Gordon & MacPhail dropped a bombshell on Monday, announcing it would stop its activities as an independent bottler. As I had a few Gordon & MacPhail tasting notes in the pipeline anyway, this is probably as good a time as any to publish them.
Should you have missed the announcement, be sure to read Whisky Magazine’s full article on Gordon & MacPhail’s announcement. I’ll admit my opening sentence may be a bit misleading, but it is true. While we won’t see the immediate effects of Gordon & MacPhail’s decision, they have decided to change gears.
They’ll stop purchasing stock for independent bottlings in 2024. A “natural evolution” according to outgoing managing director Ewen Mackintosh, who attributed the change at least in part to the difficulty obtaining new-make spirit supply. Instead, Gordon & MacPhail will focus fully on whiskies from its own distilleries, Benromach and The Cairn.
Now, it’ll be quite a few years before we’ll start seeing the effects from this decision. While Gordon & MacPhail might not replenish any of their current stock, the company is still sitting on an invaluable amount of whisky. These casks will be bottled in time – some many decades from now.
Nonetheless, a shocking announcement it is. Even more so from a macro standpoint. It’s not just about what this means for one of the most storied independent bottlers ever, but rather about the effects on the rest of the sector.
Granted, Gordon & MacPhail’s business model hinged on buying new make and filling their own casks. Many small independent bottlers buy casks through brokerages or similar channels. That’s a big difference. And yet, it all feels quite momentous.
For today, not much will change for whisky drinkers. You’ll be able to continue drinking Gordon & MacPhail releases, and I’ll continue to review them. First up, a Glenturret 2006 15 Years from a refill sherry butt. Then a little further below my thoughts on an Ardmore 1997 23 Years from a refill American hogshead.
Glenturret 2006 15 Years (55.6%, Gordon & MacPhail, C#543)
Nose: Big notes of fudge, Werther’s Original and dark caramel. Hints of burnt toast, maybe even some sulphur. Well, no, definitely struck matches and the like. Charred orange peel, bitter chocolate and whiffs of polished leather, as well as a tinge of tobacco leaves. It’s not bad, but the sulphur certainly detracts. Taste: Creamy mouthfeel but dry as well. An assortment of oak spices, like nutmeg and cloves, but also some cracked black peppercorns. Next up dark caramel, charred oak, leather, and star anise. The oranges make an encore too. Zestier this time, and not as bitter. Finish: Medium length. A lingering dryness, prominent spices, and soft citrus notes.
Combine the sulphurous nose (although it improved over time) with the oak-forward, dry palate, and what you’re left with is a whisky I don’t find too attractive. This modern, sherry-matured Glenturret isn’t particularly exhilarating, but still slightly above average.
Ardmore 1997 23 Years (55.9%, Gordon & MacPhail, C#900663)
Nose: Hints of sultanas and golden syrup with touches of menthol, ginger, and a faint hint of wood smoke. Hints of sunflower oil, bandages and green fruits, but also some syrupy, tropical touches and wet pebbles. Finally a touch of turpentine. Taste: Proper oily, weighty distillate. At this age, the peat is fully integrated. Hints of charcoal, green smoke and elegant citrus notes, along with a touch of white pepper and crushed mint leaves. Even a touch of beeswax, and slightly grassy at times. Finish: Long. The pepper remains a constant, as does the gentle peat influence. Somewhat sooty too.
I really am just a sucker for late 1990s Ardmore. They can be somewhat austere, and this one is no exception, but it suits the style. These get more polished now that they're comfortably 20 years of age, but Ardmore never lets you forget its provenance.