By Richard Thomas
Founded in 1895, Gordon & MacPhail have been making their mark as an independent bottler of Scotch whiskies from their shop in Elgin, nestled in the midst of Speyside, for over 120 years. In recent years, they have made quite a splash by releasing 70 Year Old bottlings of The Glenlivet and Mortlach, whiskies distilled in the early days of the Second World War.
As having such antique whisky on hand implies, Gordon & MacPhail has a serious stock of barrels, butts, hogsheads and casks to manage. Wood is a major contributor to a whisky’s character, between 40 and 80% of it depending on which distiller you ask. An independent bottler like Gordon & MacPhail must deal not just in what distillery to buy from, but the wood it comes stored in as well.
Take their Rare Vintage Smith’s Glenlivet 1974, bottled in 2011 and drawn from ex-bourbon barrels and ex-sherry casks. The single malt itself is 37 years old, and right around the time I began pre-school, the spirit was poured into barrels from Kentucky and casks from Spain. While I spent the next two decades attending to my education, starting a career, traveling the world and getting married, that whisky was acquired and quietly matured under the stewardship of Gordon & MacPhail.
Bottled at 43% abv, the liquid has a solidly amber appearance in the glass. Amber, but not quite bourbon. It has a certain moody, opaque quality to it, a coloring that suggests bronze instead of copper in the mixture.
The nose is thick with cut grass and wet wood, and sweet with dried dark fruits and apples, stewed in a pot with a splash of rosewater. The flavor is mild, the texture thick and velvety. If I had to sum it up in three words, I would say “curry caramel apples,” what with the peppery coat over vanilla and soft fruitiness, with a deep current of sherry oak running straight through it. It’s a subtle flavor, one that demands you sit down and spend some serious time with it.
The finish leaves a very light touch of chili and oak sitting right on the middle of the tongue, and a mild touch of warmth that lingers on long after the aftertaste has faded.
Whisky like this isn’t drunk or even sipped. It is contemplated.
The “sold out” entries with online retailers read £270, which, when you think about it, isn’t unfair. It’s a truly lovely single malt, and what with the degree of speculation in old and rare single malts these days, a price that equates to less than $500 is actually cheap for the asking.