On Valentine’s day 2018 I was invited to a tasting with Gordon & MacPhail at the Balmoral Hotel in Edinburgh to hear their future plans. This was no ordinary tasting, and as such no ordinary news from them. We were hosted by Managing Director Ewen Mackintosh, Marketing Director Ian Chapman and Stephen Rankin, Director of Prestige at Gordon & MacPhail.
What followed was a short presentation from Ian detailing the new design and packaging for the entire restructured ranges from Gordon & MacPhail. This new launch was expected to take place early ‘Spring’ (no jokes about the Scottish weather to date please) and was fairly momentous for the company. Gordon & MacPhail’s eponymous Connoisseurs Choice range has been selected to lead the redesign.
Here is the official press release:
Gordon & MacPhail’s new look Connoisseurs Choice leads portfolio relaunch
Scotch whisky maturation expert, Gordon & MacPhail, has announced the relaunch of its portfolio of single malt Scotch whiskies to continue strengthening the reputation of the brand globally.
The 122-year-old, family-owned company is streamlining its existing portfolio into five distinct ranges: ‘Discovery’, ‘Distillery Labels’, ‘Connoisseurs Choice’, ‘Private Collection’, and ‘Generations’. Each range celebrates Gordon & MacPhail’s single-minded commitment to the art of Scotch whisky maturation.
The first range to relaunch, with a distinctive new look, will be ‘Connoisseurs Choice’, which marks its fiftieth anniversary this year.
Stephen Rankin is Director of Prestige and a fourth generation member of the Urquhart family, owners of Gordon & MacPhail. He said: “Gordon & MacPhail has a 122-year history of forging strong and lasting relationships with distillers across Scotland and our loyal consumers. With four generations of experience in the whisky industry, we have continually evolved, innovated, and grown.
“As we begin a new chapter, we are streamlining our portfolio to make it more accessible for our consumers, placing their desire for products with heritage, authenticity, and provenance at the heart of each range. We want to take malt whisky lovers on a journey that will help them explore beyond their usual whisky choices.
“Each whisky tells a story, not only about the distillery of origin and the casks maturing the spirit, but also about the time and patience devoted to nurturing each whisky to the pinnacle of its maturation potential. Many of the whiskies in our ranges have been tended by multiple generations of my family.”
The newly refreshed ‘Connoisseurs Choice’ was first pioneered in 1968 by George Urquhart, second generation of the family, at a time when very few whiskies were bottled as single malts.
Stephen continued: “When my grandfather launched ‘Connoisseurs Choice’, he was considered eccentric for taking such an innovative approach. This range provided an opportunity for whisky lovers to explore whiskies that had never previously been bottled as single malts. As a result, he is heralded as one of the pioneers of the single malt category.
“Our ‘Connoisseurs Choice’ range remains true to my grandfather’s vision and philosophy while placing a greater emphasis on small batch, single and multiple casks, bottled as vintages. We hope consumers will look forward to each limited release.”
The brand-new ‘Discovery’ range will followin late spring; ‘Distillery Labels’ will launch in the summer, and new look ‘Private Collection’ range will be released in the autumn; the next ‘Generations’ unveilingis still to be revealed.
For more information about the new look ‘Connoisseurs Choice’ and streamlined portfolio, visit www.gordonandmacphail.com
The Connoisseurs Choice range was launched in 1968 and has been through a couple of redesigns since that time whilst effectively keeping the liquid inside the bottles of similar quality.
As a range I’ve always found Connoisseurs Choice bottles to be great value and vastly open up the range of lesser known distilleries to the average consumer. Admittedly the choice can sometimes be bewildering, especially when you mix in other Gordon & MacPhail offerings such as Distillery labels, Cask Strength or Private Collection bottlings all around the same or similar price points.
The new range(s) readdresses the balance. The new collection, as it’s name implies, represents a more connoisseurs choice of whisky, whilst the new discovery range replaces that entry-level choice for new explorers. The Cask Strength range is no more, instead it is represented as a colour label variant of the new Connoisseurs Choice range. This and the other new ranges have strong design cues that strongly reflect that they belong to Gordon & MacPhail and bringing them together as a whole.
During our tasting I chatted to Ewen who explained why calling Gordon & MacPhail just another independent bottler is not only a misnomer, it is untrue. Gordon & MacPhail are bulk spirit buyers and whisky maturers who also bottle their own creations. They purchase spirit from distilleries and have it filled into their own casks. The spirit & cask combination usually has its fate assigned at the point of meeting, explained Ewen, such is their experience of working with both. This led to some interesting conversations about what happens when distilleries change their spirit character, for example being rebuilt, but that is a story for another day perhaps.
Through the course of their 120 year plus history they have built strong relationships with many of the distilleries they work with. For example Ewen quoted that they were the only bottler of Glen Grant single malt output for many years before it was opened up to the Italian market by new owners Campari. Indeed G&M’s catalogue for some time has included a yearly release of 1958 Vintage Glen Grant from a parcel of casks filled in that year. We sampled & savoured the latest before Stephen pointed out that the latest was not only ‘58 vintage Glen Grant, it was also a 60 year old single malt whisky! Indeed it was Stephen’s own family that had the foresight to purchase and lay down many of these casks for their future generations. Nothing represented this more than the 1939 vintage Mortlach 75 year old whisky we completed the tasting session with.
As Ewen and Stephen both highlighted, such a cask is not a long-forgotten rare find, stumbled across in a rarely visited corner of their warehouse. Both cask, spirit and its exact warehouse location were all planned to generate this vintage. It is this strength and depth of experience and maturing stock that will be highlighted by their new portfolio.
Finally the final design feature I wanted to draw attention to, and one place where I feel Gordon & MacPhail have under-represented themselves in the past, is the new bottles contain prominent tasting notes on the labels. I think one of the biggest deciders when opting between independently bottled whiskies is the option of a chance whisky. Even with the distillery, year and age on a label it can be difficult to guess the flavour profile, and often I don’t have network access to go look up their wonderful product information sheets online whilst making this decision. The new design clearly states the needed details clearly on the label, and I have to confess I love the statement at the top of the new labels:
“Carefully matured in our own casks with spirit entrusted to us from … distillery”