Independent bottling is, unfortunately, a rather unknown concept to the general population. Here at the Whisky Foundation we believe that such a wonderfully experimental and educational practice should be broadcast to the world, to drinkers both young and old, to extend the reach of the amazing spirit that is Scotch whisky.
Put simply, an independent bottler’s job is to buy newly made spirit or partially aged whisky from distilleries, and through their expertise, mature and handle the whisky in ways that will bring out the most flavour and enhance the natural potential of the whisky in question.
The same spirit can be aged for different maturation periods, in different kinds of casks, and given varied finishes, steps which all lead to unique and exceptional whiskies.
Each independent bottling company has its own way of choosing distillery casks, handling them, and bottling and releasing them. Some companies work with specific distilleries, while others buy only the rarest and most unknown whiskies for maturation.
Independent bottling is a borderless world full of excitement, knowledge, and new flavours. In our Independent Bottlers series we aim to shed some light on this world, and introduce to you some of the most experimental and forward-thinking companies in the whisky world.
Today’s independent bottler is Gordon & Macphail, one of the most well-known, established bottlers out there.
Gordon & Macphail
The company was founded in 1895 by James Gordon and John MacPhail, initially taking the shape of a family grocers in the Speyside town of Elgin, selling tea, wine, and spirits. John Urquhart was one of the shop’s very first employees and, after being found to be an able helper, he began assisting James Gordon with the purchasing and selecting of single malt whisky casks from nearby distilleries.
In 1915 partner John MacPhail retired, and Urquhart stepped in as partner in the business. Unfortunately, James Gordon died only two weeks after MacPhail’s retirement, leaving John Urquhart as the company’s senior partner.
Under Urquhart’s command, the whisky broking side of the business began to develop, with a strong focus on single malt whiskies by world-renowned distilleries like Macallan, Glenlivet, Glen Grant, and Mortlach. Around this time Urquhart started to hand-select and fill his own casks by the aforementioned distilleries and leave them to mature for much longer than the norm.
Joined by his children, Urquhart continued to develop the company, and before long Gordon & MacPhail held the world’s largest variety of aged single malt whiskies. Urquhart began to expand to other international markets in Italy, France and America, a move which helped increase interest in Scotch single malt whisky, interest which continues to rise even today.
The ownership and management of the company remains in the hands of the Urquhart family, and continues to prosper to this day. Gordon & MacPhail whisky brands include Connoisseurs Choice, Cask Strength, Rare Old, Private Collection, Macphail’s Collection, Rare Vintage, and Speymalt from Macallan. The company also owns the Benromach distillery which opened in 2002.
The grocery store in Elgin still operates, selling groceries and a wide range of Gordon & MacPhail whiskies.
You can view our full collection of Gordon & MacPhail bottles here.