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Tours by appointment.
1820s: Founding the first legal distillery in Dufftown
In 1823, in the wake of a new Excise Act, Mortlach is founded on the ideal site of an illicit distillery. It is the first legal distillery in what will be Speyside’s whisky capital, Dufftown.
While Mortlach is still in its first decade George Cowie, born just seven years before the distillery, begins to work for two of Scotland’s great civil engineers, Thomas Grainger and John Miller. In the golden age of early Victorian engineering he goes on to help develop vast segments of Britain’s railway infrastructure; bridges, viaducts, tunnels and station
George applies his precise, systematic approach to another great challenge – production of fine single malt Scotch whisky. In 1853 he returns to his native Speyside and accepts a partnership at Dufftown’s Mortlach distillery, which enters its fourth decade able to call on his expertise.
1920s: Selling Mortlach to John Walker & Sons of Kilarmnoch
Aged 62, Alexander retires, selling Mortlach to the famous John Walker & Sons of Kilmarnock, and so opening a new chapter in its history. It was only their second distillery purchase, so testament to Mortlach’s vital importance to leading blenders. Very soon Walker and other blenders amalgamate to form the Distillers Company Limited (DCL) and Mortlach comes under the control of a subsidiary, Scottish Malt Distillers, from 1930.
On Christmas Eve 1940, Alexander Cowie dies at his home in Glenrinnes and is subsequently buried after a well-attended funeral in Mortlach Kirk. Tributes remember him for his contribution to public life, warm generosity and leadership of Mortlach distillery.
To satisfy demand, some of the distilling apparatus is renewed and buildings are altered and added to. The rest of Alexander Cowie’s distillery and pattern of operation is left untouched, including the outside wooden worm tubs used to cool and condense the spirit, now found in just a handful of distilleries.
Mortlach continues to play an important role in some of the world’s finest blends under its new owners United Distillers (now Diageo), and limited releases are once again made of its single malt, which can be rediscovered as a 16 year old.
Fostering the pioneering spirit of its greatest founders, Mortlach enters yet another new era, as the liquid is re-born in four unique expressions. Plans are announced for an extension to the current distillery in order to bring this remarkable malt to more whisky aficionados the world over.