Officially founded in 1823 by James Findlater, it is believed that illicit whisky production had been taking place at Mortlach for many years prior to the license being granted.
The distillery changed hands a few times in the mid 19th century and was silent from 1837, when it was part-owned by James and John Grant, who promptly removed all the distilling apparatus for use at their new Glen Grant distillery.
Having stripped what they wanted from Mortlach, the Grants sold their share of the distillery to their partner John Gordon, who had been running the buildings as a brewery since the removal of the stills. Gordon replaced the stills in the early 1850s before selling Mortlach on again. After expansion to six stills in 1897, the distillery was bought by John Walker and Sons in 1923, before becoming part of Distillers Company Ltd (later Diageo) in 1925.
Mortlach distillery is still owned by Diageo, and its large capacity (2.9 million litres/year) enables it to be a major malt in the production of the Johnnie Walker blend, reflecting the spirit's huge popularity among blenders. The standard bottling is a 16 year-old released under the Flora & Fauna rubric, but this is becoming more scarce recently and it is unclear whether another batch will be bottled when present stocks run out. A handful of officially bottled Rare Malt releases were released in the mid-1990s – coinciding with a major refurbishment at the distillery during which a semi-lauter mash-tun was installed.
Mortlach had its own floor maltings until 1968, and remains one of only a handful of distilleries still using wooden worm-tub condensers to cool their spirit. The distillery is also one of only three distilleries using 'partial triple distillation' as also practised at Benrinnes and Springbank. The house style is full, rich and robust, with the spirit showing a great affinity for sherry wood, resulting in some magnificent older bottlings.