At Malt, we like Gordon & MacPhail. I’ve probably already established that with a recent review of their Clynelish 2001. I recall a fantastic tasting at the Midlands Whisky Festival a couple of years ago, where I got to taste some special, decades old whiskies that were in Gordon & MacPhail’s domain; that event just cemented my appreciation of their legacy in providing a range of obscure single malts to the world when they were relatively inaccessible.
Gordon & MacPhail have recently been trying to reach out with a new campaign called The Wood Makes The Whisky. (Let’s forget about barley, yeast and water for now…) It’s to highlight their wood policies, primarily, and as an independent bottler they don’t have a whole lot of other things to talk about. Also it’s a marketing hook just to highlight their ranges. Now, the campaign comes with an attractively packaged booklet, which is well-written and presented, and some fancy postcards. And a pencil! (Which is actually quite nice.) The information is clearly focussed on what Gordon & MacPhail do, their attitudes. Brand values, I suppose, and that’s all about getting the finest wood to mature the whisky…
If I’m being picky – and people like me ought to be, else we’d just be rehashing press releases – there’s a minor disconnect between the campaign, to make a fuss about the wood that Gordon & MacPhail uses for maturation, and the actual information available about the casks themselves with regards to the samples provided. And, indeed, the general packaging of Gordon & MacPhail’s whiskies.
At best we just get a mere name of the cask type. Not the wood species for example, or even any of the more extensive information you might get from, say a Bruichladdich Micro Provenance release. Wood type. Previous contents. Where it came from. How long it held those contents. Where it’s been stored. When the cask was filled. When it was emptied. If you’re going to make a fuss about the wood: tell us about the wood on the bottle label.
Personally I think that Gordon & MacPhail are missing a trick by not going down some kind of ‘the people’s whisky’ campaign route instead. What really separates them from other independent bottlers and whisky producers isn’t any kind of wood policy (I mean, everyone bangs on about wood, don’t they?), but instead the astonishingly good value of their whiskies. The very old Connoisseurs Choice range, in particular, has released single malts from a vast array of distilleries since the 1960s. For many years, this was the only manner in which the Great Unwashed (you and me) could ever get their hands on such unusual single malts. So Gordon & MacPhail have been emancipators, freeing single malts from bonded warehouses all across Scotland, and returning them to the people. What have they liberated today? I have four whiskies, mainly from their Connoisseurs Choice, but one from their MacPhail’s Collection as well.
Glenturret 2002 – The MacPhail’s Collection
First fill Sherry puncheons. Bottled at 43% ABV. Costs just £40.
Colour: deep gold.
On the nose: a little shy at first, but then some quite delicate sherry notes. Dried apricots. Sultanas. But then more tropical fruit notes, such as mango and pineapple. Later come green apples. Very clean and fresh, overall.
In the mouth: lovely texture, clean, crisp, quite viscous. Fudge. Toffee. Cinnamon spices. Ginger. Orange. Cloves. Stewed pairs. Golden syrup. Not especially complex, but that’s not really the point here. A bargain autumnal aperitif.
Dalmore 2001 – Connoisseurs Choice
Refill sherry hogsheads. Bottled at 46% ABV. Also costs just £40.
Colour: white wine.
On the nose: grapefruit, melon, grapes, apples. A real fruit salad. Let it settle and the fruit fades to quite grassy notes. A little honey. Flash of malted barley.
In the mouth: unusual for a Dalmore! Lemongrass. Lime cordial. A grapefruit-like sourness that lingers. Melon. Like an acidic white wine, some tart dry Reisling. Good minerality. Then settling to a few gentle grassy and straw-like notes. Pleasant, light, something for summer.
Craigellachie 1997 – Connoisseurs Choice
Refill bourbon barrels. Bottled at 46% ABV. Costs £65.
Colour: pale straw.
On the nose: very interesting. Tropical fruits, with a little underlying baked ham. Quite grassy too. Cashew nuts. Honey. Vanilla. Pineapple. Dash of lime juice. Fruit settles to barley husks.
In the mouth: spicy, right from the off rather than the finish. Husky cereal notes. Hops. The mid section feels like a very bold, grapefruit-y white wine. Grassy. Porridge oats with a dollop of heather honey. Very pleasant and unusual characteristics, with a medium weight texture. Perhaps at £65 that’s at the edge of good value, but I like it.
Glenallachie 1999 – Connoisseurs Choice
Refill bourbon barrel. Bottled at 46% ABV. Costs £50.
Colour: pale straw.
On the nose: immediate sweetness, but it’s all quite distant. Eventually: white grapes. A touch of rose. Golden syrup. Citrus. It is rather simple, but pleasant.
In the mouth: remarkably light and delicate flavour, making the heat from the wood rather dominant. Malted milk biscuits, grapefruit, vanilla. Ground almonds. But again, the peppery notes just seem to overpower the rest making it seem rather unbalanced. I don’t think this one is very good I’m afraid.
With the exception of the Glenallachie 1999, which was a poor whisky, the rest were all something that represent good value. And I keep going on about it, but that’s the thing with Gordon & MacPhail. For decades their whiskies have been hugely affordable, interesting, and varied. The Connoisseurs Choice range in particular is single malt whisky that hard-working folk can easily afford. At the lower end of the price range, these are good everyday drinkers to stock up your whisky cabinet. And, in fact, I’d be of the inclination to play Connoisseurs Choice roulette from time to time – more often then not you’ll get a good bargain.
Forget about their wood policy. The most interesting thing about Gordon & MacPhail is this one fact: that they’re basically charging you what you should be paying for single malt whisky. Interesting single malt whisky for people who earn a regular income.