The Wood Makes the Whisky | Gordon and MacPhail
Below you’ll find a bumper review of 18 G&M whiskies, but first let’s take a quick look at why I’m reviewing these whiskies in the first place… In short, it’s all about wood!
Gordon and MacPhail’s Ewen Macintosh (Chief Operating Officer) possibly sums up their ‘Wood Makes the Whisky’ campaign best when he said “Here at Gordon & MacPhail we have always been focused on the close relationship between oak and spirit, and have learned from vast experience that wood really does make the whisky. We have selected the special series of whiskies to demonstrate this complex relationship.
“Our unrivalled collection is a liquid library showcasing whiskies from numerous Scottish distilleries, age profiles and whisky characteristics. From branch to barrel, we aim to deliver a perfectly matured whisky time and time again.”
In short, G&M really want to highlight how much they believe good cask and wood policy contributes to great whisky, and that they have some amazing stocks of both whisky and good casks, which together means they have some awesome goodies to look at.
They have created a rather fab website so cover the things they want to highlight, and I really do recommend spending a couple of minutes having a quick look, it’s very slick and contains some interesting stuff… http://wood.gordonandmacphail.com/ – For example, head to The Wood secion and look at Cask Speficications if you’re unsure what the difference is between some of the cask types that you may have seen mentioned around the palce.
So, without further ado, let’s crack in to a bumper stack of 18 whiskies that have been waiting for me to review! Some may no longer be easily available, but if you are buying at auction, or find one in a shop then the reviews may be helpful, and will certainly give you a feel for what the G&M quality is like if you find another similar bottling released.
Info: The Macphail’s Collection, Glenrothes 8yo. Bottled 10/11/2011. 43% abv.
Nose: Light, summery, grassy malt with a green grape wine background and vanilla cream.
Palate: Similar to the nose, the palate fairly light, there’s a sweetness and vanilla cream. There’s some malt and spices. It tastes older than 8yo.
Finish: The finish isn’t overly long, but it is enjoyable, slightly effervescent, sweet, lightly spiced; yummy!
Thoughts: One of the best young whiskies I’ve had in a long while, it comes over as older. Recommended!
Available: The Whisky Exchange – £32.75
Info: Speymalt from Macallan. 2006. Bottled 17/11/2015. 43% abv. Around 9yo.
Nose: Butter cream with a malty and slightly metallic edge to it, maybe cloves or other spices. Fairly light.
Palate: Nice and easy on the palate, creamy oils and just a hint of spices after a while. Medium sweet, notes of sweet green grass and green apple skin.
Finish: The finish seems more malty than the palate, it’s fairly short, but then extends with an oaky backdrop with a hint of tannin and soap (?!).
Thoughts: If you know your Macallan’s then this might not be totally what you expect, it’s a nice light bourbonny change. Drinks easily and ice may be good.
Available: The Whisky Exchange – £36.45
Info: Distillery Labels, Strathisla 2005, bottled 16/12/2015. 43% abv. Retro style label, loving it.
Nose: Light, sweet, fruity and nutty. Malt, nuts and damp oak. Quite a bit going on on the nose, more than the two above.
Palate: Nicely balanced and interesting, light balanced oak spices, some honey sweetness and malt. Fairly complex.
Finish: Wisps of smoke via hints of cask char at the end of the palate and in to the fairly long, honey sweet finish. A little spice and tannin at the end to keep it balanced.
Thoughts: A very good whisky with lots of interest to it, one worth spending some time with and enjoying. For something around a ten year old it seems to be great value for money.
Available: Master of Malt – £34
Info: Connoisseurs Choice, Glen Spey, 2004 bottled 26/09/2013. 46% abv. Not a distillery you see bottled on it’s own too often, mostly going in to blends.
Nose: Very light, summer citrus, melon. Malt and farmyards.
Palate: Reasonably oily palate with more flavour than the nose lead you to think you’d get. Summery sweet fruits (including citrus hints) with the slightest of earthy, oaky backnotes.
Finish: Oily, smooth and reasonably short. Gently peters out.
Thoughts: It’s a light summery dram presented at a strength that helps keeps it interesting. Under 46% and I suspect it wouldn’t have been. As it is, a nice example of a less seen malt. They have rectifiers on the stills to give a little extra reflux which leads to a spirit that’s just that little bit lighter in style.
Available: Master of Malt – £41.33
Info: Connoisseurs Choice, Inchgower, 2002 bottled 06/05/2016. 46% abv. (see below for more info).
Nose: There is some light sherry tones in the mix here which help give the dram a good gravitas. It’s malty with a slightly sweet but gentle sherry backdrop.
Palate: Creamy sweet gentle sherry goodness with nice oily presentation, with spices kicking in and building.
Finish: The finish has a slight freshness, including freshness from oak. Sherry is light and leads, oak and dryness exits in a fairly long finish which has a coal soot edge from the cask char.
Thoughts: A good dram, but doesn’t quite excite me.
Extra: Ok, we have a problem here… I can find a Inchgower 2002 botted in 2015, or a 2005 bottled in 2016… so what sample G&M have sent me here I have no idea of I’m afraid, it could be either of them (I guess there was a typo on the sample label). I’m going to assume I have reviewed the 2002 bottle as that’s the bigger font on the front of my sample bottle.
Available: Master of Malt has both, take your pick… 2002 (£37.78) or 2005 (£37.75). Both are from refill sherry casks so I imagine are broadly very similar.
Info: Connoisseurs Choice, Tormore, 1997 bottled 06/05/2014. 46% abv.
Nose: Medium old smell to this, fairly restrained with malts, oak, and a nice citrus lemon and melon edge.
Palate: Very smooth introduction, fairly oily and packed with those citrus lemon type notes that I love, similar to old style Tomatin’s. Slight oaky char notes.
Finish: The finish is fresh, more citrus, and slight puffs of smoke from cask char which lasts a long while.
Thoughts: I may not have written the most notes for this bottle, but don’t doubt me, I’ll more than likely buy a bottle, I’m a big fan of the gentle citrus thing.
Available: The Whisky Exchange – £60.95
Info: Connoisseurs Choice, Benriach, 1997 bottled 20/03/2014. 46% abv.
Nose: A mix of flinty malt and gentle white grape sweetness, slightly metallic.
Palate: Straight away there’s a slight damp mossy cracked nutshell note (which I love), followed with a pinch of spices, then malt and balanced sweetness.
Finish: The finish loses the mossy notes, instead going more to malty cardboard tones. It’s fairly long, reasonably sweet, yet balanced, with hints of oak at the end of balance it up and leave a slight dryness.
Thoughts: Nicely balanced whisky with various flavours to explore. The mossy notes are my favorite.
Available: The Whisky Exchange – £63.95
Info: Connoisseurs Choice, Speyburn, 1991, 46% abv.
Nose: A nose showing fairly well aged malt, old oak tones along with a bit of wax and some fresh citrus.
Palate: The palate is nice and waxy, oily, but also smooth and not spice dominated. Instead there’s gentle subtle citrus notes, sun over ripened citrus fruits.
Finish: The finish is fairly long, with lots of flavour lingering around on your tongue, waxy old oak, but not tannin dominated, just a hint of dryness and spice.
Thoughts: There’s no bottling date on my sample, but the only ones for sale appear to be bottled in 2015, so it must be that. What an awesome dram, old, relaxed, restrained, full of flavour and taste. Recommended.
Available: The Whisky Exchange – £89.45
Info: Connoisseurs Choice, Tomatin, 1997 bottled 16/10/2014. 46% abv.
Nose: Fair amount of overripe citrus fruit with a bit of baby sick type note which dissipates quickly with air.
Palate: Fairly thick with oils, the citrus notes coming forward, hints of melon and lime. Some malt and spice amongst what’s a fairly creamy and vanilla spirit.
Finish: The finish is slightly fizzy, fairly sweet, and quite long. At the end some coconut notes amongst oak woods.
Thoughts: The dram progresses from nose to finish getting better and better at each stage. However there’s elements of it that aren’t quite perfect in my mind.
Available: Master of Malt – £68.88
Info: The Macphail’s Collection, Bunnahabhain non peated, 2006 bottled 10/04/2015. 43% abv.
Nose: Slightly metallic, rocky type malt notes at first which settle to normal malt tones; there’s ozone and a bit of coastal saltiness.
Palate: Very malty (Weetabix) and easy going on your palate, not overly thick, but more than enough to bring good flavours forward, light brown sugar notes going to honey. A breakfast dram!
Finish: The finish is fairly gentle, but reasonably long, giving a nice warming effect on your chest. The honey notes continue on eventually mixing with puffs of salty char from casks.
Thoughts: I’ve always been a bit fan of Bunna, and on the nose I was worried this might disappoint, but no worries, it’s a great, easy going dram to sit back and enjoy. Not overly complex, but that’s fine.
Available: Master of Malt – £32.63
Info: Bonus dram. Rare Old, Rosebank 1990, bottled 2014. 46% abv.
Nose: Fairly doughy, with white wine grape hints and a grippy nature (cask char?).
Palate: At 24yo this is a well aged malt, and it comes over as this on your palate, it’s gentle, peaceful and well balanced. Not dominated by spices, which is a big plus for me.
Finish: The doughy malt reappears as the whisky heads to your chest with a warming and fairly sweet hug. It’s quite long, with puffs of cask smoke keeping it interesting.
Thoughts: Fabulous whisky, presented well.
Available: Whisky Online. £450.
Sample: Own stock from Bottle Share.
Info: Rare Vintage, Smith’s Glenlivet 1974, bottled 10/11/2011. 43% abv.
Nose: The nose needs a moment to breath, but very soon plenty of sweet peach and melon notes come out amongst the more expected old malt and oak smells that you’d expect from an old whisky such as this. A slight flinty backdrop along with puffs of smoke.
Palate: The palate is reasonably thick, possibly at a strength which is helping it to shine at it’s old age and not be overly woody. There’s a honeycomb and oak wood sweetness to this gentle giant of an old whisky. Very easy to hold on your tongue and enjoy the flavours.
Finish: The finish has the sweetness found on the palate, but there’s also a slightly herbal quality to it, with those whispers of smoke just beefing things up. Long, with hints of tannin and some grassy malt.
Thoughts: A whisky to spend time with and enjoy fully, don’t rush it, give it some time to appreciate fully because at first glance you may not realise how good it is.
Available: Mostly sold out, a couple left on Amazon at time of posting. £451.01.
Info: Rare Vintage, Strathisla 1967, bottled 26/01/2015. 43% abv.
Nose: Thick rich christmas fruitcake tones, plenty of old spices (but not overwhelmingly so), cracked nuts and hints of damp dunnage type oak wood. Hidden amongst all the richness is a light fresh eucalyptus.
Palate: It’s really quite thick and oily, with a pinch of spices to make it tasty, but not enough to kill your tongue, just how I like it! It’s one of those sort of drams that you sit with in your mouth for ages, almost forgetting to swallow! After a while there’s a gentle but ever present smokey backnote that helps conjure up thoughts of sitting next to a log fire in a leather chair.
Finish: The finish is fairly oily, with a waxiness from wood polish type notes staying in the foreground throughout. There’s a hint of tannins that goes nearly unnoticed, but which I suspect will make it stick on your palate for a long time.
Thoughts: A rather fabulous example of the type of old style drams that I really love (my wallet doesn’t though). It’s packed with flavour, but not dominated by wood spice.
Available: Mostly sold out, a couple left on Amazon at time of posting. £620.26.
Info: Rare Vintage, Glen Grant 1954. 40% abv. First fill sherry casks. No bottling date on the sample but looks to have been released 2006.
Nose: Obviously a old nose to this as you’d expect, there’s plenty of crushed herbs, ripe Cantaloupe melon, and a sprinkle of old christmas spices and fruits.
Palate: The palate is fairly oily, and really quite drying. However, it’s got a real freshness giving a nice counterbalance to the older well matured malt and wintery fruits. Red berries, blackcurrants and blackberries, and some wine gums. The spices keep it all on an even keel, but don’t dominate, rather perfect.
Finish: There’s a real interplay between the winter berry fruit jelly candy notes, really old smokey malt cask char notes and hints of herbs, they all play together really nicely. It’s beautiful and really long, the dryness on the palate following on for ages.
Thoughts: If you like your drams super relaxed, excellently presented with well integrated gentle sherry notes, then this is very likely a dram for you, it’s almost flawless. You know you’re drinking something important as you’re dramming with it, don’t rush it.
Available: The Whisky Exchange – £1,575
Info: The Macphail’s Collection, Bunnahabhain peated, 8yo. 43% abv.
Nose: Lovely peaty nose, full of sweetness and saltiness. It’s a malty mossy peat, not much iodine.
Palate: It’s fairly oily, with sweet peat and gentle orchard fruits. It’s not overly complex, which means it’s all the more instantly drinkable.
Finish: The finish has a little pepper spice to it to compliment the salty peat. At the end there’s a little tannin and plenty of malted barley flavours.
Thoughts: Peaty whiskies can often be better younger, you get more of the peat… this one at 8yo seems to be a great mix of youth, but also enough age. Yum.
Available: The Green Welly Stop – £26.50
Info: Cask Strength, Caol Ila, 2005, bottled 20/07/2016. 57.3% abv.
Nose: Really quite herbal, with only a small amount of peat showing. Almost a roast barley type note and mud. There’s quite a powerful spirit note, don’t breath too deeply.
Palate: On the palate it’s smoother than the nose might lead you to suspect it will be, with alcohol heat building slowly. It’s fairly mossy peat, with coffee grouts and throat lozenges.
Finish: The finish is surprisingly easy, fairly quick, but then settling in to a peat smoke ending with barley malt.
Water: A good slug of water helps to take down the alcohol heat, brings out more herbal notes, and sweetens it a little.
Thoughts: There’s some people that will love this, but for me it’s not quite hitting the mark, it’s fairly far away from the house style. It’s good, and some would think great I’m sure.
Available: Master of Malt – £47.21
Info: Connoisseurs Choice, Ledaig, 1999 bottled 24/03/2015. 46% abv.
Nose: Coffee grouts and rotten fruit. After a while sweet candyfloss comes out. All backed by smoked bacon notes.
Palate: The palate is much sweeter than expected, in a good way. There’s a coal tar smoke gently backing everything up, with cracked black pepper notes more at the front.
Finish: The finish is zingy, nearly fizzy, and really long with the sweet smoke notes carrying on for quite a long time.
Thoughts: At first on the nose it’s a little odd, but quickly it becomes likable, and by the time you get to the palate and then finish you find it’s a really likable malt. Water doesn’t hurt.
Available: Master of Malt – £53.83
Info: Gordon & MacPhail Ardmore, 1996. 43% abv.
Nose: Nicely light puffs of smoke here, with a more Speyside type note backing it up with a mix of melon and herby spices.
Palate: Fairly thick oils which are sweet and easy going, only after a while does the melon notes start coming out with only the smallest puff of smoke at the back.
Finish: The smoke has more of a focus here giving the finish a long, fairly sweet and balanced ending. There’s a nice integrated oak note that gives away the nice middle aged nature of this dram.
Thoughts: Ardmore was the first smokey whisky I ever had, and I love it for that. This is a good version of Ardmore, easy and very drinkable, although at 18yo is it worth £70? Probably, prices seem to be around that level these days.
Available: Sample unlabeled, unknown if this is the 2013 (The Whisky Exchange – £71.75) or 2014 (Master of Malt – £67.73) bottling. Both are still available, and no doubt much the same.
Overall Thoughts: It’s interesting to see how many of the bottlings from a few years back are still on sale. Is that because G&M is less well known with people favouring other independent bollers, or is it because they have good stocks of casks and were able to put out quite large releases at the time? Or maybe both things! Either way, the fact that most of the above are still easily purchasable is a big win in my mind, because there’s some excellent malts there for folk to grab. What is obvious is that G&M do a great job of cask selection, and with all the above there wasn’t really a duffer in the bag at all, which is fairly amazing when looking at that many dram in one go. There’s always goodies from G&M at most price points, so keep your eyes open and try their wares!
Many thanks to Gordon and MacPhail for the samples which have been stored over a little bit of time for me to present this bumper focus on their great whiskies.
Comments or questions? Why not come and find me on twitter @steveprentice.