Whisky Review: Mortlach 22 Year Old Chieftain's - The Whiskey Wash

Whisky Review: Mortlach 22 Year Old Chieftain’s

Ian Macleod Distillers, the company behind “Chieftain’s label,” has been bottling great whisky for over eighty years. The buyers at this fine establishment can sometimes really strike upon fantastic casks of single malt, as you might expect. Eight decades of sourcing whisky has a tendency to make loyal contacts at distilleries.

An observant reader might pause at the word “distillers” in the company title. Why? Because most indie bottlers are not distillers. In fact, Ian Macleod earned the title because it also has supplied “own-label” spirits to some of Europe’s largest supermarket groups for over 40 years.

One thing that I really like about Chieftain’s bottlings, in particular, is the chance to purchase a rare single malt. Yes, sometimes these come from mothballed distilleries. The whisky under review hails from Mortlach, a distillery which still proudly stands in Dufftown, Scotland. Currently owned by Diageo, Mortlach single malt whisky is a prominent influence in Johnnie Walker blends.

Thankfully, the cask that I will be tasting today wasn’t poured into a bottomless pit of Johnnie Walker. Instead it was allowed to do some soul searching, finding its own individual personality, while feeding the angels in cherubim-sized sips, from time to time, for twenty-two years. The resulting maturation is nearly perfect. A nose fit for a king, and a palate fit for the chieftain of even the mightiest clan.

The Label’s Namesake

Chieftains used to wield considerable power in Scotland, but a lot has changed over the past three hundred years. Back in 1745, Prince William, Duke of Cumberland, slaughtered most of the Scottish clan chiefs in what today would be described as ethnic cleansing. Fast forward 272 years. It’s safe to say more than a few descendants of ancient Scottish clans have been absorbed into a vast array of cubicles that resemble Star Trek’s “The Borg.”

Aye, the sons of sons of sons of late great chieftains have traded in their kilts and swords in favor of neckties and MacBooks. Time waits for no man. Speaking of which . . . most of the whisky making in Scotland is controlled by multinational corporations. Were such dramatic changes for the best, evolutionarily speaking? Should humanity welcome a new world order of multinational corporations, overseen by a gubernatorial “eye atop the pyramid,” with open arms?

Anyone who nods too enthusiastically at such a proposition might well benefit from a lesson in Scottish Gaelic. The phrase “deoghail am fallus bhàrr duine mharbh siadha tiadhancomes to mind. Slogging for a pittance, year after year, decade after decade, in a corporate sweat-box is definitely bad for one’s soul, not to mention one’s physical health.

Be this as it may, we can’t stop the march of time, especially when it pulses to the beat of techno bagpipes. Instead, let’s save our breath and dive, head-first, into a rare, highly sought-after whisky.

Tasting Notes: Mortlach 22-Year-Old Chieftans

Vital Stats: 58.1% ABV (116.2 proof); aged 22 years; 100% malted barley; Cask No. 5160; Sherry Butt; 517 bottles; un-chill filtered, natural colour; available occasionally at auction with prices that vary dramatically. My bottle cost $159 back in 2013. It has been open for a little over a year, and I’ve used gas occasionally to preserve the spirit’s integrity.

Appearance: Color of brown sherry with mature legs that roll gingerly down the glass.

Nose: Dry oak; Salt n’ Straw “Double Fold” vanilla ice cream; rum raisin; dark chocolate; dried Buffalo Trace Antique Collection bourbon in the glass; Worcestershire sauce; gravy from a rib eye steak.

Mouth: Very creamy, oily mouth-feel. Yum, yum. Caramel fudge. I’m getting Popsicle sticks, rich sherry, clove, cinnamon, and dried fig. The whisky reminds me quite a bit of the 2016 William Larue Weller. Yes, believe it or not, I still have most of my bottle left for comparison. In addition, subtler hints of baking spices and fruitcake bring up the rear of this all star lineup. Booyah!

Finish: Long, chewy, savory. If happiness can be bottled, then this one comes close …at least for the sherry bomb enthusiast. A meaty “steak” note hangs on back of the tongue. Oh wow, I just love that. The death is hard to pinpoint. Flavors keep developing, changing, turning over on the tongue…think “magick,” and you’re not far off.

The Takeaway


It's no stretch to say Mortlach 22 year old Chieftain's is one of of the best single malt whiskies that I've ever owned...up there with the greats. Sigh. This bottle probably beats Pappy Van Winkle's 2016 Family Reserve 23 Year Old, even though it's been a while since I've tasted that one. It definitely tops my bottle of 2016 William Larue Weller.

So how do I get off comparing whisky to whiskey, you ask? Good question. Normally, I would never do such a thing. But this unique Scotch begs the comparison. If you were to take a sip, right along with me, then I'm fairly sure you'd agree.

At any rate, this whisky cost me a fraction of the price of a post-Stitzel-Weller Pappy Van Winkle 23 Year Old. As I've said, it packs more complexity and greater satisfaction into every sip. When a "Petite Mort" is good, then it's REALLY good--especially after passing the two decade mark, and bottled at cask strength. And if it's been taken from a single extraordinary cask such as this one, then snatching it up--even at auction--is a no-brainer.

User Rating 4.33 (6 votes)