You know the feeling when starting something and just not getting it to complete satisfaction? It just seems not to “do” what you want it to “do”? For us, this happened to what we experienced the morning after the Benelux release of “the Beast of Dufftown” in Brussels, where we had a chat with Georgie Bell, Global Brand Ambassador for Diageo’s Mortlach whisky, and therefore nicknamed “Miss Mortlach”.
She had found some time in her busy schedule in between her breakfast and chocolate shopping. It was a lovely talk, where we left with a lot of information, but, at the same time, nothing at all…
We decided to let it rest for a little while, go on our #WhiskyFabric trip to Scotland, have some fun, and revisit the event with the just arrived Mortlach samples from the event, so we could make some notes and find out who Georgie is, and what she does.
She talks about Mortlach being founded in 1823 on the site of an illicit distillery and it being the first legal distillery in Dufftown. At the end of the 19th century the number of stills was increased from four to six. Because of growing demand in the early years of the 20th century some of the distilling equipment was renewed and buildings added, but the stills, all working together to create the (now) unique 2.81 distilled spirit, which never changed since. Recently, plans are put in motion for another extension to the current distillery where the capacity will be doubled by adding a second, identical distillery, next to the existing one, and with that a lot of other expansions need to be made also to accommodate that. The last time that there was this kind of major work done was in 1962. It will take some time to finish because there is need for so much around it that people don’t think off like new roads, boilerhouse, pipes, loading bays, washbacks etc. There is no need to rush these things, just as with whisky there is a need for patience, to keep the heritage safe.
Mhmm, ok… coughmarketingcough…
This is a becoming a bit of the standard story we hear and read everywhere about Mortlach, most you can read about on the website. Yes, repetition does magic, but that is not what we were after with this interview. We wanted to get a bit more personal, and see what makes this whisky – which is good for sure, but is it so special that we would pay the price for it they ask without any doubt? We were trying to be enchanted by the Beast’s fairy dust but actually got stung by the spinning wheel and fell into a deep marketing induced sleep. A sleep that does not want us to see that there is no influence at all from the not so fast upcoming markets after all, and that that is why they slowed down the constructions a bit. Their prices and attitude toward the packaging reminds us more and more of the other “luxury” priced brands you find out there. The discussion about different bottle size (50cl) versus the US release (standard 75cl) we couldn’t even touch, and the fairytale that the product is designed from recipes and expressions from 1823… we are not really sure this is what would sell us a bottle. With just a little less secrecy and marketing, and a little more honest transparency, we might even be triggered to purchase a bottle.
Back to the talk with Georgie. We talked for a bit about the special setup at Mortlach, trying to get some geekery on the table and wondered how wonderful it would be to have the chance to visit the distillery someday and even try to get to taste the three different spirits* next to each other, dissect the “the Beast of Dufftown” and understand how this meaty and thick character develops.
During all this, we were wondering what more details we could ask Georgie about the distillery and the person behind the label. What drives Miss Mortlach and how does she see her future. What the reason is that she is not working at a distillery or a laboratory with her technical skills and know-how? She mentioned that – just like the distillery, the road ahead for her is still not completely visible, and she just sees where it takes her. For the time being she loves what she is doing with educating people the passion about the brand and its rich heritage. There is still so much to do and so much more to see of the world. Miss Mortlach is on a journey to conquer the world together with Mortlach, the curiosity that started her adventure with mortlach is what is now driving her.
So, here we were, sitting in the lovely garden of the hotel in Brussels and listening to Georgie tell us this all. Dodging some of our questions, steering the story very professionally back to the marketing approved storyline time after time. Not showing us Georgie, but letting us see Miss Mortlach for 100%.
Thinking to ourselves, that besides admiring her professionality in this all, we were not getting the answers we were looking for. So we kept trying to get some more depth in the answers and finding a different angle. Maybe focus on what she feels what makes Mortlach different? Hoping to get something we could use to give it a different twist and depth. But again the storyline rolled out about them keeping tradition and the different ways of drinking whisky with different preferences, different moments, different temperatures, different experiences.
We caved in to her persistence and decided that the story of Mortlach is not complete yet for us and we need to get under its skin. This made us itch all over, wondering; to write or not to write? We want to know what is behind it all, what makes it special? We don’t want to be to negative about it all, because it is not all bad.
Georgie tells us to “stay tuned, and watch this space… The secrets of Mortlach are slowly going to be revealed to all”. But are we really waiting, holding our breaths, hearts beating faster and faster, for more expensive releases with a thick, suffocating marketing-blanket covering it? From the many independent bottlings in the past, we already know Mortlach is a very good whisky, but their current official bottlings are very good but are too expensive and over-hyped.
We hope to have the chance to meet Georgie sometime again for another chat (and maybe a visit to the distillery) to see more of the passion behind this Beast of Dufftown, and see if we can get Prince Charming to kiss the distillery and wake her up from the marketing induced sleep.
Copyright notice: Photo Georgie by Diageo, rest photos by WhiskySpeller