Whisky Review: Rare by Nature 2020 Special Release Mortlach 21 Year Old

Editor’s Note: This whisky was provided to us as a review sample by Diageo. This in no way, per our editorial policiesinfluenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

The annual Diageo Special Releases always has a theme. However, the 2020 Special Releases marks the first time a theme repeats itself. Due to the popularity of the 2019 Rare By Nature collection, Diageo has released a part two. This gives Master Blender, Dr. Craig Wilson the ability to showcase whiskies as an encore from these distilleries that would possibly not get bottled on their own. 

The 2020 Rare by Nature has the same whiskies as the 2019 Special Releases for whisky lovers to compare. Dr. Wilson meticulously hand-selects each whisky to show another side of the distilleries chosen. The fifth whisky in the Rare by Nature editions comes from the Mortlach Distillery. While the 2019 edition of Mortlach is 26-years-old, the 2020 edition goes down in age and is 21-years-old. 

The Mortlach Distillery has been around for nearly 200 years. Mortlach became the first distillery licensed in Dufftown. However, the Grant Brothers immediately purchased it and took all the distillation equipment to use at their distillery in Rothes. It was not until the 1850s when George Cowie started up production again. 

Most of the whisky was made to play a role as a blending malt. At Mortlach, the whisky making process is also very traditional. In 1923, however, the distillery was scooped up by John Walker & Sons. Under Diageo, Mortlach has released some of the most expensive whiskies. Diageo did announce in 2014 that Mortlach would be expanding production capacity once a mirror image of the existing distillery was built. 

For 2019, I was not crazy about the Rare by Nature 2019 Special Release, so let’s see how the 2020 edition fares.

Rare by Nature 2020 Special Release Mortlach 21 Year Old

Rare by Nature 2020 Special Release Mortlach 21 Year Old (image via Diageo)

Tasting Notes: Rare by Nature 2020 Special Release Mortlach 21 Year Old

Vital Stats: 56.9% ABV. Speyside single malt distilled in 1999. Matured in Pedro Ximénez and Oloroso sherry seasoned casks. 750ml $765. 

Appearance: Fino sherry

Nose: A smidge of acetone creeps around the beginning. Burnt orange intertwines with clove and cinnamon sticks. It comes off dry like the dry heat from a fireplace in a log cabin. Near the end, the burnt orange becomes full mandarin fruit pieces. It is also a bright whisky with loads of fresh crisp red and green apples. 

Palate: The natural cask strength is lovely. It does not need any water. The mouthfeel is velvety. Orange fruit stays at the top of the tongue while smoke hits the back of the mouth. Small amounts of rosehip and honey pop out. Cured meat and charcoal briquettes dominate the whisky in the middle. The finish is dry with oak and apples. 

The Takeaway


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Yes, I really liked the 2020 Rare by Nature Mortlach 21. The nose and the palate worked together rather than fought each other. It had a lot of the characteristics I love about Mortlach's whiskies. This one was still able to be unique while maintaining balance.

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