Gordon and MacPhail’s history is well known to many whisky aficionados. Starting out as a grocer in Elgin in 1895 the shop remains a spot of pilgrimage for those fortunate enough to make it to Speyside.
The Connoisseurs Choice range has been around since the 1960s. Bottlings under the label include rare malts such as Port Ellen and Rosebank, as well as more familiar distilleries. In the 1960s, a Talisker from the range would cost about £4. Over the years some 2,000+ whiskies have been released, from more than 100 different distilleries. Today the facelifted range sits above their Distillery Labels range or the Discovery range, but well below the ultra-premium Private Collection and Generations collections.
Jason acknowledged in his 2019 review that whiskies from G&M get few reviews on Malt. We revisited G&M during a 2019 review of the Discovery Range. Clearly aimed at new whisky fans looking to discover approachable drams, the whiskies in the reange were presented in bright colours and with a 43% ABV to easy you into some agreeable but forgettable drams like the Balblair. More recently. Bryan extols the virtues of finding old bottles from G&M such as a 1979 Dallas Dhu. That discovery jives with my own thoughts on G&M: a great source of vintage treasures in whisky bars or at auction, rather than a go to range for current purchases. Is that fair?
Gordon and MacPhail are more than just another independent bottler. They are renowned for their huge and varied inventory of aging stock. They sometimes release older single malts than the current owners of those distilleries could. Last week, for example, they released an 80 year old Glenlivet.
The Gordon and MacPhail business is behind the Benromach Distillery, too. This is a distillery that has always seemed to offer good quality and value across the core expressions, even if the recent re-brand of the bottles was a bit hit or miss. Gordon & MacPhail are developing a new distillery called the Cairn, at Craggan near Granton-on-Spey, and are rumoured to have financed this partly through a huge stock buyback by Edrington Group, a clear indication of the clout of the extensive warehouse stock. The Cairn is due to open in spring 2022.
So what can you expect from the Connoisseurs Choice range? Recently, I was invited to a whisky tasting by a good whisky friend. I must admit, I initially wavered. What can G&M offer me that is exciting? But knowing that The Whisky Barrista has a good eye for a dram and curates excellent tastings, I thought I’d explore further. I also tracked down an extra sample of a recent Spiritual Home Exclusive release from another whisky friend East Coast Whisky, as it sounded like something that would fit with the other whiskies reviewed here today. I would urge you follow both these Instagram accounts, as each one will offer some real pleasure for the enthusiastic whiskygrammer and their exclusive tastings are a delight.
G&M Connoisseurs Choice Glenlossie 2007 – Review
13 years old; 58.1% ABV. First Fill Bourbon Barrels. This was the 5th release from the Spiritual Home of G&M Elgin shop (and also online). £78.
Colour: Pale straw
On the nose: Sawdust, wood powder, pencil sharpenings, a lively youthful spirit, white grapes, green apples, cut meadow hay, wood spice and peppery olive oil.
In the mouth: Very spirit forward, roasted peach, garden mint, stem ginger in syrup, fruit and spearmint. With some water and time there are deep ripe fruity notes and a slight waxiness.
Just not singing loud enough to be a pick for the Spiritual Home Exclusive aspects of the range. Good but certainly not living up to expectations.
G&M Connoisseurs Choice Jura 1992 – Review
28 years old; 50.2% ABV. Refill American Hogshead. £230.
Colour: Ripe barley.
On the nose: Unmistakably Jura; emulsion paint, wood shavings, out-of-date dried tropical fruit, dusty freshly harvested barley, sticky mango juice, damp Barbour ™ Jacket, raspberry yoghurt
In the mouth: Emulsion paint and that texture too, woody some faint fruitiness in the background, more wood, drying, bitter, fruit wins through the palate on the finish, but there is something of an overfull dog turd bin in the hot summer sun.
Well I normally really enjoy a refill hoggie Jura of good age, but this one is too unbalanced between the funky off notes that I normally enjoy in the background abd the mineral notes. The fruit must be in the forefront of these other more challenging tastes.
G&M Connoisseurs Choice Clynelish 1999 – Review
20 years old; 54.9% ABV. Refill Sherry hogshead. £165.
On the nose: Fresh bright spirit, celery leaves, chalky minerals, sweetening with gentle fruit, quite closed nose, not too much from the Sherry cask, some caramel, a bit of praline, dare I say it noses very light.
In the mouth: Here we go, totally different on the mouth. Big rich and fully of sulphurous Sherry which moves aside for a vegetal mineral note, some pine needles, rubber kids water wings, sweet and spicy finish but no wax at all.
A surprising dram that I would not have picked out as Clynelish, no wisps of smoke, and no wax at all. But it rewarded in the drinking, and that’s what it’s all about. It’s delicious.
G&M Connoisseurs Choice Mortlach 1994
25 years old; 55.9% ABV. First fill Sherry butt. £225.
Colour: Golden syrup.
On the nose: Toasted fruit bread with melted butter, plump golden raisins, dates, malty yeasty wash, slightly sulphurous popcorn, porridge with golden syrup, baklava.
In the mouth: Beautiful body, struck matches, sweet brown sugar, gentle spices and spirit shining through, liquid butter popcorn, caramel, banana and ginger loaf, rum baba, and cigar, oak leading out a long and dignified finish.
This is a great example of complex sherried whisky and is head and shoulders above your standard Sherry bomb. I don’t think you would get bored over the course of a whole bottle of this, which is usually my criticism of the more basic Sherry bombs. I’m not finding a note in this that is not pleasing.
G&M Connoisseurs Choice Pulteney 1999 – Review
20 years old; 56.5% ABV. Refill Sherry butt. £157.50.
Colour: Gingerbread dough.
On the nose: Christmas pudding, sweet Sherry notes paired back by salt, polished furniture, oil based paints, treacle scone, new leather shoes, pink peppercorns, brandy.
In the mouth: A great big Sherry bomb, super smooth and silky, crisp saltiness, absolutely delicious but not as complex as I was expecting. Sherry on the finish, some pipe tobacco and milk chocolate.
Don’t get me wrong: this is fantastically delicious and easy drinking without water. A dangerous dram as they say. But it does not find the complex depths of the Mortlach and the spirit is a bit hidden despite being a refill here rather than the first fill on the Mortlach.
G&M Connoisseurs Choice Ledaig 2001 – Review
20 years old; 56.8% ABV. Refill Sherry butt. £135.
Nose: South African wood Braai, grilled boerwors, picante BBQ sauce, sooty chimney, burnt butter, peanut brittle, window putty.
Palate: Ooh yeah, sweet-savoury-smoky-spicy all at the same time. Mouth Coating peat, fruit caramel, antique leather, dusty drawing room, peated-Toblerone™, not as meaty in the mouth as on the nose, but plenty of sulphur kicking about. On first tasting I got chlorinated swimming pool late on the finish, on second taste it was more rusty steel.
Definitely was running at a 7 until the finish, which was a bit weird. The Whisky Barrista suggested there was a tinge of green to the whisky suggesting slight but unwelcome oxidation? It was difficult to discern in my small sample for certain. For me it’s still a great dram, perhaps later on in a whisky session where thoughts are more on the post drink kebab than identifying minor flaws in whisky.
G&M Connoisseurs Choice Ardmore 1996 – Review
24 years old; 52% ABV. Refill Sherry Hogshead. This was the 6th release from the Spiritual Home of G&M Elgin shop (also online). £190.
Colour: Diet Coke.
On the nose: Distinguished old drawing rooms, cigar lounge, dark milk chocolate, savoury-sweetness, supported by a malty backbone. Sandalwood based Eu De Parfum Pour Homme. Toffee, clove, anise, TCP and rugby changing room.
In the mouth: Silky smooth, cola bottles, sugar boilings, praline, cocoa powder. Building with spicy peat to a prominent finish that includes a flash of hot tar and original Coca Cola syrup.
Here is a cracking dram, fully deserving of the elevated status of Spiritual Home Exclusive where the Glenlossie was lacking. Lots of complexity and different aspects experienced with each sip.
Overall, the Connoisseurs Choice range offers a premium introduction to some of the best whiskies G&M have within their bonded warehouses. Within the range there are some fantastic hits and a few misses too. That is often a worry when this range often carries a premium price… but does any independent bottler have a perfect record?