and sweet notes atop the beastly complexity synonymous with Mortlach.
Intense, rich and spicy with hints of clove, nutmeg and dark berries, ‘The Beast’ leads to a lingering, surprisingly sweet yet dry finish.
COWIE’S BLUE SEAL – AGED 20 YEARS
In 1973 at Glenrinnes Lodge, the daughter of the Mortlach mastermind made a discovery. As her family home was being renovated, a wooden box was found. Within it, carefully packed in straw, were 12 bottles of whisky that had long been forgotten. They were her father Dr. Alexander Cowie’s private stock, a deliciously complex dram that dated back to 1909.
Cowie had no doubt bottled the best that his distillery had to offer, and graced it with a seal of deep blue, a colour of great distinction, the colour that now adorns every bottle of Mortlach.
This is a whisky that would have made Cowie proud; a reimagining of his Blue Seal, matured for a minimum of 20 years to tame ‘The Beast of Dufftown’ into smooth submission.
Deep, complex and savoury with hints of cedar wood, aromatic citrus, cocoa nibs and berries, Cowie’s Blue Seal brings with it a long spicy finish.
Dr. Alexander Cowie was indeed a bold man who had a bold idea that makes Mortlach a whisky bolder than most.