I'll start this post about Mortlach with explaining the distilling proces in very short terms.
Whisky is made from distilling beer. Almost all Scotlands distilleries do a double destillation, which in fact isn't really a double destilation.
The beer (or wash as it is called) is distilled in a wash still, where a clear liquid is produced. This has an ABV of around 20%. This liquid is put into a big tank called the low wine reciver
Now it gets a bit more complicated. The low wine receiver contains a mix of the produce of the first still and byproducts from the 2nd still - the spirit still.
The spirit still is where the new make is produced. As the still runs, the first vapours that comes out has a high ABV and a content of high volatile components (like methanol). This is called the foreshot
As the distilling in the spirit still runs toward the ends more low-volatile content will be present. The very late part will contain mainly water and little ethanol. This is called the feints.
The stillman cuts the distillate in 3 parts. The head/foreshot, the heart and the tail/feints
The heart is collected in the spirit safe. This is what will be your whisky. The head and the tail is returned to the low wine receiver. Low wine receiver contains a continous mix of distilate from the wash still and heads and feints.
Now if you think this is complicated just wait until you hear how they do it at Mortlach!
Mortlach distillery has 6 stills
One separate pair produces whisky like described above
The distillate of the last two wash stills is split up in two parts. The main part, around 80%, is further distilled in one of the two remaining spirit stills, just like described above. This results in a 2nd type of spirit compared to what is done on the separate pair.
The last 20% (tails of the 2 wash stills), and it is quite different spirit than the 80% part, lower in alcohol is just one example, is distilled in the 3rd spirit still, called the Wee Witchie.
In the Wee Witchie they do 2 complete runs of destillation (no cuts) before a 3rd run where the distilate is cut. These 2 complete runs builds up the alcohol strength. The 2 runs are done on a low wine mix of the the 20% tails of the two wash stills and the heads and tails of the 3rd Wee Witchie run.
This results is a 3rd variety of spirit than is produced at the other 2 spirit stills. The Wee Witchie spirit is said to be responsible for the meaty and sulphury character of the Mortlach new make.
The 3 different kinds of newmake is mixed together and filled on casks
The sulphury character of the Mortlach newmake must not be confused with the rubbery/sulphury character that sometimes comes out of sherry casks, it's two very different things.
The above description of the Wee Witchie is probably wrong, I still have to meet someone who really understands the process here. When I toured the distillery back in 2005 I just got a headache when it was explained..or maybe I just had a headache from drinking Mortlach in the Oak the night before. It's a fact, that there's a fair chance Mortlach will give you a headache when you visit Dufftown. It's much safer to drink at home
The Mortlach distilling proces is often refered to as a 2½ times distillation, heck some even calculated it to be precise a 2.7 times distillation.
Benrinnes and Springbank is also made by a distillation process refered to as 2½ times. They do it different than Mortlach though, this will maybe be a subject of another blog post, or maybe (very likely) not :-)
If anyone is reading this blog, they must be lost now, so I just sit down and have a dram by myself now
1. Mortlach 1991 17yo bottled by Adelphi 57.0%
Bottled 2009, cask 4235
Nose : sulphur, ash, sherry, dried fruits
Palate : meaty, slightly rubbery/sulphured, raisins. The rubber sulphur was much more dominant when I opened the bottle last year. I wasn't too bad back then but still so much I was put off a bit. This has now turned into a very enjoyable dram!. Typical Mortlach in it's basic characteristics. I actual make my self belive I can sense two different kind sulphur here. The Mortlach sulphur and the sherry sulphur. This just shows its time to do more blind tasting and less label readings :-)
Finish : medium-short, very "ashy" and the dark berries (blackberries atc.), kicks in late
Adelphi is a small independant bottler. It's named after a distillery closed in 1907, the original owners of Adelphi was descendent of the last owners of the Adelphi distillery. Adelhi is known for 2 things. Great bottlings and the smallest labels. The print on the labels is so small that they probably don't have any sales to people above 50 :-)