Profile: Gordon & MacPhail

Last night I had the pleasure of spending a few hours in the company of Gordon & MacPhail, tasting some of their unique and archival bottlings (some not available anywhere for sale) from the Distillery Labels and Connoisseurs Choice series. I’ve had six different samples, and instead of comparing two drams side by side, as I usually do on this site, I’ll try and summarize this event, sharing a little history and some notes of interest along the way. So let’s not waste any more time on introductions and get right to it, shall we? But first, we need music! Now playing: Drumcode Radio LiveVictor Ruiz Studio Mix.

Gordon & MacPhail has a long and well-earned reputation in the Scotch Whisky industry. As an independent bottler, it has covered over 70 distilleries for over 115 years. It is still sitting on a pretty sizable stock of barrels which continue to mature in its Elgin warehouse – some approaching 70 and 80 years now (last year, it released an 80-year-old from Glenlivet). Starting as a family business of local grocery merchants, whisky blenders, and brokers, the company moved into holding on to their casks and eventually releasing them as single malts – a forward-looking unprecedented step at the time. Their Connoisseurs Choice label was born in 1968, and as we say, the rest is history. Besides releasing over 350 different expressions into the world, the company also owns the Benromach Distillery, which it purchased in 1993. But besides being a celebrated independent bottler, there is one particular feature about Gordon & MacPhail which is worth noting. It doesn’t just pick the barrels from each distiller and then repackage them under their own label. It purchases [mostly] new spirit, which it then matures in its own selection of casks which it carefully sources from local cooperage and bodegas. That means that the most flavour-impacting part of the process is entirely in their hands, as soon as the spirit comes off the still. And your well-known and familiar liquid may be altogether different when purchased from them.

Now on to the two series I tried. The first one was new to me. Distillery Labels celebrates the long-standing relationships it has with a few particular distillers, thereby entrusting the company to even use their labels on the bottles. In the tasting, I tried a 21-year-old Glenburgie, a 25-year-old Linkwood, and a 25-year-old Mortlach, which was, by far, my favourite. These were all matured in ex-oloroso casks, vatted in a single batch, and bottled at the same ABV, which they only recently bumped up from 43% to 46%. The bottles are pretty reasonably priced (the Mortlach is about £175), but to be honest, none have completely blown me away – in fact, I kind of prefer the Flora & Fauna expressions. The Connoisseurs Choice selections were much better, and not only because I got a chance to try a 28-year-old Glencadam, a 28-year-old Glen Keith and the 36-year-old Braes of Glenlivet distilled in 1975 – with the latter absolutely taking the prize (the last price I saw online for it was at £475). I like this particular range because of its uncompromised bottlings: uncoloured, un-chill filtered, cask strength, and complete details on each label, down to the cask number printed on some. For example, I own an unopened bottle of a 28-year-old Jura, aged in a refill American hogshead since 1992 and yielding only 173 bottles, plus an excellent 14-year-old Caol Ila from 2003, which is probably one of the best bottlings I’ve ever had.

There is another series called Discovery, and, as you can derive from the name, it’s designed to introduce you to their ever-growing portfolio of quality single malts. I’ve got a 12-year-old Ledaig from them, which I’ll probably crack open soon. Meanwhile, I enjoyed this tasting and, more importantly, learning a little more about Gordon & MacPhail. The only thing left is to visit their shop, which is still up and running in Elgin. I highly recommend it!

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