Very occasionally you find something that makes you question everything you knew about something.
When you start in that particular thing, it can be quite common to find something that wreaks havoc on your understanding and takes you to a new level. But as you go on, it happens less and less. Sometimes to the point where you think it might never get it again.
You may have noticed that I’ve been trying some pretty epic whiskies lately. The reason behind that was mainly because I wanted to explore the upper end of my grading scale.
My 100th whisky was perhaps the best I had tried and I had found nothing to surpass it almost 700 whiskies later. Either I got lucky or there was something I was missing.
Having already made a list of my highest scored whiskies, a breakthrough came when I had a calculate of the average age and strength. Apart from a few outliers, many were around 30 years old and at a strength of just over 50%abv. This almost gave me a formula for finding high scores. Just find something fitting that criteria seemed to really help exploring the upper limit.
Grading is a funny thing and personally I would never feel comfortable giving a 100/100 score. Mainly because I could never be sure there wasn’t something better out there. But only getting to 92? Was there something wrong with my grading scale because I wasn’t getting to a higher score? Was I being too harsh?
But exploring the upper limit has helped me solidify my grading I feel. More than that, it has helped me question it and myself and then solidify my understanding of what (in my mind) makes a truly magnificent whisky stand out from something that is fantastic but not quite there. It’s a thin line sometimes, but tasting some of these outstanding whiskies has restored my faith that there are higher scoring whiskies out there, its just a case of finding them (and being able to afford them).
SO, with that out the way. I went over to the collector’s stand at The Haig and had a look. Something around 30 years and around 50%. Hmmm. How about an old Mortlach? It fit the bill, but I also had a good feeling about it.
Mortlach 1973 Old Malt Cask (Bottled 2004) 50%
Colour: Light Amber
Nose: Great balance of Sherried fruit, some tropical too, some soot, old school oak, deep, complex but quite an enigma, hard to unravel but opens up slowly. Dried raspberry, some chocolate, floral- Dried flowers, tobacco, old leather, red apple, musty, dusty furniture, orange oil. Develops these amazing medicinal notes! Which actually remind me a little of that Laphroaig 30 I had recently.
Taste: Deep, intense, great balance of soft red apple, some spicy European-esque oak, gingerbread, black pepper. Develops in waves, keeps going and going. Floral, musky cologne, leather and tobacco, AMAZING zingy dried raspberry, dark chocolate. Complex spices, ginger beer, nutmeg, a little cinnamon, orange oil. Sherried-like notes too.
Finish: Long/Very Long length. Fucking great! Really long. Leathery, dark chocolate, lovely coffee and a little of that dried raspberry. AND that elusive emotional hit I long for. Bloody good stuff.
The system works! 30 years old and 50%. A massively impressive whisky. Balance, complexity and power spot on. All over, it’s just fantastic from beginning to end but the finish separates this from the 1987 Bowmore and 1983 Karuizawa that I’ve scored 92’s. After 700 whiskies, I thought maybe that 92 might be the limit. The highest score attainable, but tasting this really has opened up my understanding and given me that motivation to keep trying.
Epilogue: Not even a week later I was back in The Netherlands for the Whiskybase Gathering and tasted my second 93 (review coming up). Furthering my hope for a 94 and maybe even 95 at some point.
Thanks for reading!
Scotch Review #541
Whisky Network Review #636
Network Average: 74.6
Best Score: 92
Worst Score: 22
60-64 Just About OK
65-69 Ok to Good
75-79 Very Good
Full Disclosure Disclaimer: I currently work as a Brand Ambassador for Penderyn Distillery. The views expressed here are purely my own and do not reflect the views of Penderyn Distillery or The Welsh Whisky Company. I try to maintain as much objectivity as I can but feel free to take my reviews with as big a pinch of salt as you like. Furthermore, my rating scale is NOT based on a Parker type wine scoring scale or a school/college/university % or A-F grade score. You can find more on my scoring here. I apologise for any seemly low or 'bad' scores given with my system and am sorry I can't say only nice things. Please keep in mind that I am ethically compromised and am unable to produce 100% unbiased reviews.