Our visit to preeminent independent bottler, Gordon & MacPhail, was nothing short of inspiring. After only a few minutes in the Elgin store, I resolved to look deeper into my family tree when I got home. I knew there were McPhails there in the branches, along with other Scots like Carmichael, Patterson, and Pharr, and I intended to discover a family connection that would get me a seat on their board of directors.
You see, their shop contained single malt whiskies distilled in every decade back to the 1930s, if not farther. I tried to pretend that the prices were listed in Lira, but it didn’t work. In addition to such incredible gems, the store had the most comprehensive range of whiskies for sale that we would find anywhere on our trip. Yes, I said to myself, it was going to take something really special to get these whiskies into my possession. It was going to take, “I am a McPhail, and I shall claim my birthright forthwith.”
As my mind turned on this scheme, we were met by Stuart Urquhart, a fine young man with precisely the kind of family connections I was going to have to gin up. I wanted to hate him. I couldn’t. Here was a perfectly generous and screamingly talented young man who was taking time to show us around and tell us what they do. We began with a short drive over to their warehouse and offices.
We walked first into the bottling area. Here was a side of the business we had not seen before. We were especially gratified to discover that one of their bottling lines is specially designed to bottle miniatures. In that hall, we found a variety of men and women running various aspects of the operation, from filling the bottles to applying the labels, and from placing the bottles in cardboard cases to secreting those cases into the trunk of our rental car. Sadly, that last bit of the operation was not part of our tour and was a lovely little daydream while it lasted.
From here we went into the fabled cask warehouse. We saw some truly special barrels. There were some seriously old casks of some whisky that we really wished we could have sampled. We also wish we could talk about them in more detail, but we were sworn to Gordon & MacPhail’s particular brand of secrecy, which carries with it stiff penalties for violations (the most frightening for us is the one denying offenders the possibility of buying G&M’s bottling of Mortlach). Gordon & MacPhail have such strong and long-standing relationships with the whisky producing world that they are entrusted to hold and later bottle the whisky inside. Throughout our tour, Stuart answered our questions with consummate professionalism and insight. We also learned a bit about the marketing side of whisky, and how Gordon & MacPhail are aiming to provide more transparency to the whiskies they offer [Bill: I don’t remember him talking about added caramel!].
As big fans of independent bottlings, this stop in Elgin was a must. Regrettably, the tasting room was off- limits due to renovations, but after chewing off the knuckles on my left fist I resolved that this just gave us all an excuse to go back there some day.
On the scale of outrageous but entirely factual names of my forebears, Gordon & MacPhail is Zilpha Thommie Hollaway “Puss” Vardaman McPhail–Yes, she is my Great-great-Aunt. And yes, it’s a real name. She lived from 1836-1922 and after another month or two on Ancestry.com, I think the good people at G&M are going to have to put another chair around the table.