Gordon & MacPhail has been independently bottling single malts for over 125 years. The Elgin-based company – set up by whisky-broker James Gordon and grocer Jordon Alexander MacPhail in 1895 – has been in the Urquhart family since 1915, following Gordon’s sudden passing and MacPhail’s retirement.
John Urquhart was able to keep the emporium and grocer on South Street afloat throughout the war due to its location in the heart of Speyside, Scotland, and its wine-and-spirit importer business model.
At a time when others secured casks with the purpose of blending, Gordon & MacPhail acted more like a distillery – constructing the casks, charring to their specification and filling them with Sherry. The casks were then left for an agreed-upon time in Spanish bodegas before being emptied and sent to Scotland. Here they were filled with new-make spirit from the partner distilleries and warehoused in the distillery or bonded warehouses in Elgin, before being bottled and released. This tradition continues today and has made Gordon & MacPhail bottlings some of the most sought-after in the world.
The youngest of Urquhart’s four children, George, joined the company in 1933 and became one of the pioneers of the single malt market. “Mr George” – as he was to be known internationally – became fascinated by the whisky side of the business, studying the relationship between oak and spirit. He is responsible for pairing the likes of Longmourn, Macallan and Speymalt with Sherry barrels from bodegas Gordon & MacPhail worked with, and lighter whisky styles with Bourbon barrels.
When distilleries were being closed or amalgamated during the 1970s and ’80s, Gordon & MacPhail increased their filling programmes and provided capital for distilleries that might otherwise have closed. In Michael Jackson’s definitive 1989 guide, The Malt Whisky Companion, 65% of the whiskies featured were bottled by Gordon & MacPhail.
Today, the company is maturing stock dating back nine decades from more than 100 distilleries, 22 of which are mothballed and unlikely to reopen. Gordon & MacPhail invests millions of pounds in their own oak every year.
Gordon & MacPhail independently bottles Distillery Labels (celebrating long-standing relationships with Scottish distilleries), the Private Collection (selected by family members) and Connoisseurs Choice. In 1993, the company bought its first distillery, Benromach located in Forres in Moray. Production is due to start late 2021/early 2022 at the company’s second distillery overlooking the River Spey, The Cairn.