Thursday, 22 May 2014

Comparison: Càrn Mòr Strictly Limited Mortlach 1998 vs Wemyss Pastille Bouquet Mortlach 1998

Wherein I make invidious comparisons between similar whiskies from different bottlers, and indulge in a moan about pricing.

Càrn Mòr is the brand of a family run Perthshire based bottler of malt whisky. Wemyss Malts is Fife based, but similarly a family affair.

Càrn Mòr's packaging is, to be kind, cheap and cheerful, while Wemyss is rather more classy, with a retro bottle shape, pastel coloured labels, and poetic names (or, if you want to be unkind, word salad).

I tasted Càrn Mòr's Strictly Limited Mortlach 1998, which is a bottling from two ex bourbon hoggies, versus Wemyss Malts Pastille Bouquet Mortlach 1998, from a single hoggie. Both are bottled at 46% ABV. There was a great deal in common between the two, with plentiful confected fruit flavours tending to the yellow and red parts of the flavour rainbow (or map or wheel or mandala or whatever it is these days) in both bottlings. Both also showed an elegance, and had a rounded and long finish.

But, whereas the Càrn Mòr whisky had well integrated wood notes, which added to the overall complexity of the dram, the Wemyss bottling seemed rather dryer, and the oak tannin was slightly aggressive in the finish. Only in the direct comparison, mind you. Having previously tasted both these whiskies separately (or rather, against other malts, not other Mortlachs), I would have struggled to describe the differences.

It seems to me that Càrn Mòr obtained the better casks, or were able to produce a better whisky by selecting two casks of contrasting character. So it's probably about right that the Wemyss is a fiver cheaper (£53.50).

Both of them, however, seem cheap when one contemplates the forthcoming new official Mortlach releases. On commercial grounds Diageo can't be faulted for their decision to reposition Mortlach as a luxury brand, competing in the same segment as Macallan and Dalmore. But in going from £55 for 70cl of 16 year old malt to  50cl of no-age-statement malt for the same price they're really taking the piss underlining the arbitrary nature of whisky pricing. Their costs haven't suddenly jumped up (although I suppose that bottle design doesn't come cheap)

To me, a whisky drinker with a long memory (and an obsessive note taker), the current steep upward trajectory of malt prices, despite rising demand, looks awfully like greed and short-termism. Here's hoping it doesn't precipitate another crash and a wave of closures. Caol Ila as the Port Ellen of 2050, anyone?

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