$45,000 bottle of Scotch whisky has decades-long gestation

Cask 121 was filled the same day that Churchill, Roosevelt, de Gaulle and Eisenhower met at the Casablanca Conference in Morocco

Gordon and MacPhail’s latest whisky bottling is likely to be priced somewhere between $45,000 and $50,000 per bottle. That makes it the most expensive Scotch whisky ever offered in Canada. At that price, don’t expect it to fly off the shelves. Then again, it’s unlikely that more than one bottle will be allocated to Canadian retail.

Gordon and MacPhail is a legendary, specialty bottler of Scotch whisky. Its offerings range from reasonably priced, mainstream collections of interesting and unusual malts, to ultra-expensive offerings of rare, one of a kind, incredibly old, vintage malts.

Last week, the Elgin-based whisky specialist announced the release of one of its rarest and most expensive whiskies ever offered. Under its Private Collection range, it released 40 decanters of a 70 YO, 1943 Glenlivet, 49.1% ABV, from Scotland’s Speyside region. In the U.K., each decanter is priced at 30,000 pounds sterling.

The release from cask numbered 121, a sherry hogshead, also represents the last stock of 1943 Glenlivet available anywhere. The whisky has been matured exclusively in a sherry cask since it was distilled on Jan. 14, 1943.

A small number of decanters will be retained by Gordon and MacPhail to sell exclusively at its historic retail shop in Elgin, Scotland. The balance will be allocated to specialty retailers around the world. It’s believed that one bottle will be allocated to Canada and no more than a dozen or so to the United States.

Whiskies from the 1940s are exceedingly rare. By 1943, most of Scotland’s whisky distillers had already been shut down by the government in an effort to preserve stocks of barley. Only a handful of distilleries were still operating and those were producing well below their capacity. The Glenlivet distillery itself would be closed a few months later.

On the day Cask 121 was filled with new-make spirit from Glenlivet, Winston Churchill and Franklin Roosevelt met with Gen. Charles de Gaulle and Supreme Allied Commander Gen. Dwight Eisenhower at the Casablanca Conference in Morocco. On the other side of North Africa, Montgomery’s Eight Army, fresh from its victory at the Second Battle of El Alamein only a few weeks before, was advancing across Libya and closing in on Tripoli.

That week would mark the beginning of the final phase of the Battle of Stalingrad. It would also herald the breaking of the Siege of Leningrad by the Soviet army and the beginning of the Japanese withdrawal from Guadalcanal. Cask 121 was being distilled in the very days that the tide of the Second World War had finally and decisively turned in favour of the Allies.

The decision to fill Cask 121 with new-make spirit was made in January 1943 by John and George Urquhart, the first and second generation of the Urquhart family to manage Gordon and MacPhail. The decision to bottle it was made by Steven Rankin, a director of the company and the great-grandson of John Urquhart.

The whisky has a rich chestnut brown color. On the nose, it has a fresh full flavour of dark chocolate, orange and distinctive wood notes. On the palate, it shows a sweet molasses like creaminess with licorice notes. The finish is incredibly long with a subtle ashy smokiness.

The decanter comes in a hand blown, specially commissioned decanter housed in a handcraft wooden box. The decanter is adorned with gold engravings that depict the contours of the land surrounding the Glenlivet distillery.

The malt is accompanied by a commemorative book written by noted whisky author Jonny McCormick. Each decanter is individually numbered and comes with a certificate of authenticity signed by Stephen Rankin.

Founded in 1895, in Elgin Scotland, Gordon & MacPhail is the custodian of some of the oldest and rarest single malts in the world. Its cellars hold an unrivalled stock inventory that literally represents the liquid history of the Scotch whisky industry and which contains many one-of-a-kind whisky expressions.

The company has been in the whisky business for more than 122 years. According to Stephen Rankin, “this beautiful whisky has been nurtured and cared for by four generations of our family…with each generation building and handing on a lifetime’s expertise to the next.”

Troy Media columnist Joseph V. Micallef is an historian, best-selling author, keynote speaker and commentator on wine and spirits. Joe holds the Diploma in Wine and Spirits and the Professional Certificate in Spirits from the Wine and Spirits Education Trust (London).


Gordon and MacPhail, 70 YO, 1943 Glenlivet, scotch whisky

The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

You must be logged in to post a comment Login