The History of Mortlach
Alongside other legal distilleries founded in the wake of the Excise Act, Mortlach is officially founded on the site of an older illicit distillery – becoming the first legal distillery in Dufftown, now one of the epicentres of Speyside whisky distilling.
J & J Grant of Glen Grant and John Alexander Gordon own the distillery. Previous to this the distillery had been passed between many owners, including John Roberston in 1831. Although a slow start, its illustruous heritage is about to begin.
After John Gordon takes sole ownership of the distillery the previous year, George Cowie joins under his helm. Previous to this George was an engineer, working through the Golden Age of Victorian Engineering. With his pioneering mind, audacious spirit and true determination George was a leader within the new distillery workforce.
George, now 51, becomes sole owner of the Mortlach distillery. Under his esteemed leadership, the liquid lives through a golden age. Revered for a depth and strength of flavour other whiskies could not offer, Mortlach grows as the liquid of choice for blenders.
“There is not perhaps a distillery in Scotland that has so many private customers as Mortlach from which spirits are sent not only over the three kingdoms to families, but to America, India, China and Australia, in all of which Mr. Cowie has customers who prefer his distillation to all others …” The Elgin Courant, 1868
George’s son Alexander returns from Hong Kong to Speyside, assuming control of the distillery and heralding a new chapter in the story of Mortlach. After a long and illustrious career, Alexander’s father George Cowie dies at the age of 80 - leaving behind a long legacy that includes the Mortlach Distillery.
Like his father the art of building was in Alexander's blood and he set about continuing the Cowie dynasty. Working alongside the famous distillery engineer Charles Doig - inventor of the Doig Ventilator (aka the Pagoda Rooftop) - the distillery was doubled in size and a railway siding - known as the "Strathspey Line" was added.
Calling on his scientific education and analytical mind and inspired by the great works of achievement around him, Alexander created the very unique, very intricate 2.81 distillation process that is still in place at the distillery today. Solely used at Mortlach distillery, this process - combined with traditional Worm Tub condensers - creates the thick, rich, bold spirit character that Mortlach is famed for.
Post the introduction of the pioneering 2.81 distilled malt, Alexander becomes an esteemed figure within the malt whisky industry and is elected Chairman of the North Scotland Malt Distillers Association, representing over 40 distilleries in the region.
Aged 62, Alexander goes into retirement, selling Mortlach to the infamous John Walker & Sons of Kilmarnock, prompting a new chapter in the liquid’s history.
At the time, they only owned one other distillery, testimony to just how valuable Mortlach Whisky is in the blended whisky world and how integral it is to some of the world's finest and most treasured blends.
Building upon the network of private customers set up by the Cowie's, John Walker and Son's set up a partnership with Macy's of New York as the in store luxury whisky both before and after Prohibition.
On 'George Cowie & Son, Ltd.' 'They're the proprietors of the world-renowned Mortlach Distillery at Dufftown - they're the people who've been selling us fine Scotch Whiskies since the early 1900's'.
1939 - 1945
Mortlach is one of the few distilleries continuing to produce limited stocks during the Second World War, bar one brief period in 1944.
On Christmas Eve, Alexander Cowie dies at his home in Glenrinnes and is subsequently buried at a well-attended funeral in Mortlach Kirk. Tributes pour in remembering Alexander for his great contribution to public life, warm generosity and great leadership of the Mortlach distillery.
In order to satisfy blender demand for Mortlach, sections of the distillery’s apparatus are renewed and buildings are altered and added to. The rest of Alexander Cowie’s distillery and pattern of operation is left untouched however - including the outside wooden worm tubs used to cool and condense the spirit, which are now found at only a handful of distilleries.
Now under the ownership of United Distillers, Mortlach continues to play an important role in some of the world’s finest blends and in addition, limited releases are again made of its single malt, most notably as part of the Flora & Fauna range as a 16 year old.