Gordon & MacPhail: A Whisky Legacy

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Think of single malt Scotch, and the names of Gordon and MacPhail invariably come to mind. Established in 1895 in Speyside, the source of some of Scotland’s finest malts, it is an independent bottler of Scotch whisky. Founded by James Gordon and John Alexander MacPhail, and owned by the Urquhart family, the distillery is known for having launched some of the world’s oldest whiskies. Most notably, these include the Mortlach 70 Years Old Speyside Single Malt Scotch Whisky, and Glenlivet 1940 70 Years Old.

Few know that this whisky stalwart originally started out as a grocery business which sourced a wide variety of products from across the world, such as coffee, tea, wine and whisky. The founders then discovered a particular affinity for different kinds Speyside malts, which went on to become their niche product on offer. The company has now bottled 350 plus different kinds from about 70 distilleries worldwide, over a span of more than 120 years.

The Beginnings

In 1915, a young John Urquhart joined the founders in their new venture as an apprentice. After developing his skills in whisky maturation over a long and fulfilling career, he was able to pass on his deep knowledge to his family.

John’s son, George, joined the business in 1933, and under his father’s tutelage, acquired a deep knowledge of whisky and specialized skills in the maturation process. Together, they matched the highest quality oak with the finest spirits and left them to develop, often for decades.

The Second World War

In 1945, the business emerged from the ashes of the Second World War in style. Armed with ample stocks of rare whisky, Gordon & MacPhail was able to ship great quantities to the United States. This brought back all the funds that had been spent during the war, and more, thus securing the future of the company for years to come.  

A Lineage Continued

In 1967, Ian Urquhart, George’s eldest son, joined the company after years of training in the wine and spirit industry from France and London. He retired in 2007 after serving as Managing Director at the company for 17 years.

In 1972, Ian’s younger brother, David Urquhart, a business graduate, joined the company and later went on to become its UK Sales Director. After their father’s retirement, Michael and David took over as Joint Managing Directors, until the latter retired in 2012.

In 1981, the company witnessed two new family members—Michael and Rosemary. Michael Urquhart, a chartered accountant, joined as Finance Director and later adopted the additional roles of Export Director and Whisky Supply. He finally graduated to the post of Managing Director 2012. His wife, Rosemary Rankin, joined after raising her family and became a Company Director in 1990.

In 1993, the Urquhart family realised its long-standing dream of owning a distillery through the purchase of the Benromach Distillery in Forres, located very close to the company shop in Elgin. After five years of careful re-structuring, it was officially reopened in 1998 by HRH Prince Charles.

 In 2000, Gordon & MacPhail saw its first fourth generation member— Stephen Rankin, John Urquhart’s great grandson. Ten years later, he became the company’s UK Sales Director. 

Neil Urquhart, son of Ian Urquhart, joined in 2002 in the business arena which included overseeing the retail shop and international sales. He was appointed as Human Resources and Compliance Director in 2010.

Launching Spectacular Expressions

In 2015, Gordon & MacPhail launched the Mortlach 75 Years Old, the next in line from the Generations range. This is held in regard as the world’s most exclusive single malt Scotch whisky, and was welcomed with great pomp and flourish at an event in London’s Royal Opera House. Whisky connoisseur, Charles MacLean, pronounced it to be “Smooth and highly sophisticated – elegant as a grande dame… the Ingrid Bergman of malts!”

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