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Gordon & MacPhail

Whisky Concerns

GORDON  &  MACPHAIL,  Elgin

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.”

SPEYMALT WHISKY

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.

DISTILLERIES & BRANDS

Avonside
SCOTCH WHISKY
Ben Alder
BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY
Benromach
SPEYSIDE SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Fraser's
BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY
Glen Avon
HIGHLAND SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Glen Calder
BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY
Glen Gordon
HIGHLAND SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Glen Urquhart
BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY
Highland Fusilier
BLENDED MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Immortal Memory
BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY
James Gordon
BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY
MacPhail's
MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Pride of Islay
ISLAY SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Pride of Orkney
ISLAND SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Pride of Strathspey
SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Pride of the Lowlands
LOWLAND SINGLE MALT SCOTCH WHISKY
Spey Cast
BLENDED SCOTCH WHISKY
ASSOCIATED COMPANIES

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

TRIBUTES

‘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


NEW MODERN IDENTITY FOR GORDON & MACPHAIL
16 April 2018
Gordon & MacPhail has overhauled its range of independently bottled whiskies in an effort to modernise the 122-year-old company.

Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice range
New look: Gordon & MacPhail’s Connoisseurs Choice range is the first to launch
The Elgin-based business, which also owns Benromach distillery in Speyside, is cutting the number of its independently bottled whisky ranges from 14 down to five.

At the same time, the business will present a new look for the five ranges to remain: Discovery, Distillery Labels, Connoisseurs Choice, Private Collection and Generations.

Stephen Rankin, director of prestige and fourth generation member of the Urquhart family, owners of Gordon & MacPhail, said: ‘As we begin a new chapter, we are streamlining our portfolio to make it more accessible for our consumers, placing their desire for products with heritage, authenticity, and provenance at the heart of each range.

‘People associate us with having quality liquid, and the whisky is second to none, but people don’t think we look the best. This is our opportunity to change and move with the times, and give consumers what they really want.’

The first range to relaunch will be Connoisseurs Choice, which marks its 50th anniversary this year. The range will feature small batch, non-chill-filtered whiskies ranging from £70 to £500.

Rankin added: ‘When my grandfather launched Connoisseurs Choice, he was considered eccentric for taking such an innovative approach. This range provided an opportunity for whisky lovers to explore whiskies that had never previously been bottled as single malts. As a result, he is heralded as one of the pioneers of the single malt category.’

The new-look Discovery range, described as ‘the welcome to the G&M portfolio’, will also launch later this spring, with each bottle colour coded to allow consumers to navigate around the collection.

Expressions will be divided into three main flavour profiles: smoky (silver label), Sherry cask-matured (blue label) and Bourbon cask-matured (green label).

The Distillery Labels collection – a series of bottlings featuring historical labels – will launch in the summer, while the Private Collection range of more luxurious expressions will follow in the autumn.

The next Generations range of ultra-premium whiskies, which in the past has included the oldest Scotch whisky bottled to date – a 75-year-old Mortlach distilled in 1939 – will be unveiled in the near future.

GORDON & MACPHAIL: PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE
21 May 2018
It’s a time of great change at Gordon & MacPhail, the Elgin-based independent bottler that can trace its history back 123 years. But, even as the company streamlines its huge number of whisky ranges, the essential philosophy underpinning the business remains unaltered.

Then…: Gordon & MacPhail opened its grocery business in South Street, Elgin in May 1895
‘I suppose it’s our hoarding nature.’ A smile spreads across Stuart Urquhart’s face as I gape at the selection of casks at Gordon & MacPhail’s Elgin warehouse. Seemingly endless ranks of them, containing whisky from almost every distillery in Scotland.

In front of me, a brace of ancient Glenlivets, next to them Glen Grants; I pause beside a venerable Mortlach and spot another one behind. All of them go back decades: ’60s, ’50s, further. No other firm has such range in such depth.

Anyone interested in whisky will have encountered a Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) bottling at some stage, but maybe not recognised it as such. Just as you get (happily) lost in the warehouse with its endless possibilities, so the consumer could become baffled by the firm’s many ranges.

‘It took me three years to understand what they all were,’ admits Ian Chapman, the firm’s marketing director. ‘I think of the portfolio as being like a grand stately home. It’s been around for 123 years and, over the years, bits have been added on. Fitting whiskies in was a bit like asking: “Which room has a spare bed?” Now we’ve taken it back to the four walls.’

That has meant trimming the previous 16 ranges down to five, ‘so you can now go from room to room and not get lost!’ as Chapman puts it.

The welcome at the new front door is the ‘Discovery’ range, a permanent selection comprising Glenrothes, Miltonduff and Bunnahabhain, all aged in ex-Sherry; Tormore, Balblair and Tomatin in ex-Bourbon; and two smoky expressions: Caol Ila and Ledaig.

All are bottled at 43%, and are between 10 and 13 years of age, making a selection of what international sales manager Richard Urquhart calls ‘everyday whisky to enjoy at £50’.

The Distillery Labels range has been retained and, while the iconic label designs remain, the new bottle shape is the same as for Discovery and Connoisseur’s Choice, and is more prominently branded as being from G&M.

It consists of: Ardmore, Glenburgie, Glen Grant, The Glenlivet, Glentauchers, Linkwood (at 15 and 25 years old), Longmorn, Miltonduff, Mortlach (at the same ages as Linkwood), Scapa and Strathisla.

‘These were well-known labels,’ Richard explains, ‘but it was difficult to tell that they were from us. Now you can tell that this Mortlach 15-year-old is a G&M product, it’s easier to get our message across.’

The new-look Connoisseur’s Choice sits at the heart of the new portfolio. Now mostly comprising single cask releases, the selection has been sub-divided into cask-strength bottlings, finishes and some batches (bottled at 46%).

Prices start at £75 and rise up to £500 for whiskies of 30 years and above. Further up the rarity scale will sit Private Collection (which will be relaunched this autumn) and the Generations ranges.

Prize casks: The scale and depth of G&M’s whisky inventory is something to behold

It’s a radical shift for what has been thought of as an ultra-traditional firm. ‘It was time to turn onto a new page,’ says managing director Ewen Mackintosh, ‘take best of where we came from and simplify it. We want to be brand owners, we want people to be buying G&M whisky.’

He also sees the move as giving greater security moving forward. ‘Many of the old arrangements were done with a handshake, some going back to Mr George [Urquhart] or his father helping distillers who were in need of cash by buying casks.’ It might be a charming reminder of the old days, but today’s industry is somewhat harder-nosed.

‘We don’t control our own destiny,’ he continues. ‘What happens if the person we’ve done business with at a large company leaves, or the marketing director changes and decides to start bottling something we had? Any change of direction on their part can affect us and the supply.

‘We have Benromach and it’s no secret that we want a second distillery, and we’re having a look at that as a project. The aim is to become a portfolio company and not be so reliant on the G&M whisky business.

‘The question has been what does the family do for future generations? It is being in charge of your own destiny and that means establishing G&M as the brand, and telling our story.’

That story is a fascinating one, how in 1895 a precocious young man called John Urquhart joined a high-class grocer, ended up owning it and began to specialise in single malt whisky, filling new make into his own casks.

Self-determining: G&M MD Ewen Mackintosh wants the company to govern its own destiny

Nothing has changed in that respect. Unlike other bottlers, G&M still controls its whisky from new make to bottling. Explaining that also necessitates more self-examination.

‘The question is how we distance ourselves from what we class as armchair bottlers who buy casks from brokers,’ says Mackintosh. ‘That whisky is there because it’s surplus to requirements. There will be gems in there, but there’s no control or consistency.

‘If you fill into your own casks, you can decide that whisky’s fate from day one. We have the ability to consistently get that because we can control it from the moment we stick it in the cask, and that has a significant impact on quality.’

Does that also mean there is a G&M style? If they held a blind tasting of the same distillery’s whiskies bottled by G&M, Cadenhead, and Signatory, I ask Richard Urquhart, what would identify the G&M bottling?

‘The balance, the richness, the cask influence,’ he responds. ‘It’s that balance of maturation…’ He grins. ‘And our bottles now weigh more!’

That in turn is a reflection of a cask policy which would shame many distillers. Sixty-five percent of the stock is filled into first- or second-fill Sherry butts or hogsheads, sourced from three Sherry suppliers and only seasoned with Sherry from within the DO (Denominación de Origen) triangle (some other firms will use ex-Montilla wine casks).

‘This will be the last year of using ex-bodega casks,’ explains Stuart Urquhart, whose grand title of associate director, whisky supply, basically means blender. ‘From now, all casks will have been heavily toasted, seasoned to our spec, and we’ll use a higher percentage of American than European oak.’

Once again, control lies at the heart of the the thinking. ‘The whisky will spend its first decade with the distiller,’ Stuart explains. ‘When we get it here, we assess and grade on a 1-10 scale.

‘Anything which is above eight will be kept for long-term ageing; five to eight will be used in a bottling; a four will need more time; and anything lower will be racked into new casks. Maturation is key to what we do. Imagine filling something that no-one wanted.’

This process is revealed to me the following day when, at the firm’s store, G&M’s director of prestige Stephen Rankin takes me through a tasting of whiskies from the sample room at the point when that first decision was made.

It is a revelatory experience, culminating in two Glenlivets from sister casks filled in 1943 and sampled in 1967. The elegant cask 120 showed rose petal fragrance and touches of tobacco, while 121 had more power and richness, mixing waxiness with some honeyed pecan and mint.

Although both were in their mid-20s by then, both could clearly go on for longer… and they did. Cask 120 was bottled in the 1980s, while its companion stayed in cask until it was bottled last October.

The tasting had come after Rankin had taken me on a journey through time, from the shop’s basement where the casks used to be unloaded, emptied and bottled, to the store itself – one of the last true ‘Italian warehousemen’ grocers still left – to the new tasting room and the as yet undeveloped upper floors where the original offices were.

When Richard Urquhart joins us, what I’ve been seeing as a fascinating whisky history takes on a new meaning as the two cousins swap reminiscences. ‘That’s where Stuart pushed a heater onto my leg.’ … ‘This was dad’s office.’ … ‘Remember when we used to press that buzzer?’ … ‘Who worked in here?’

It’s here in these dusty, deserted rooms when it hits home: this isn’t a workplace, but somewhere alive with memory, just as the casks in the warehouse aren’t just whisky, but are a living legacy handed down through generations.

In the warehouse the previous day Stuart had pointed to one of the Mortlachs. ‘Remember the 75-year-old we bottled?’ he’d asked. ‘That was filled by my great-grandfather. My grandfather was 19 at the time. My father decided to leave it for longer and we bottled it. I now have to think what my grandchildren will be bottling.’

Generations pass, in the same way as bottles are emptied, leaving memories, but the house is now being filled again. Things change and evolve, the family endures.


GORDON & MACPHAIL PLANS SPEYSIDE DISTILLERY
30 May 2018
Independent bottler Gordon & MacPhail (G&M) is planning to build a new malt whisky distillery at Craggan on Speyside, close to the town of Grantown-on-Spey.

Ewen Mackintosh MD Gordon & MacPhail
Second site: The new distillery is a vital part of G&M’s plans, says Ewen Mackintosh
Speymalt Whisky Distributors Ltd – G&M’s parent company – says the multi-million-pound development will become ‘a major tourist attraction and significant local employer’ when it opens in 2020.

The as yet unnamed plant would be the first new malt whisky distillery to be built in the Cairngorms National Park since its creation in 2003.

Speymalt is now set to begin consulting the local community about the distillery, staging a public exhibition during the summer, with plans likely to be lodged with the local authority this autumn.

If approved, building work is expected to start in 2019 and to take about 12 months to complete.

The company already owns another Speyside malt whisky distillery, Benromach at Forres, which it revived in 1998 after 15 years of silence.

‘Building a second distillery is an important part of our business plan and we have spent some time researching a suitable site,’ said Ewen Mackintosh, managing director of Speymalt and Gordon & MacPhail.

‘We believe we have found the perfect place for our new distillery at Craggan. It’s a stunning location with strong transport links and can accommodate the distillery, warehousing and a visitor experience.’

Mackintosh had dropped hints about the project in a recent interview with Dave Broom on Scotchwhisky.com, saying: ‘We have Benromach and it’s no secret that we want a second distillery, and we’re having a look at that as a project.’

The plans are part of a broader strategic rethink at Elgin-based G&M, which opened as a grocery business in the town in 1895.

The bottler’s previously cumbersome line-up of 16 whisky ranges has been whittled down to five, with a greater emphasis on the Gordon & MacPhail brand name.

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STEPHEN RANKIN, GORDON & MACPHAIL
21 June 2018
Gordon & MacPhail’s director of prestige talks to Dave Broom about working in a family business, time, learning how to dig holes and drunken Portuguese fishermen.


Not a given: Family ties didn’t guarantee Stephen Rankin a job with Gordon & MacPhail
‘I grew up in Inverness, where my father had a quantity surveying business, so my early relationship with the whisky business was coming through to Elgin in the holidays with mum when she could visit her family and I would play with my cousins.

‘When I was at uni in Aberdeen, I’d come home in the summer and work for dad, doing the maths or holding the daft end of the tape on sites. One summer, my Uncle Ian phoned and asked whether I’d like to do some holiday work. They’d just bought Benromach and they had to prepare and secure the site for the contractors.

‘There were only three of us on the site: me, my grandfather and a man called John Taylor, both of whom were 75. The rate they worked put me to shame. Among other things, John taught me how to dig a hole properly and put up fenceposts. They’re still standing today!

‘Our home was often the party house on a Saturday night. There would always be beer and whisky. When I was 17, my dad sat me down and said: “You've come to the age of drink. You’ve probably tasted it already, but be careful, especially with whisky. It’s a wonderful drink, but you have to respect it.” That stayed with me, and it wasn’t until my late 20s that I started to really try whisky and appreciate it.

Stephen Rankin

Family business: Rankin had to ‘follow the whisky’ as part of his G&M apprenticeship

‘I was working in Edinburgh for seven years as a chartered surveyor when my uncles had a chat with me about whether I’d like to come into the business. The rules were simple. “If you don’t like us, there’s a door. If we don’t like you, there’s the same door.” The job wasn’t guaranteed.

‘Like my cousins, when I first started, I had to “follow the whisky”, learning how it was made at Benromach, doing a malting course, and then working in the bond to learn about maturation. I’ve done everything from making whisky to slicing hams and roasting coffee.

‘I had to have a full interview for my first position, which came up after my training. I was up against some internal and external candidates. I got the job, but my uncles said: “Be mindful of your colleagues who didn’t get it. You need to prove to them that you can do it, as well as prove it to us.”

‘That first job was as a sales executive based out of Inverness, covering the north of Scotland. One of my accounts was the Culag hotel in Lochinver. The owner always used to say he didn’t have a market for Scotch, but then he began getting Portuguese and Spanish fishermen coming in.

‘They were supplying the Klondikers [Russian factory ships which used to anchor in the loch] and used to come in on pay day and ask for the finest whisky they could buy, so we started to sell him lots! You could walk in there at 10am and they’d be smashed.

Stephen Rankin Linkwood 1956

History boys: G&M has a remarkable inventory, including a recently released Linkwood 1956

‘Our first distillery label was from 1896. Round here this was boom time. Everyone was opening distilleries, then came the Pattison crash and everyone went: “Holy mackerel!” and distilleries started closing.

‘The old system was distilleries, brokers and blenders. At that point you see blenders buying distilleries, and distillery owners doing their own blends. I wonder if it was at that point that we took a different tack and began to focus on single malts.

‘My great-grandfather took the helm in 1915. In the space of a month he went from being the senior manager to the sole owner. By that point he’d been in it for 20 years.

‘By the time my grandfather joined in 1933, he’d had 38 years of experience running G&M. He went on to retire in ’56. That’s 61 years in the business. Just think of the changes he’d seen: new distilleries being built in 1897/8, the crash, blends, Prohibition, the Depression and the revival.

‘I found a handwritten stock sheet from 1914 which listed 11 pints of Mortlach – my great-grandfather was a close friend of Alex Cowie – nine pints of Linkwood, so many pints of Glenlivet, and Glen Grant. The Major [Grant] became good friends and he’d encourage him to send the very best Sherry casks to him for filling.

‘I think it would have been great-grandfather who took the decision to lay down stock. We have whiskies from 1936 when he would have been in charge. We could have bottled that when it was young, but we held on to it.  

Gordon & MacPhail warehouse

Wood and whisky: G&M will soon have nine decades of spirit in its warehouses

‘Even today, people will often say: “Could you bottle another of these older casks?” … and we could, but one day you’d wake up and there would be nothing left. It is about patience.

‘I’m becoming less blasé about the depth of the range. You’re almost in denial about your own ageing process. We talk about things from the ’70s or ’80s or ’90s and I think that wasn’t that long ago, then you meet people at their 21st birthday and remember you were at their christening!

‘Because I’m in the archives, I’m beginning to understand the sense of history and appreciating time. The Glenlivet ’43 was distilled when Churchill and Eisenhower met, that Linkwood ’56 was made when this unknown singer called Elvis had a breakthrough hit, the ‘61s were from the same year that a man first went into space. You do pinch yourself and stop being blasé about the ages and dates, and start to appreciate how remarkable it is.

‘We’ve got eight decades represented in the warehouse and, as long as we don’t use all of the ‘40s by the 2020s, we’ll have nine decades. Nine decades. That’s quite amazing.

‘At the end of the day, you can’t keep everything forever, but you want the opportunity to exist for people to relive the experiences we are having today because they are so incredible – and we can with good husbandry and excellent custodianship.’
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