At a time when blends where the undisputed rulers of the whisky market, many distilleries were without either the means or the desire to bottle their whisky themselves. They therefore delegated the task to external businesses, granting them a bottling license for their spirit. From the 1960s to the 1990s, Gordon & MacPhail played this role for a large number of distilleries, particularly in Speyside, where it had its head office. Often these were the only bottlings available and became semi-official releases for the distillery in question. Such was the case for Glen Grant, Glenlivet, Macallan, Strathisla, Talisker, Mortlach, Linkwood, Longmorn and Scapa, to name but a few.
Each distillery or group—such as Distillers Company Limited (DCL), Hiram Walker, The Glenlivet Distillers Ltd and Highland Park—was given their own label, featuring in the case of DCL, for example, the eagle found on bottlings for its distilleries Talisker, Linkwood and Mortlach. These labels have become iconic and personally I am particularly fond of the colourful George & J.S. Smith’s designs decorated with a lion for Glenlivet.
There are a staggering number of these bottlings. To give just a few examples, while Talisker itself released only an 8 year old and a 12 year old in the 60s and 80s, Gordon & MacPhail bottled around 20, distilled between 1947 and 1973. The feat is even more impressive when it comes to distilleries owned by The Glenlivet Distilleries Ltd (Glenlivet, Glen Grant and Longmorn), for whom Gordon & MacPhail probably offers the most impressive selection in the world when it comes to the diversity of ages and vintages.
In the late 1980s and 1990s, distilleries gradually regained control of their licenses and began releasing their own official ranges. It is no surprise then that Talisker became increasingly rare at Gordon & MacPhail from the 1980s on, as the distillery joined the Classic Malts range as the collection’s island malt. But that didn’t stop the bottler continuing to buy and bottle whisky using the same designs that were so dear to customers’ hearts. Today these are found in a range known as the Distillery Labels. Not all distilleries developed at the same pace, however, and, although some rose to fame in the 1990s, others were not granted an official range until very recently.
Glenlivet 1961 Gordon & MacPhail 43%, 70cl, 2015 These Gordon & MacPhail Glenlivets embody is the best of what Speyside has to offer. Here, the sherry is delicate and does not dominate the many fruits and citrus notes found in the spirit, enveloped in acacia honey. You can just make out subtle wood and wax aromas and a delicately chocolatey richness. Springtime in a bottle.
Clément Gaillard, Golden Promise Whisky Bar