Go to content

Main menu:

Gordon & MacPhail

Whisky Concerns


Also see Benromach history

Established in 1895 the family owned and managed firm of Gordon & Macphail                                                                                                                                 

us custodian of some of the world's finest
and rarest Single Malt Scotch Whiskies.
But working with the majority of Scotland's distilleries, our unrivalled stock have been                                                                                           

 built up over many generations.
Casks owned by Gordon & Macphail are                                                                                                                          

   sent to distilleries throughout Scotland and filled with "new make" spirit, before                                                                                           

  being left to mature at the distillery
or in our bonded ware- houses in Elgin,
in north east Scotland.
Each expression in our Cask Strenght                                                                                                                                                 

  range in unique. A small selection of casks is carefully chosen and the contents
bottled - always at natural strength and colour, with no chill filtering.

Gordon & MacPhail unveils world’s most exclusive whisky

02 September, 2015

Gordon & MacPhail has unveiled, what it claims might be the world’s most exclusive single malt scotch whisky, a 75-year-old whisky from Mortlach with a RRP of £20,000.

According to the still family-owned company, on November 17, 1939, John Urquhart, the first generation of the family to be involved in Gordon & MacPhail, instructed the first-fill sherry cask to be filled with new-make spirit from Speyside’s Mortlach distillery (now owned by Diageo).

Only 100 decanters, bottled at cask strength (44.4% abv), have been released. Twelve have been allocated to the UK. The RRP for Generations Mortlach 75 Year Old by Gordon & MacPhail is £20,000 (prices may differ in international markets due to local taxes and duty).

Generations Mortlach 75 Years Old by Gordon & MacPhail is bottled in a teardrop-shaped Generations decanter. Each decanter is numbered and handcrafted with 75 ‘cuts’. Each cut represents a year of the whisky’s maturation. The decanter sits on a white presentation plinth with two especially designed crystal glasses.

The decanter comes in a luxury Aniline leather travel bag and is accompanied by an especially commissioned book, ‘Seven Nights with Mortlach’. Well known whisky writer, Charles Maclean and international author, Alexander McCall Smith joined forces to tell tales of Scotland, whisky and the people behind this malt whisky, accompanied by illustrations from up-and-coming Scottish artists.

It was unveiled at a special ceremony at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in London this week (September 2).

The unveiling was attended by the ‘great and the good’ of the scotch whisky industry and its fourth estate in the presence of third and fourth generation members of the Urquhart family, together with MacLean and McCall Smith.

Gordon & MacPhail exports to more than 50 countries. It offers more than 300 expressions of own-bottled single malts. In 2009 and again in 2013, Gordon & MacPhail was awarded the Queen’s Award for Enterprise in International Trade, reflecting its growth in exports over a 10 year period.

Charles MacLean tasting note:

“Mid-amber, with rubious lights. Fresh and clean; very slight nose prickle: still lively. A highly perfumed, floral top note – lily of the valley, barber’s shop, scented hand cream, soft leather lady’s dress handbag – with a fruity complex in the middle (dried figs, pomegranate, ripe pear. Peach juice); creamy vanilla (Crème Anglaise), even vanilla fudge, and a faint trace of coffee in the background.

“Water reduces the floral notes with scented oil (bath oil? Teak oil?), increases the soft leather note and dries out the aroma somewhat (warm sanded hardwood).

“Sweet to start, but not as sweet as expected; considerable fresh acidity and slightly mouth drying. Bitter almonds.A most unusual trace of hemp ropes and very faded creosote, lending a slight smokiness.A medium- length finish, leaving an attractive aftertaste of sandalwood.

“Lightly sweet; slightly oily texture; mouth drying; then slightly bitter finish. Some spice across the tongue. Warming, even at this lower strength.

“A most unusual taste – never before encountered. Smooth and highly sophisticated – elegant as a grande dame – the Ingrid Bergman of malts.”


Gordon & MacPhail is the trading name of Speymalt Whisky Distributors, an independent blender and bottler which owns Benromach distillery through a subsidiary, as well as the dormant bottler, Gordon Bonding Company.

James Gordon and John Alexander established Gordon & MacPhail as a grocery and wine merchant in Elgin in 1895.

John Urquhart joined the business in its first year, and became a senior partner in 1915, developing its whisky broking and bottling. As time progressed, younger generations of the Urquhart family joined the firm and today several of John Urquhart’s great grandchildren hold positions within the company.

Speymalt Whisky Distributors was incorporated in 1962, and became the owner the Benromach distillery in 1993.


Ben Alder
Glen Avon
Glen Calder
Glen Gordon
Glen Urquhart
Highland Fusilier
Immortal Memory
James Gordon
Pride of Islay
Pride of Orkney
Pride of Strathspey
Pride of the Lowlands
Spey Cast

Gordon & MacPhail
Gordon Bonding Company
The Benromach Distillery Co

The History of the Independent Bottlers
Single malt whisky is old. Not only on the label but historically speaking. In 1995 its 500th birthday was celebrated. Before that time, only a few monasteries knew about the production of malt whisky. Outside these ‘strongholds of knowledge’, its production was a secret. Beer was brewed from barley, but how to make whisky from beer remained a mystery.

A hundred years later there was no more secret. The first distilleries outside of the monasteries were established. As of 1700, almost every farm in Scotland, Ireland and on the US east coast distilled whisky as a sideline. There were no alcohol taxes, and each farmer tried to turn at least some of their barley into cash.

The whisky didn’t last long. Right after production it was quaffed by thirsty pub-goers straight from the cask. Each cask tasted differently, which made people pay attention to who had filled it. In the US, a law was passed stating that each whisky cask had to be labelled with the county of its origin. That’s how the name bourbon (from Bourbon County) came into being.

Over the course of the centuries, bourbon and Scotch secured their place in history. At the end of the 19th/beginning of the 20th century, the cheap and mellow blends in glass bottles replaced the malt whisky casks from the pubs. The governments needed money, and distilling licences became unaffordable for farmers. The market was concentrated, and from thousands of Scottish farms only a few hundred malt whisky distilleries emerged. They mostly worked for the blend industry. The time of the beloved malt whisky from small casks was over.

Completely over? Not quite. A small community still requested malt whisky, which was now also available in bottles. Around 1900 there was a market niche for whisky. For example, Glenmorangie exported malt whisky to San Francisco. But there were only few malt whisky bottlers; brand management and distribution were too costly.

Before the year 1825, Gordon & MacPhail, a well-known grocery company from Elgin, Scotland, decided to buy malt whisky in casks and to market it on their own account. Important Speyside malt whisky distilleries like Macallan and Mortlach recognised the positive effect and had their malt whisky bottled in Elgin, too.

Not only Gordon & MacPhail knew about the market niche. Many other retailers followed suit in the following years. In a century with two wars and many upheavals, most of them perished again.

No other important independent bottler beside Gordon & MacPhail survived the time of the two World Wars. Instead, the distilleries, above all Macallan, Bowmore, Glenlivet and Glenmorangie, started to market their malt whisky by themselves.

Gordon & MacPhail were still primarily grocers, but they assembled a large stock of malt whisky casks that are worth a fortune today. No other distillery or independent bottler has got such a large stock of old malts.

It wasn’t until the 1980s that a new, important independent bottler, Signatory Vintage Ltd., entered the market. In contrast to the established Gordon & MacPhail, the young owner concentrated on Scotch single malts only.

No groceries, no blends and no distillery that could have distracted from selling whisky, just single malt and nothing else. Within 20 years, the two brothers Symington managed to rearrange the whole market with steady work. They were no white-collar managers afraid to get their hands dirty. They really worked hard and within a few years they achieved what other families couldn’t achieve in a hundred years’ time.

Today Signatory is a flexible and innovative independent bottler that continually releases newly-crafted malts. They have good relations to distilleries. For example, only Signatory managed to bottle the Ben Wyvis single malt again, which was thought to be lost forever.

But let’s stay realistic. Gordon & MacPhail and Signatory are small family businesses that bottle a few hundred casks per year under their own moniker. Compared to the big players, they’re a drop in the ocean – albeit a drop of finest single malt whisky.

Where there’s light, there’s shadow. Until September 2001 new young independent bottlers entered the market almost on a monthly basis. Most of them didn’t make it from the twilight to the spotlight. Their whisky sources are too dubious, and the quality is far from consistent. Some bottlers have never seen the casks they bottle. They are sometimes called ‘arm chair bottlers’ because they sit at home and have malt whisky bottled somewhere else. They don’t know how their whisky tastes and they don’t care. Malt whisky is ‘in’, and the consumer is thought to fall for any nice story and an exotic Gaelic name.

But consumers aren’t that ignorant. They notice when they’re taken in. Maybe they can be fooled once or twice but not a third time.

The big corporations have also recognised the risk of these dubious bottlings that are sold bearing their name. They have often taken legal steps against these bottlings. Some distilleries, among them important ones like Glenmorangie, Glenfiddich, Glenfarclas and Balvenie, strictly forbid their names to be used. As of summer 2002, the big alcoholic beverages company Diageo has decided not to sell casks from their important malt whisky distilleries to independent bottlers anymore. Existing contracts will be honoured, but the market is dried out in the long run.

Instead they have decided to enter the business of high-value bottlings themselves. The corporations now offer an impressive range of special bottlings. Glenmorangie’s Private Collection and Diageo’s Special Releases have become highly popular with collectors.

The independent bottlers are aware of this looming danger. It won’t take long until they’re literally dried out. They won’t make profit with 2nd and 3rd class distilleries. The big and well-known brands have a huge advantage. If the big players still give away casks, they want to be paid well for this kind of brand management.

An opposing trend is conceivable. Gordon & MacPhail bought the Benromach distillery. Ian MacLeod bought Glengoyne, and Murray McDavid, an aspiring new independent bottler, bought Bruichladdich. Only Signatory lacked behind until the summer of 2002. Originally they wanted to buy Ardbeg but were outbid by Glenmorangie Plc. In 2002 they acquired the small Edradour distillery.

What does the future have in stock for the independent bottlers? In the medium term, the market will be consolidated. Too many small businesses that only bottle a few casks each year can’t survive. They must come up with new long-term strategies.

For example, they can establish a new distillery, like Isle of Arran, Drumguish (Speyside) and Kilchoman did. The easiest and most widely used way is to take over a mothballed distillery. However, the devil is in the details. Which outstanding distillery is mothballed and affordable?

Lesser known distilleries are cheapest, but they also have the least potential. The distillery mustn’t have been closed for too long, otherwise the stocks aren’t large enough to keep a customer base for long. It’s a dilemma. Which distillery will be next?

The big players flex their muscles and divide the market up among themselves, but only the market that is attractive to them. Who wants to try an independent Tomintoul, Tamnavulin or Glencadam except for some experts? They may still be bottled by whoever wants to. The well-known brands, however, won’t give anything away. One thing is certain: Good single malt whisky has its price, and people are willing to pay that price. The Scots have understood that. Whether we buy a single malt from a big or a small distillery – chill filtered or not – our taste can’t be fooled.

Let’s get away from this David and Goliath story. Big and small companies have the same opportunities. The Connoisseur drinks the single malt whisky he likes, not the whisky that is advertised for with the wildest stories. Small distilleries will continue to produce excellent single malts in small batches. The ‘global village’ is a reality. Everyone can offer their goods on the global marketplace. The consumer will decide which distilleries and bottlers will survive.

DAVID URQUHART (1952-2015)
07 December 2015 by Scotchwhisky.com editorial
David Urquhart will be remembered in many ways and by many people: born salesman, legendary figure in Scotch whisky, talented yachtsman, proud espouser of all manner of local causes and organisations. This is an adapted version of the official obituary issued by Gordon & MacPhail, followed by some of the many tributes paid to David. Reporting by Richard Woodard, Dave Broom and Alex Taylor.

David Urquhart

A proud son of Moray, David Urquhart involved himself in just about every facet of local life: sailing, pipe bands, business development, the Royal Highland Show and, of course, Scotch whisky.

When he died at the age of 63 on Monday, 30 November after a long battle with cancer, David was a non-executive director of Gordon & MacPhail, and a representative of the third of the five generations of the Urquhart family to own the company. From 2007 until his retirement in 2012, he was its joint managing director.

David Alistair Urquhart was born on 5 October 1952, the third child of George and Peggy Urquhart. In his schooling, at Aberlour House followed by Gordonstoun, he showed a flair for all manner of sports: a first XV rugby player, and an excellent sprinter, hockey player and cross-country runner.

David officially joined Gordon & MacPhail in 1972 after leaving college, but had already accumulated many hours with the business, helping out in the shop on South Street, Elgin – a fascinating place for a small boy to spend time in, as he fondly recalled later in life.

His first professional task at Gordon & MacPhail, handed to him by his father, was to hit the road and cover the north of Scotland, accumulating countless miles in the development of the company’s business. David continued this role south of the border, becoming UK sales director, before taking on the role of joint managing director in 2007.

In 1977, David was invited to the Findhorn home of one of the company’s fruit suppliers for a Hogmanay dram. While there, he met the businessman’s daughter, Sheila, and they married the following year.

David and Sheila set up home first at Kellas, outside Elgin, before moving into the house at Findhorn where they had first met, raising twin sons, Richard and Stuart, who later joined the family firm, much to David’s delight.

Another high point came in 1993, when the company bought Benromach in Forres, realising a long-held family dream to own a distillery.

Beyond whisky, David’s great passion was sailing, one that he shared with his father and with both of his sons. His enthusiasm and talent took him to competitions throughout the UK and abroad, winning multiple Scottish Championships and competing in the Albacore class of the World Championships in Canada in 1977.

In the mid-1980s, David moved from dinghy racing to yacht racing and was a class winner at the 1999 Scottish Series, as well as competing in large events such as Cork Week.

David was also heavily involved in the Royal Findhorn Yacht Club, serving as Commodore for three years from 1989, and taking the first amateur club team to compete in Russia in 1990.

His twin passions for whisky and sailing coincided when Benromach became sponsor of the Clipper Round the World Yacht Race in 2009, allowing David to revel in the chance to spend time with legendary yachtsman Sir Robin Knox-Johnston, who became Benromach’s global brand ambassador.

David Urquhart’s long career in the whisky industry brought him many accolades, including lifetime achievement awards from Dram magazine and the Oran Mor Whisky Awards. He became the 16th inductee into the Whisky Magazine Hall of Fame in 2013, was made a Master of the Quaich in 2008, and was ‘immensely proud’ when sons Richard and Stuart became Keepers of the Quaich earlier this year.

Other contributions are almost too numerous to mention: president of the Scottish Licensed Trade Benevolent Society (The Ben) in 2004-5; involvement in the food and drink committee of the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland, from which the Urquhart family received a lifetime achievement award in 2003; a stalwart of the Royal Highland Show, introducing show-goers to the delights of single malt whisky at the Gordon & MacPhail stand.

Events were also David’s passion. He was instrumental in attracting the European Pipe Band Championships to Forres for the first time, a move so successful that the competition is set to remain there for a further three years. ‘It could not have happened without his positive attitude, his boundless energy and his good-natured yet persistent cajoling of sponsors,’ notes the obituary from Gordon & MacPhail.

It continues: ‘Despite ill health in retirement, David never slowed down. It simply wasn’t in his nature, having been such a hard worker all his life, and it was only fairly recently that he stood down from his various commitments.

‘Whether it be his contribution locally to clubs and organisations, his tireless work on behalf of the Elgin Business Improvement District, the continuing success of the family business he helped nourish, or the unmissable spectacle of the massed bands at Piping@Forres, there is no doubt David Urquhart has left his mark on Moray in a lasting and fitting way.’

David Urquhart

Much missed: David Urquhart will be remembered for his hard work in many aspects of local life


‘David Urquhart was a gentleman in the true sense. He was also a whisky man but, more importantly, he was a family man. I will always recall him standing in the Elgin warehouse, surrounded by venerable casks, smiling quietly to himself, saying: “I suppose we do have quite a lot,” and then going on to talk, at length, passionately, about the importance of time, of laying stock down for future generations.
‘On the surface, it was an example of his understanding of whisky’s long-term nature, of the mechanics of the business, but underpinning this and all of our many conversations was his belief in the importance of people, and of family.
‘David ensured that this formed the cornerstone of the business which he helped to transform. G&M didn’t just mean bottles; like David, it stood for values.
‘Any conversation we had would start around whisky, but would then leap off into other areas: the European Pipe Band Championships, or the saving and regeneration of Elgin’s small businesses. Soon after I had expressed an interest in sailing (David was a world-class yachtsman), I found myself, somewhat starstruck, at a table with Robin Knox-Johnston and other solo round-the-world sailors. Just one example of his quiet generosity, his love of connecting people.
‘I will miss him enormously.’
Dave Broom, chief engineer, Scotchwhisky.com

‘David’s death was not unexpected – he had been in poor health for some time – but it still came as a shock and a sadness. I remember him as a quiet and modest man who never vaunted his huge knowledge of Scotch whisky and of the whisky trade, in which he played such an important role for so many years.
‘We shared a passion for sailing, although he was far more competent than I, as are his boys, Richard and Stuart. My thoughts are with the Urquhart family at this sad time.’
Charles MacLean, whisky writer

‘A driving force in the rapid development of Elgin’s most famous independent bottler into a company renowned as much for the top quality of its single malt offerings as for the ownership of Benromach distillery.
‘In his last years he tirelessly endeavoured not only to dedicate his time to his wonderful family and friends, but also selflessly in the interest of others – a characteristic which he showed throughout his life. His positive attitude and determination defied the doctors in the last months of his life and he is a wonderful example to us all.
‘He was a gentleman who upheld all the best virtues and characteristics of a company and industry with which his family has been closely involved over generations.
‘We have lost, all too unfairly early, a friend and colleague whose reputation for fairness and goodwill toward others knew no bounds.’
Ronnie Cox, brands heritage director, spirits, Berry Bros & Rudd

‘I remember speaking to David several times at various BBC Good Food Shows in the early 1990s, years before the launch of Whisky Magazine. However, it was at the annual Bowmore Horse Trials that I got to know him a little better.
‘I was struck at the time by his extraordinary depth of knowledge and, especially, that he knew precisely what was going on in the industry at any given time. I enjoyed our conversations very much as it was a great opportunity to learn from one who was dry, quietly spoken and sharp as a tack.
‘He will be greatly missed.’
Marcin Miller, Number One Drinks Co

‘I met David several years ago and I was amazed at how this high-profile businessman was such a down-to-earth person with a massive sense of humour. He was very professional in his family business and also a great ambassador for the whisky industry.
‘I was hugely honoured to be invited to his retirement dinner at Innes House a few years ago. The calibre of guests and the kind words spoken about David proved how much he was respected by family, friends, colleagues and business contacts. He will be truly missed within the whisky industry.
‘David was very much a family man and will be such a loss to his lovely wife Sheila and twin sons, Richard and Stuart.’
Caroline Mitchell, visitor centre manager, Chivas Brothers

‘I have known David for at least 10 years now as a personal friend as well as colleague at Forres Events Ltd. David was a tower of strength to the members of the Forres Events team. That team and the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association will miss his enthusiasm and work ethic, and I will miss his very good company.’
Ian Widdowson, chairman, Forres Events Ltd

‘David Urquhart was much-loved, he made an enormous contribution to business and community life in Moray. He leaves behind a rich, lasting legacy, having played a crucial role in so many projects.
‘I had the privilege to work with David over the years and see his incredible enthusiasm and passion for so many local causes. But most of all he was a family man.’
Richard Lochhead, Moray MSP and Scottish Government Cabinet Secretary for Rural Affairs and Environment
Back to content | Back to main menu