In November 1939 World War II was only a formality on the British Isles. War was declared in September, but the actual fighting was yet to come. In fact, it was still 10 months away when on November 17th, 1939 a first fill sherry cask was filled with Mortlach new make, under the instructions of John Urquhart, the first Urquhart to be involved with Gordon and MacPhail. For the ensuing 75 years, the cask rested in Elgin, waiting for the right time to be opened and bottled. The name Generations, incidentally, referrers to the fact that this cask was laid down by the current Urquhart generation’s great grandfather.
I tasted the Mortlach Generations 75 as part of a Whisky Show masterclass led by Stephen Rankin, John Urquhart’s great grandson and UK Director of Sales for G&M, whom I met the previous year at the G&M masterclass (more on that one later), and by Whisky writer Charlie MacLean, who also prepared the book that accompanies this £20,000 bottle inside a beautiful leather traveling case.
There were four Mortlach whiskies tasted in the masterclass: A 12 year old that was bottled in the 1970s, a 1938 vintage bottled in the 1980s, a 1954 bottled after over 50 years in the cask and the Generations Mortlach 75 year old.
There was heavy fog that morning in Aberdeen, and Charlie’s flight into London was delayed. Stephen started off by giving us some background on Gordon and MacPhail, mentioning the special bottlings made last year to commemorate the passing of the torch from the third to the fourth generation – the 1951 Mortlach, 1952 Glenlivet, 1953 Linkwood and 1957 Strathisla (click links for the reviews). Incidentally, it was Stephan who chose, with his mother Rosemary who joined the firm in 1981, the beautiful 1953 Linkwood – which to me was the best of those four bottlings. We just started tasting the 12 year old, when Charlie joined in as we were enjoying the first dram. Charlie shared the colorful history of Mortlach and of the Cowie family, explained the 2.81 distillations practiced at the distillery nicknamed ‘the beast of Dufftown’. Each of these fine drams will get a review post, but I will say that the 1954 was a beautiful dram, extremely interesting, and quite the polar opposite of the 75 year old, which is curiously gentle and light. In the following picture, you can actually see that in the glass in the back on the left side.
As there will be a post for each of those, let me focus on the 75 year old Generations. This is cask 2475, which is an ex bodega Spanish oak cask, filled on 17 November, 1939. It was bottled at cask strength of 44.4% and comes in a decanter with 75 cutouts made by Glencairn, and is packed inside an airline travel bag with a specially commissioned book by Charlie MacLean and Alexander McCall Smith, Seven Nights with Mortlach, a plinth and two specially designed glasses.
This cask is the last of the 1930s casks, and while Gordon & MacPhail could conceivably release another 75 year old expression (as they have with the Glenlivet 70 and Mortlach 70 in the Generations Series), it will not be from whisky laid down before 1940.
It’s time to go the tasting of this extraordinary whisky:
Gordon and MacPhail Generations Mortlach 75, Distilled 17.11.1939, First fill sherry cask 2475, Yield 100 Bottles (44.4% ABV, NCF, NC)
Appearance: Amber, with very slow droplets, getting thinner and thinner with a residue.
Nose: Caramel, vanilla, old sherry, hint of citrus freshness, maybe citrus blossom, light varnish appearing, wax, light licorice, dried apricot, and a note of molasses. Surprising freshness which conjures up the image of a waterfall.
Palate: Lovely bitter citrus, spice, honey, it’s dry on the palate and slightly fizzy, with notes of dried peaches, honey candy and a hint of nutmeg. There’s a lot of freshness there, with a full body, though not a meaty, feel.
Linger: Citrus bitter, sweet spice and a beautiful uniform dryness across the mouth. The linger has a touch of minerality and some wax. The finish is long and satisfying.
In a blind tasting, you wouldn’t think it was older than 25-30. You’d expect a whisky that’s heavily wood influenced and really dark old sherry from the first fill, but instead you get a whisky which is incredibly balanced, fresh and delicate. This is even before we get into the fact that tasting a 75 year old whisky is a once in a lifetime experience, and the last cask from the 1930s at that…
This is the second year in a row the G&M masterclass is just stunning. This independent bottler has such depth in the warehouse, that it’s exciting to see what will be coming out of there next. I’m hoping that whatever is in store, we’ll have a chance to taste it in next year’s Show, and hope to get to Elgin to have a look for myself 🙂
Thanks for the review! I’m unlikely to get to taste this one, so it’s interesting to read your notes. It’s of note that you mentioned “freshness”, not something I would associate with an older whisky like this – but I’ve nothing to really compare it to.
Bob, it’s not something I expected either. Right before this dram I tasted a 1954 Gordon and MacPhail first fill sherry cask that was exactly what you would associate with an older sherry bomb. This one was much lighter, with a lot more “zing”….It was, well, fresh 🙂